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‘Koronk’ headed to another Hall

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John Koronkiewicz talks with players during an August 2015 football practice at Waupaca High School. Koronkiewicz, who coached the Comets to WIAA Division 3 state football championships in 2006 and 2008 and a Division 2 state baseball title in 2016, will be inducted into the National High School Athletic Coaches Association Hall of Fame next year. Greg Seubert Photo

Former coach to be inducted in March

By Greg Seubert

Two words come to mind when talking about Waupaca High School’s football program.

One is John. The other is Koronkiewicz.

The school’s former football coach was inducted into the Wisconsin Football Coaches Association’s Hall of Fame in 2018 and he’ll receive another honor next March at the association’s annual Hall of Fame banquet, as he’ll be inducted into the National High School Athletic Coaches Hall of Fame.

Koronkiewicz, who now lives in Lake Geneva, coached hundreds of players during 30-plus years of coaching football and baseball at Waupaca High School.

One of them is Aaron Jenson, the School District of Waupaca’s director of athletics and co-curricular activities.

Jenson was the quarterback on the Comets’ 2006 team that defeated Greendale 7-3 in the WIAA Division 3 state championship game. His brothers, Tyler and Nate, later played for Koronkiewicz. Tyler was on the 2008 team that defeated Reedsburg 21-20 in the Division 3 title game and Nate was on the 2012 team that fell to Catholic Memorial 42-7 in the Division 3 championship game.

“I think it was his ability to motivate kids and get more out of kids than they realized they could do themselves,” Aaron Jenson said. “I don’t think there was ever a game that we felt like we were going to lose even though the coaches might’ve known it. His way to get the kids in a certain state of mind that gave them the best chance to compete night in and night out was something that was unique to him and you don’t come across very often.”

Koronkiewicz also took football teams to state in 1994 and 2002. He also coached the Comets to the WIAA Division 2 state baseball championship in 2016, the same year he retired from teaching.

Koronkiewicz’s football teams made the WIAA playoffs each year from 1991 to 2015, won conference championships in 1987, 1988, 1991, 1992, 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 1997, 1998, 1999, 2000, 2001, 2002, 2003, 2006, 2007. 2008, 2009, 2011, 2012 and 2013. The 2008 state championship team posted a 14-0 record, while the 1993, 1994, 1996, 1997, 1998, 2001, 2003, 2008, 2009, 2012 and 2013 teams had undefeated regular seasons.

“He always said, ‘Things are never as good as you think they are and they’re never as bad as you think they are,’” Jenson said. “We had both. I was on teams where we weren’t very good. I was on the team that was the first to lose a conference championship in 13 years and I was on that state championship team in 2006, so I got to experience both. I’m probably one of the few players in Koronk’s tenure and our group was one of the few groups that got to experience real disappointment and the highest of the highs.”

Because of the Comets’ success under Koronkiewicz, football was a big deal for Jenson and other kids growing up in Waupaca.
“When you’re real young, I’m not sure you understand the magnitude of everything,” he said. “You play sports because it’s something to do and it’s a social thing. As you get into seventh and eighth grade, you start to know who those guys were. I remember knowing guys like Jac Johnson, John Pawielski and Mike Koronkiewicz. Those are the years that I started paying attention.

“I was in eighth grade when they were at state (in 2002),” he said. “When I was a freshman, we had an unbelievably talented group with Jordan Johnson and Griffin Moe and those guys. We just stumbled to a Medford team at home. I think one of the things that made that program so good for so long was that the seniors took ownership in it and that just carried over year after year after year. The younger kids looked at those seniors and there was a certain expectation that everyone knew had to be followed.”

Jenson followed the team after he graduated in 2007 and moved on to the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse.

“I had two little brothers that were still playing,” he said. “I was in college at the time, but I remember going to a lot of their playoff games and when they both made it to state. You got to see it from a different perspective. It became a big family. On the teams I was on, everyone had respect for each other. You have 80, 90 guys on the team, you may not have all hung out on the weekend, but you had each others’ back on the field or in the classroom.”

Game day while Jenson was in high school was laid back, he said.

“For all of the intensity there was during the week, it was pretty calm on Fridays,” he said. “He made a conscious effort to do that. I can remember maybe one game where that wasn’t the case and I think it was because he knew we were going to get crushed and we did.”

Jenson threw a 25-yard touchdown pass to Sean Devos that erased a 3-0 deficit in the 2006 championship game. The touchdown came with less than four minutes to go in the game, played at Camp Randall Stadium in Madison.

“The state championship probably isn’t what I remember the most,” he said. “I think I’ll probably remember when we won a conference championship because our group had not felt that. We were the first group in probably 15 or 20 years to not (win). It felt good to accomplish that together. I remember the workouts in the summer. It was fun working toward something with a group of guys that all had the same goals in mind.”

Koronkiewicz is one of two people that will be inducted into the National High School Athletic Coaches Hall of Fame at the banquet, set for Saturday, March 30, in Middleton. The other is Frank Budzisz, former football coach at Milwaukee Bradley Tech.

“I can’t imagine somebody more deserving,” Jenson said. “Koronk not only was an unbelievable coach, but what’s more unbelievable to me is I still see him around Waupaca at graduation parties. He lives in Lake Geneva and he’ll come back to support those kids that he had as freshmen.

“My brother’s playing college football and he went to his game in Iowa this year,” he said. “He supports the kids after they play for him, which shares his care for them as people moreso than them just getting a win on the field.”

• Thirty tickets are available at the Waupaca High School main office for the Wisconsin Football Coaches Association’s 2019 Hall of Fame induction banquet, scheduled for Saturday, March 30, 2019, at the Marriott West in Middleton. Tickets cost $45 each and must be paid for by check. Anyone wishing to purchase tickets will have to pick up their ticket at the school. Contact Jenson at [email protected] or 715-258-4131, ext. 1029 for more information.

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