State athletes honored at Jirschele Banquet
Former Badger, Packer headlines awards
By Erik Buchinger
The 26th annual Doug Jirschele Sports Awards Banquet was held at Memory Lanes Bar and Grill in Clilntonville on Saturday, May 19.
Former Wisconsin Badger and Green Bay Packer player Bill Ferrario was the guest speaker, and Badgers men’s basketball player Brian Butch earned the Nice Guy Award.
Leann Hopp, Jim Polzin and John Dunlavy were recipients of Doug Jirschele Sports Awards.
Mark Doornink earned the Forgotten Man Award.
Gerry O’Connor was the Master of Ceremonies at the event.
The banquet’s guest speaker, Bill Ferrario, was raised in Pennsylvania, earned a scholarship to play football at UW-Madison and played on the offensive line and special teams with the Green Bay Packers.
“Too short, too slow, too weak,” Ferrario said to start his speech. “My entire life has been defined by the words, ‘You’ll never make it.’
“My foundation is with my parents,” Ferrario said. “My parents instilled a couple of important things in me – that as a Ferrario, we were always going to study hard. Grades were the most important thing. If you’re going to do something you’re going to do it 100 percent or you’re not going to do it all. If you start something, we don’t quit anything we start.”
When Ferrario started to see success on the football field, he started to hear people doubt he had what it takes.
Toward the end of Ferrario’s high school football career, he said his top three schools were “Penn State, Penn State and Penn State.”
In January of his senior year, Ferrario was being recruited as a defensive lineman and called Penn State’s defensive coordinator to see if there are any spots available on the roster.
“The next words out of his mouth was ultimately what changed the course of my life and my career,” Ferrario said. “When I asked if I could get a walk-on option if somebody turns one down, he said, ‘Bill, bottom line – we don’t think you’re big enough or tough enough to play Big Ten football.’”
Ferrario said he could not get to the phone fast enough to call Wisconsin.
“Now I wanted to become a Badger to go beat those Nittany Lions that didn’t want me,” Ferrario said.
Ferrario started every game of his four-year career with Wisconsin and was part of two Big Ten Championship teams and two Rose Bowl titles.
When he was getting prepared for the NFL Draft, Ferrario’s future father-in-law Packer fan said to him, “Bill, if you go to Minnesota, don’t bother coming back here.”
Ferrario was drafted in 2001 by the Packers where he played a few years and later signed with the Washington Redskins and Carolina Panthers.
“When it was all said and done, the one thing I was proud of is that I had no regrets,” Ferrario said. “I look back at the different moments and stories my dad told me throughout the years, and he stressed to never have any regrets with whatever you do.
“No matter what I did in my life, I followed my parents’ motto of finishing everything I started and always giving 100 percent.”
Brian Butch earned the Doug Jirschele Nice Guy Award. He attended Appleton West and a two-time Wisconsin State Player of the Year in basketball.
Butch played for the Wisconsin Badgers and had a basketball career all around the world.
“I wasn’t a great athlete, but one thing I did is work my tail off,” Butch said. “I learned to shoot a basketball, and I was able to play the game I love for 10 years professionally.”
After college, Butch played basketball in Spain, China, Germany and Greece before playing in what was originally called the D-League in Bakersfield, California.
“In a matter of four months, I signed a NBA contract,” Butch said. “I went from losing my job four times to just continuing to work and work and work. Before I knew it, the Denver Nuggets called and signed me to a NBA contract.”
Butch was in a suit on the sideline and never played that season but had another year on his contract. In the second game of the summer league, he ruptured his patella tendon.
After a 15-month rehab process, Butch played for Team USA where he won the bronze in the Pan American Games.
After another successful trip to the D League, Butch signed with the New Orleans Hornets and during a practice, he tore his MCL and patella tendon in the other knee.
Butch spent the next 2-3 years in the D League before going overseas again in the Philippines, Dubai and Tokyo.
“To me, the last four years of my career were the most enjoyable,” Butch said. “I was able to travel the world and play a game I was able to love and enjoy and open up my eyes to what this world was.”
Butch runs youth basketball camps and he stresses the importance of having a goal.
“Whether we’re young or old, we will always have opportunities to reach our goals,” Butch said. “That’s what’s so great about this life we live.
“If you guys remember me for just being a basketball player, I haven’t done enough. If that’s the case, I haven’t used the platform to use what I’ve been given to speak and give a message.”
Leann Hopp was the first Doug Jirschele Sports Award recipient of the night. She was born in Clintonville and graduated from the high school in 1990.
