APPLETON, Wis. – John Mielke was everywhere at Appleton East High School on Tuesday night.
On T-shirts, on signs and on the court, the reach of Mielke’s influence was undeniable during the Patriots’ game against Oshkosh North.
Mielke, who resigned as coach Sunday morning two days after being confronted by a parent of an East player at a local bar, wasn’t present on the East sidelines for the game against Oshkosh North, an area he patrolled for 18 seasons as Patriots head coach.
The Patriots stayed close with the top-ranked Spartans for a half before falling 72-35.
The fallout of Mielke’s resignation was still difficult for many, including Appleton East environmental science teacher Ryan Marx.
Marx was wearing a Mielke-themed T-shirt and also had a folded white towel on his right shoulder, a staple of Mielke’s look on the sideline.
“Coach Mielke is a legend and he does not deserve to go out like this,” Marx said. “And one thing about Mielke. He loved these players. He worked them hard, no doubt, but he never demeaned these players.”
Sources told USA TODAY NETWORK-Wisconsin that a parent confronted Mielke following the Patriots’ 64-48 loss to Appleton West on Friday. Other East parents were nearby but did not address Mielke, according to others in the bar.
Several assistant coaches joined Mielke in stepping down, but varsity assistant Steve Coenen returned Monday and will coach the team the rest of the season.
“Coach Mielke is at peace with his decision,” Coenen said after the game. “It’s uncharted waters, so we’re just going to take it day-by-day. We have quite the gauntlet this week with Kaukauna on Friday and Kimberly on Monday and we’re going to prepare for Kaukauna like any other week.
“I know there’s a lot of support there for John and obviously it was very visible today, but it always is though. I haven’t talked to any of the parents. It’s been such a short week and I don’t know if we’ll get there this week. I would like to somehow, sometime get there. But I don’t know when that will be.”
Appleton East senior starter Evan Ourada said he was still processing the fact that Mielke – the face of Appleton East boys basketball – was no longer his head coach.
“I’m really shocked,” he said. “Honestly, I don’t know what happened. It’s insanely shocking. I never thought this would happen, ever. Growing up he’s always been the coach. Ever since I was in AEYBA (Appleton East Youth Basketball Association), he’s always been the coach. It’s just really weird not having him as the coach.”
Ourada said Mielke’s coaching style, while firm, was beneficial to the players.
“Yeah, he’s hard on us, but it’s just how he is,” Ourada said. “He made me the player I am, so it’s really shocking. I’m still in shock.”
Kaden Clark, a junior forward who led East with 16 points Tuesday, said that he and the rest of the players have to “stay focused and keep our mind on the next games.”
He echoed Ourada’s feelings on Mielke.
“I’ve always looked up to coach Mielke since I was in AEYBA,” Clark said. “He’s taught me a lot, not just on the court, but outside the court, too. It’s just shocking to have it end like this.”
Appleton East principal Matt Mineau said Mielke “was an awesome individual and a great coach here at East.”
“He brought many individuals to great levels and we had some unbelievable seasons and runs,” Mineau added. “We’re really happy that he’s been here and he’s done that and brought that legacy for East.
“He’s a good man and a great coach. As we’ve said before, we’re both saddened and surprised by this but at the same time we want to recognize the amazing things he did for Appleton East High School.”
Coenen said the team will continue to employ Mielke’s basketball philosophies the rest of the season.
“I learned a lot from John on and off the court,” Coenen said. “So our practices will be competitive. We will still have our defensive rules and offensively we will keep testing until we find something that works for us.”
Coenen added that he had a brief message to his team following the loss Tuesday.
“We really didn’t talk too much about the game. We just talked about where we’re at and how we got here and how we’re going to move forward from here,” Coenen said. “Pretty much it’s going to stay within our team. All the comments, everything is going to stay in house. We need to support each other and it was a pretty simple message.”