This year Westby high school celebrates it's 75th year of high school football. Being part, albeit a small part, but still a part of the history of that program still has an impact on me and my life today. I went to high school in the mid 90's, when I was a Freshman in high school the head coach was Art Brunje, coach Brunje was known around the area as a tough but great coach, he had state titles under his belt and had coached some of the best football players in the area on his resume. I remember wondering as a kid if I could make it being coached by him, but being a boy growing up in Westby, that is just what you did, you played football. The first day of Freshman football and being in a warmup line that felt like it was over 50 yards long and barely even being able to see him leading his seniors at the front of the line you still wanted to put in your best effort doing the jumping jacks in fear that he might see you slacking off.
I remember when I was a sophomore we got a call to go to his classroom during a lunch hour in the middle of the winter, it was then that coach Brunje told the team that he was going to be stepping down, but that he was leaving the team in good hands. He said that Neil Hoven a coach from the 70's was coming back to take over the team, and his line coach "B" was going to stay part of the staff. I remember the sadness and joy of the older kids when they heard the news, the sadness because of the loss of a great coach like Art Brunje but the optimism because of a coaching legend like Neil Hoven coming back to take over the team.
Westby football is all about tradition, they still "shoulder block" they still do warmups that teams probably back in the 40's used to do, in Westby when it comes to football time stands still, it is throwback football, so far throwback in fact that if you were to call a passing play, it means that you would only have 2 more chances to get a first down. You don't throw the ball, you run it, and if you are coaching the team and you do throw the ball, then you never hear the end of it from the "experts" that gather at Borgens. Many study hall hours were spent watching game film from teams in 80's and you not only learned how the schemes worked you learned of the young men that were there before you that proved the system works if you ran it correctly, and they had the state championship trophies to prove it. The players last names were most of the time the same last name as our teammates because they were their older brothers, or their cousins. As little kids we could remember the police and fire trucks escorting the championship team back into town after they took care of business in Madison, and you dream of the day that you would be able to wear that jersey and those people would be cheering for you.
Winning was tradition at Westby, wether it was Art Brunje, or Neil Hoven or even before them coaches like Bill Terry, and Elmo Gulsvig. It was just expected that if you play for Westby you are supposed to be as good or better than everyone else. It was a swagger without a swagger, there was nothing flashy at all about it, no running through the signs no running through a tunnel as your name gets called, nothing flashy at all. The only name on the jersey was Norsemen, and the only thing that made you different than anyone else was the number on your jersey, there was nothing special about playing football for the Norsemen yet at the same time everything about it was special. The coaches used the history and the tradition as motivation every chance they got. Maybe the best high school football player to come out of this area was a running back for Westby, his name is Steve Hougom he was first in rushing in the COUNTRY his senior season. There was never anything that we could ever do to "impress" our coaches that they hadn't seen before and every chance they had to remind us of that they did. That was part of what made these coaches so great, it was the fire that kept burning, the fire that even keeps burning today of "I'll show you how good I am".
The beauty of high school football, and not just Westby football but high school football in general is that it bridges the gaps in generations. A player from the 70's Dan Nelson (now the head football coach) was the one that got me interested in football in the first place, recently I have been in contact with other men that I consider legends and role models because of what they did playing football at Westby. I had a chance to coach football for a few years in Ohio and that really opened up my eyes that just because it wasn't "Westby football" didn't make it any less special, every school has something different about it that makes it "better" and "more special" than any other school. The traditions of high school football in this area and around the country are very special and they make an impact on a young man's life. I like most other adult males that played high school football can still remember as much how to run the bread and butter plays as any senior on the field right now, but the X's and O's aren't what makes the game special, it is those that are standing next to you and those that are leading you. And with that, it doesn't matter if you played high school football in Westby or Viroqua, it doesn't matter if you were division 6 or division 1, it doesn't matter if you played in Wisconsin or in Ohio. High school football has been changing the lives of young men for many many years, and no matter what rules are put in to change the game, as long as they keep playing, it will continue to change lives for the next 75 years.
That was my high school football experience minus many many details, please feel free to comment on what made where you played "more special" than anywhere else.