Hopp moved on to become a four-year starter on the Marian College softball team and still holds the record for the highest on base percentage in a season in the school’s history.
Hopp is now living in Clintonville with her husband Derk and three children. She was a teacher at St. Martin Lutheran School until 2015, and she has coached softball at the youth and high school level and volleyball at the elementary school level.
“I’m very grateful and honored to be chosen for this award even though there are many others out there far more deserving than I am,” Hopp said, choking back tears.
Hopp’s first time playing high school sports came when she was a senior.
“Typically, that’s when most athletes are wrapping it up, but that’s when I started,” Hopp said. “I’m thankful for the way things worked out. I did miss out on a lot of opportunities before that, but I will say this: I’m proud to be a farm kid. When I had the opportunities that really matter, I learned the true meaning of hard work, strength, persistence, respect and independence.”
Right now, I’m doing what I can to give back to Clintonville, my hometown. My roots run very deep here. Both of my parents were born and raised here, and this has always been considered home to me.”
Jim Polzin graduated from Clintonville High School in 1994 and played on the 1993 state tournament team.
After graduating from UW-Madison, Polzin began a 20-year career at Madison newspapers, and he is the primary beat writer for the Wisconsin Badgers men’s basketball program with the Wisconsin State Journal.
Polzin said covering the basketball team takes him away from his wife Molle and their two sons for long stretches of time during the winter months.
“She’s a trooper,” Polzin said. “She’s a single parent for long stretches of the basketball season but does an outstanding job making sure our boys have everything they need. You can always see that look on Molle’s face in January and February like, ‘When is your season going to end?’ And then eventually does and by April and May, that look returns, but the message is different. It’s like, ‘When is your next season going to start?’”
Polzin earned more laughs from the audience when describing a high school baseball experience.
“At least when it comes to my selection, I can’t imagine an actual athletic achievement played a huge rule in the process,” Polzin said. “Quick trivia question: Who made the final out of the Truckers’ 5-3 loss to Prairie du Chien in the 1993 state semifinals in Wausau? This guy, but don’t worry, in another 25 years I might get over it.”
With the Badgers basketball season ending earlier than usual this season, he was able to bond with his sons at the state tournament in Madison to watch the local Sun Prairie compete.
“That was some good bonding time I will cherish forever,” Polzin said. “We’re Sun Prairie Cardinals now, but I’ll always be a Trucker at heart, so one final thank you to you Clintonville for being a place I’m proud to call home.”
John Dunlavy graduated from Clintonville High School in 2002 where he was a three-sport athlete in football, basketball and baseball.
Dunlavy played baseball at Ripon College and was a member of the Midwest Conference Championship teams for four straight years, and he was named a First Team All-Conference selection three times.
Dunlavy coached varsity baseball at Clintonville and was a hitting coach for Ripon College. He also coached football and baseball at Markesan High School.
Dunlavy thanked his coaches for the time they put in working with him including Bill Kinzinger and his father.
“I feel very lucky and blessed to have been the son of a coach,” Dunlavy said. “I also feel cursed at times when I was younger. Anybody who had to play for their dad, you got coached at practice, you got coached at home, in the car ride and it was nonstop. It probably spilled over a little bit when we got in an argument once or twice, but when you look back on it, how lucky was I to go to the gym every single day? Whatever season it was, that was my favorite sport.”
Dunlavy said he was thankful for his mom when he and his dad would be having arguments during dinner.
“That’s when Mom put the striped shirt on, and she was the referee,” Dunlavy said. “I have to thank my mom for that because she was always on my side.
“Coaches are the reasons why I was able to have some success in sports. The life lessons you learn through all those things are unbelievable and I’ll carry on with me forever. Being a coach myself and having a son, I hope he’s lucky as I was when I was a kid.”
Mark Doornink was awarded with the Forgotten Man Award. The Forgotten Man Award goes to somebody behind the scenes that does not get a lot of credit for things but is part of the backbone of the community.
Doornink has been a large part of Clintonville youth baseball and softball coaching, serving on committees and completed projects such as new dugouts, batting cages, storage building, among others.
Doornink helped bring the state legion baseball tournament to Clintonville in July 2017.
“I just want to say thank you, and I’m totally surprised,” Doornink said. “It’s an honor to be on this podium with such other great award winners in the past and yet to come. The one thing I always wanted to do is just to make our community better, and the only way you can do that is be involved. Instead of sitting back and letting other people dictate your future, be part of it and be a driver in it.”