Lourdes gets back on the gridiron again
Varsity football returns after two-year absence from sport
By Jeff Kurowski
Compass Assistant Editor
Success is not always measured in wins and losses. This season, the football team at Lourdes High School in Oshkosh won only one game, but the fact the squad competed each week outweighed the final score. The Knights returned to varsity action in 2001 following a two-year absence.
"We've taken our lumps, but we expected that," said Coach John Burke. "On the positive side, we've seen an improvement in our kids every week. We are very happy to be back on the varsity field, but we are not satisfied. We have a long road ahead of us."
Burke's 1998 team was a senior dominated squad. The prospects for the 1999 season left the coach, a 1987 Lourdes graduate, with a difficult decision.
"Graduation hit us hard and the realignment procedures of the WIAA put us in a conference with some bigger schools," Burke explained. "Some of the athletes made the decision that they wanted to try something else. We looked at the kids who still wanted to play football and we didn't feel that we could safely put them up against established programs in the East Central Flyway Conference."
Lourdes fielded only a junior varsity squad in 1999 and 2000, targeting a varsity return this season.
"It was a great learning experience," said Burke. "It allowed our younger players to play against kids of their same skill level and maturity. It was also more than a bit frustrating though. For seniors not to have the opportunity to play was difficult. It was also tough on our juniors not to be able to play varsity football, earn a varsity letter and have the opportunity to earn all-conference honors."
Lourdes opened the 2001 season with a 26-0 victory over Green Lake but the Knights would drop all seven conference games and finish the season 1-8. Burke focuses on the positive.
"You take a step back and watch the film and you see the improvement week to week," he said. "A young sophomore who is starting on the varsity and by all rights should be playing junior varsity football is making plays in week six that he wasn't making in week three. There's a progression there."
"There has never been a question in what the kids are willing to give," he continued. "Our kids have played outstanding football in the second half of games. They have continued to hang in there and fight and battle. I'm proud of our kids."
Ben Neubauer and Scott Olson were the lone seniors on the 2001 squad. The large number of returning players for next season and an undefeated season by the team at St. John Neumann Middle School is reason for optimism. No matter where the program is headed, Burke said he will look back fondly at this season.
"The two seniors should always hang their hat on what they gave us this season," he said. "They were the first senior class back and helped us rebuild. All the kids on this year's team should remember that fact. Even if we develop into a playoff team in the near future, it doesn't happen without this year. You have to start somewhere."
"It's been a struggle, but I'm glad we're back," said Neubauer, a defensive end and guard. "It's been fun playing football. I love playing the game with my teammates."
"The game against Green Lake was great," he added. "The season would have been even tougher without that win. We can always look back at that game."
"It was a lot of fun," said Olson, an offensive and defensive tackle. "Win or lose, it still felt good coming out and playing. For the past two years, it didn't seem like homecoming without a football game. This year everyone came out for the soccer game and the homecoming football game. Seeing how much the school really cared about us even though we weren't winning meant a lot."
"I love the game and want to pass that on to the kids," said Burke. "You hope you impact the kids. The kids may not see the life lessons they learned now, but I think down the road the fact they battled a team that may be a state champion, says a lot about them."
"We never gave up," said Olson. "I look forward to coming back and watching the team next season."
"I'm going to miss it a lot," said Neubauer. "As long as I feel I've given it my all, I can walk off the field with my head held high."