Coach reflects on what it takes to build a champion
Support from administration, belief in process led Highlanders to track crown
Homestead boys track coach Dan Benson should still be relishing the accomplishments, the work and the effort that his team put into a dominating WIAA State Division 1 championship season, the first for the program in 46 years. Instead, Benson is thinking about history and respect and people who laid the groundwork for such success.
Three names pop into his mind immediately. One is the star performer of the two-time state Class B champion Highlanders teams of 1963 and 1964, Dan Snider; another is school coaching and administrative legend Dick Peregrine; and the other is recently retired Homestead Principal Mark Roherty.
Snider, a four-time state hurdles champ, sometimes gets lost in the shuffle, Benson said, because the records were a bit confused back in the 1960s. It was still Mequon-Thiensville High School back in 1963 and then changed over to Homestead in 1964.
Benson said he's going to update the Buntrock plaque at the school, which lists all the individual state champions in Homestead history, because Snider's 1963 accomplishments are not listed because of the school's name change.
"And I'm going to lobby like heck for him this year for our (athletic) Hall of Fame," Benson said. "What he did to the high hurdles record (in 1964) was amazing. It was 15 seconds flat and he took it all the way down to 14.2, and he was only 5-9 and 150 pounds."
Peregrine gets Benson's admiration and thanks for hiring him in the 1987-88 school year when Benson was just starting out at the school.
"My first year was his last year (as athletic director), but I could see he was organizational genius," Benson said. "He took such pressure off of me, not having to worry about budgets or hiring timers or anything like that in my first year. He was like my dad (Dan Sr.) that way when dad was at Tosa West."
Roherty, who retired after more than 20 years on the job, gets Benson's respect for many reasons.
"I can't tell how many ways he made my life easier," Benson said. "The support and the visibility he gave to the coaches and the students. I just couldn't have worked in a better situation. It's just rare when you're that lucky."
And Benson knew he was lucky with his athletes this year, too. They showed great potential as freshmen (state 800 record-holder Gabe Genovesi's 1:59 800 split in a 3,200 relay in 2007) and took steps forward every year.
"We watched them fail and then succeed and it all led up to this great season," he said. "Justin (Barber), Brad (Pelisek), Dan (Schiller), Andrew (Holtorf), Gabe, Mike (Collins), all putting in tons of work in the off-season. The pieces falling into place like adding Todd (Brawner) to the staff.
"It was all very satisfying. Even when you have kids like this, even when you put together a staff as good as this, the stars don't always align.
"But I'd totally be lying if I didn't say that myself and the staff knew that we had a great chance to be in the discussion (for a state title). But there's so much that can bump you off track. If you spend too much time peddling a goal like that to the kids, you set yourself up for a season of ups and downs."
That's why he was grateful to Brawner, who won a state title himself at Germantown, for his insights and calming influence.
"He kept people motivated and on focus," Benson said.
And believing in a process, because when you spoke to the Homestead athletes at major meets, they all kept talking about it: Those day-to-day workouts that lead to a larger goal, and a bigger and better day at the end.
In that regard, Benson got some good advice from Arrowhead coach Chris Herriot, whose team won the 2009 state championship.
"He told me to try and enjoy the weekly successes," Benson said. "He said I know what you're focusing on, but try and do that anyway.' "
And what would have happened if it hadn't worked out? That in spite of all Homestead's best efforts, there was no state championship trophy to take home on June 5.
How would Benson have reacted? It again came down to the process.
"The focus is really helping young men become better adults," he said. "Focus on the lifelong learning behind it all. If we hadn't of won, would I have been bitter or mad? Of course, not.
"But having said that, it (the state title) is a nice thing to reflect on."
And also to help remember who helped you along the way.
A season to remember
Highlights of the Homestead boys track team's premiere spring:
MAJOR MEET RECORD: Nelson-Daniels Invite (first); Lake Michigan Invite (second, lost to a team from Illinois); North Shore Conference Indoor (first); Brookfield East Invite (first); Germantown Invite (first); Wauwatosa West Invite (first); North Shore Conference Relays (first); NSC Outdoor (first); WIAA regional (first); WIAA sectional (first); and WIAA state (first).
SCHOOL RECORDS: Gabe Genovesi in the 800 (state champion 1:51.07); Dan Schiller in the high jump (6-10); Justin Barber in the discus (179-11); Brad Pelisek in the long jump (22-10); 1,600 relay team of Doug Mueller, Andrew Holtorf, Mike Collins and Genovesi (state champion 3:18.78); and 3,200 relay team of Nate Routhier, Mike Cronce, Mueller and Genovesi (state champion 7:46.82).
SENIORS: Barber, Steve Brookman, Collins, Brendan Cullen, Diego Espinoza, Genovesi, Brian Hoffmann, Holtorf, Alex Levin, Mike Meer, Matt Murtos, Pelisek, Matt Sama, Matt Savage, Schiller and Igor Sulim.
QUOTE: "The true test of a coach is the work with the kids, but we all want to be there on that given day with the kind of opportunity we had." - Dan Benson
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