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Falls athletic hall of fame? Thanks from the bottom of my heart

Sept. 2, 2011

I really don't have much business being in the Menomonee Falls Athletic Hall of Fame, but here we are and there I will be on Sept. 16 alongside the family of my late, great classmate Craig DeCloux (Falls North 1977) and a personal hoops hero of mine, Dave Gross (Falls North 1976).

The Hall, which I have proudly served as a committee member forever since its inception in 2004, is really not made for people like me.

Me of the "slow and fat" eighth-period freshmen phys-ed class of 1973 at Falls North taught by then-just-teacher Richard P. Woosencraft, long before he became principal and educator emeritus for the village.

"Woos" quickly and adroitly called my mom after I sliced open the palm of my right hand while trying to clumsily adjust the parallel bars during a circuit training session that first semester, and we've been friends almost ever since.

That despite the fact that I couldn't break 15 seconds in the 100-meter dash and that I had an "astounding" vertical leap of 11 inches even when I was 50 pounds lighter (like I was then).

Sorry Mick Kohl, Lee Flasch, Dan Schneider, Mike Hacker and all the other great athletes in my class.

Really. Sorry.

It was Woos, Dave Petroff, Terry Thomas and Jim Jeskewitz, the great "Gang of Four" of Menomonee Falls sports legends, who also serve on the Hall's committee, who ganged up on me at the May selection meeting and told me I was going in.

I briefly protested, but Petroff, for whom I managed the North varsity football team of 1975 ("Conditioning never killed anyone," was his famous bullhorn mantra as the team did laps up on the 330-yard cinder track by the school), just smiled and said:

"You don't have a choice."

For those of you who aren't familiar, I've been doing this job covering Falls (and myriad other communities') sports to the best of my ability and with great joy since 1982 and I guess that's what those guys decided what made me worthy.

I am truly and humbly grateful for their faith and trust in me, and I will be there to accept my plaque, if only to thank everyone in creation who had a hand in this.

Gross was hoops star

I will shake hands and hug Gross. "V", as he was known back then, was a three-time All-Braveland Conference selection, who was a relentless rebounder and who was constantly on the move looking for an open shot.

His famous last-second shot that tipped off the front of the rim and fell in to upset then-undefeated Sussex Hamilton at a roaring Falls North gym in February 1975 still remains one of the great basketball moments in Falls history.

That moment was caught in a marvelous photo by one of the two great Falls News' sports gurus of the time, either Al Curtis or Bob Zuck (I can't find that photo just right now). The broadsheet view of the shot caught every emotion of the moment perfectly.

"V" was a humble and decent guy and looked like he could still take a lot of today's kids to the rim when his brother, John, was inducted into the Hall last year. I was so pleased to find that he still remembered me, because he himself is unforgettable.

DeCloux was multi-sport talent

As was DeCloux.

He was part of the great quartet of male divers at North and East who dominated state diving from 1976-78. Mike Osborne of East (a 2010 Hall Inductee) in 1976, DeCloux of North in 1977 and Craig Schweiger of East in 1978, all won WIAA titles while Tom Maier (another 1977 North classmate) was a state place-winner.

All were coached by Schweiger's father, the legendary Bob Schweiger. The quartet's apex came in DeCloux's championship year of 1977, when he won with what was then the second-best state championship score in history (483.75) while Osborne, Craig Schweiger and Maier, took second, third and fourth, respectively.

"My family was very fortunate to be involved in the Menomonee Falls Swim Club and much of Craig's and my sister, Kim's, diving success should be credited to coach Bob Schwieger who spent most of his free time driving us to and from diving competitions all across the Midwest," said younger brother, Geoff DeCloux.

Quiet, intense and intelligent (he would later graduate from the University of Wisconsin), Craig DeCloux was also a three-year baseball letter-winner (he started in right field on the 1977 North state runner-up baseball team) and a hard-hitting linebacker in football.

I drew his ire in the fall of 1975 when I was in charge of charting tackles for the JV football team and he claimed I was only seeing the last guy off the pile and never the one who made the first hit (usually him).

He was probably right.

"Craig loved competition and even more than that he loved to win," said Geoff in a broad understatement. "… He was dedicated, focused and fearless."

 DeCloux's life took different turns after high school, according to Geoff.

 He went to Wisconsin and after college spent some time trying to start a diving program similar to the Menomonee Falls program he grew up with, noted Geoff. He settled down in Leadville, Colo., working as an electrician. He enjoyed downhill skiing, rock climbing and golf. He was married for a time but divorced with no children. Craig was very much involved with his extended family and loved spending time with his seven nieces and one nephew.

So given all that, his sudden and quite unexpected passing in 2005 caught everyone by surprise. Unhappy rumors have circulated around his death, but Geoff stated quite forcefully in an email he sent to me: "I can tell you he did not take his own life. … Craig's death in 2005 was very much a shock to my family, and we love and miss him everyday."

Then Geoff congratulated me on my own induction and said he looked forward to meeting me on the 16th.

Like I said, I don't belong in the same Hall with people as kind, decent, understanding and talented as this, but I will burst with joy and pride when I stand beside the humble and forthcoming DeCloux family and the vast and accomplished Gross clan.

Ceremony is Sept. 16

We will smile and wave when my old pal, long-time Falls announcer Jerry Mislang calls out our names at half-time of the Falls-West Allis Central football game along with those of other worthy inductees such as the late distance running ace Matt Hadler, state champion gymnast Kristi Kitzman-Chuckel, and all-around athlete Linda Niederdorfer-Schneider.

And then later, when our names are called in the cafeteria of the school and we're asked to look upon the plaque with our visage on it and come up with some meaningful words to explain how we all came to this marvelous position, we will look out on the faces of all those who helped us get to this place and say either in a simple (probably not me) or more long-winded fashion (more likely me) these most appropriate words:

"Thank you. Thank you very much."

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