It was the tweet heard ’round the world and for a few days last January, the tiny town of Hilbert became the epicenter of the high school sports world.
April Gehl, a three-sport star for Hilbert and now a freshman volleyball player at UW-Stevens Point, took issue with an email the WIAA sent to high schools late last December. The email, from WIAA director of communication Todd Clark, addressed what the WIAA felt was an increase in the “amount of chants by students sections directed at opponents and/or opponents’ supporters that are clearly intended to disrespect.”
Hilbert school officials forwarded the email to the school’s students, which prompted Gehl’s off-the-cuff tweet that contained profanity directed toward the WIAA, the state’s governing body over high school sports.
Hilbert, when made aware of the email by the WIAA, suspended Gehl for four-and-a-half games. The story went viral almost instantly, with the WIAA — and to a lesser extent Hilbert — taking flak over the issue of free speech and sportsmanship.
News outlets such as USA TODAY, Sports Illustrated, ESPN, Fox News, MSN, Salon, The Sporting News, New York Daily News and even the Daily Mail in London carried the story. The story also trended on Twitter and generated commentary from top analysts, including ESPN’s Jay Bilas, who took the WIAA to task.
Even late night talk show host Stephen Colbert made mention of the WIAA during his show’s monologue.
It was a story that generated national discussion on sportsmanship and the pitfalls of social media. For the national reaction the story created, it has been chosen Post-Crescent Media’s top high school sports story of 2016.
Here are the rest of the top 10:
2. Kimberly football extends nation’s longest winning streak, wins fourth consecutive title: By now you should know these two numbers concerning the Kimberly football team: 56 and 4.
That’s 56 consecutive victories, the longest winning streak in the nation. And that’s four consecutive state championships, including a 29-14 comeback win over Franklin in the WIAA Division 1 state title game at Camp Randall Stadium on Nov. 18. To punctuate the team’s great season, Papermakers quarterback Danny Vanden Boom was named the Gatorade state player of the year, with Kimberly coach Steve Jones netting his second consecutive Wisconsin Football Coaches Association coach of the year honor, as well as being named the Associated Press coach of the year. Kimberly also had four players on the first team of the AP’s all-state team: Vanden Boom, running back D.J. Stewart, offensive lineman Logan Bruss and defensive lineman Logan McCormick.
3. Banner year for Kaukauna boys’ athletics: While Kimberly may rule the roost in football, there’s no question that rival and fellow “K-Town” cousin Kaukauna was tops in the state for wrestling and boys’ basketball in 2016. The Ghosts captured the WIAA Division 2 state crown in boys’ basketball on March 19 by whipping Waunakee 91-62. Jordan McCabe, the basketball team’s top player, also verbally committed to West Virginia in a high-profile news conference this summer.
The Ghosts’ wrestling program, arguably the best in the state, claimed a third consecutive state title in March. Kaukauna defeated Stoughton 29-27 with a pair of seniors, Ty Lee and Trent Leon, winning back-to-back matches to rally the Ghosts from a 27-23 deficit. Both wrestlers moved up a weight class, with Lee dominating Stoughton’s Tristan Jenny 9-3 at 126 pounds and Leon securing the state title in dramatic fashion by defeating Cade Spilde 6-3 at 132.
4. Appleton United wins hockey crown: It’s easy to forget sometimes just how big the game of hockey is in the Fox Valley. Last March, however, the combined high schools of Appleton East, Appleton North and Appleton West finally netted a state title for the first time in the program’s history. United defeated Hudson 2-1, with Matthew Gruber scoring the eventual game-winning goal in the third period. United star player Trenton Bliss, a University of Wisconsin recruit, was also named the state’s player of the year.
5. Neenah girls’ volleyball team wins state crown, Moriarty retires: The Rockets have been one of the state’s top programs for decades, but always seemed to fall short of securing a championship despite finishing as state runners-up four times. That changed in November, when the top-ranked Rockets survived an epic five-set match with rival Appleton North in the quarterfinals before sweeping Sun Prairie and Burlington in the semifinals and finals, respectively, to win their first state title since 1978. Veteran coach Bruce Moriarty announced his retirement a short time later, ending an incredible run by the Rockets under him that saw them reach the sectional level 18 out of the past 19 seasons.
6. Waupaca, St. Mary Catholic win state baseball titles, Koronkiewicz retires: Thursday, June 16, was a watershed moment for a pair of area baseball programs. For Waupaca, longtime coach John Koronkiewicz enjoyed his final hurrah as a coach for the Comets by watching his team win the WIAA Division 2 state title with a 2-0 victory over defending champion Milwaukee Lutheran. It was his 515th and final game as the Comets head coach. St. Mary Catholic captured the school’s first championship by winning the Division 3 title with a 5-1 victory over Prairie du Chien. Leadoff hitter Tyler Nelson went 3-for-4 and had four stolen bases.
7. Fox Valley Lutheran’s Ben Gucinski sets state mark in winning high jump: Gucinski battled back from spinal fusion surgery and “hundreds of hours of rehab” to win the WIAA Division 2 boys’ high jump title in early June with a leap of 7 feet, 1 inch. His leap set the overall state record held previously in Division 1 by Milwaukee Juneau’s Jason Smith (7-0) set in 1992.
8. Freedom’s Vosters, Kaukauna’s Lee win state wrestling titles: It was a polar opposite of emotions for a pair of seniors on Feb. 27 at the Kohl Center in Madison. On one end was Freedom’s Seth Vosters, overcome with emotions and sobbing, as he finally secured the WIAA Division 2 state title at 160 pounds after falling short in the championship match the previous year. For Lee, he was all smiles as he bounced back from an injury-plagued junior year to win the Division 1 state title at 120.
9. Little Chute’s Tess Keyzers repeats as Division 2 state champ in shot put: The first throw in the finals was the best throw for the Little Chute junior at the Division 2 state track and field meet in early June. Her toss of 47 feet, 3 inches eventually netted her a second consecutive state title and also broke the previous D2 state record of 45-11/2, which was set by Mosinee’s Amanda Nechuta in 2001. Keyzers, a senior this year, will go for her third consecutive title this spring.
10. Xavier’s Luke Bailey wins Division 2 state cross-country title: Working hard to achieve a top goal is something that drives Bailey, a senior. Bailey told Post-Crescent Media that it was his goal to have a cross-country champion on the Hawks’ “Hallway of Champions” after noticing the school didn’t have one. He accomplished that goal with aplomb by winning the Division 2 individual state title with a time of 15 minutes, 44.8 seconds The Ridges Golf Course in late October.
Best of the rest: Neenah freshman Av Osero wins WIAA state title in diving; Clint Kriewaldt steps down as Freedom football coach; Xavier girls’ basketball coach A.C. Clouthier resigns after leading Hawks to back-to-back state appearances; Neenah doubles team of Kiki Risgaard/Christina Price win Division 1 state doubles title; Xavier exchange student Clair Phakamad wins Bay Conference golf title, finishes second at regional and wins sectional title; Appleton West’s Tara Pratt stuns high jump field by winning Division 1 state title; Hortonville girls’ basketball coach Jeff Chew resigns.
Ricardo Arguello: 920-993-7191 or email@example.com; on Twitter @PCRicardo