Falls High School benefitted from Petroff's return to the classroom
Long career ends as athletic director
Menomonee Falls - Even when he was living high off the hog in the private sector, working toward the top of the food chain in Miller Brewing's Sales and Marketing Department in the 1980s and 90s, the itch to get back to school, to work with and for kids never really left nearly retired Menomonee Falls Athletic Director Dave Petroff.
"I remember I ran into Jim Shaw (then Falls and now Racine Superintendent) at a social event," said Petroff of a fateful mid-1990s meeting, "and I remember pontificating a little bit about the state of education and before you know it, he offered me a job (in Falls' community relations department)."
And he took it, staying in the post for six years until he took his current position around 2002 from which he will formally take his leave very shortly, handing off the reins to the very capable Ryan Anderson.
Petroff took the job back with the district around 1996 because he always was a teacher by nature. A Milwaukee Pulaski and University of Wisconsin graduate, he taught high school and junior college in southern California from 1967-74 before he and his young family moved back to Wisconsin.
A coach is born
"I was flying back for a wedding and an old friend who was then an assistant (football) coach at Falls East told me that Falls North needed a football coach," Petroff said. "I interviewed and I talked about it with my wife (fellow teacher Ruth Ann). My goal had always been to be a football coach so we decided to come back to Wisconsin."
A love story of sorts between teacher and district began right then. Petroff taught English and coached football, smiling as he honked his air horn and encouraged his grumbling linemen to finish the conditioning drills on the old 330-yard cinder track that once stood on the west side of the North campus.
After years of frustration, his teams got better and finally wins started to come over the likes of archrival Jim Jeskewitz and Falls East.
But times were changing, enrollment was falling rapidly (eventually forcing consolidation in 1984). Still, in 1982, Petroff was riding high.
"We won the conference title, I was named county coach of the year and then district teacher of the year," he said, "and then I got laid off."
With a young family to feed, Petroff acted quickly, landing the sales and marketing job with Miller. He trained and taught and he flew all over the world for 13 years until Shaw asked him to come home.
The rest, as they say, is history.
Petroff worked on several high level projects in those community relations days, eventually becoming head of the state public relations association and helping the district earn several high-level honors.
But the old football coach had another itch he needed to scratch, so when then Athletic Director Jim Hessler decided to move on and teach and coach at Arrowhead, Petroff was back in sports as AD.
"The funny thing was, when I first became a football coach at Falls North (in 1974) Dick Woosencraft was my freshmen coach," Petroff said, "and then when I came back (as AD), he was the one who hired me."
And with just a few unexpected bumps in the road along the way, it has been an upward trajectory for Petroff and the district. Working closely with the community-driven Capital Improvement Committee and the Booster Club, he and the district gave Falls High School a badly-needed face-lift.
Not only was there the long overdue school remodeling but because of the work that was done on the athletic facilities, Falls in recent years has become a place where the WIAA tournament series could comfortably place regional and sectional tournaments in many sports.
Rebuilt tennis courts, soccer field lights, multiple Schumann Stadium upgrades including to the press box, scoreboard and stadium entrance; the electronic message board out front, renovation of the boys athletic locker rooms, new gymnasium bleachers, practice field irrigation, expanded weight room and upgrades to the gym scoreboard, sound system and scorer's table all were done this past decade.
Petroff also helped co-found the Menomonee Falls Athletic Hall of Fame.
But the cherry on the top of the sundae was the complete renovation and rebuilding of the eight-lane track inside of Schumann Stadium. By far the most expensive pierce of the capital pie ($600,000), it will have the longest-lasting ramifications. Falls can now hold gym classes out there safely, the community can walk on it for exercise, community groups want to use it for civic events and most importantly, the successful track teams can now host high-level meets.
That latter situation that came to a happy head late last month when for the first in many years, Falls hosted a WIAA sectional state qualifying track meet. Petroff busily made sure all was in order, bouncing place-to-place in a green cart.
The meet was a successful swan song for Petroff.
He is proud of many other things, including the fact that his three children JoAnn (Wisconsin), Michael (Princeton) and Carrie (Michigan) all graduated from the district and went on to graduate quite successfully from high-level universities.
Girls programs improved
He's also happy with the state of the athletic department, especially with the growth of the girls' programs as he has noticed that their quality has improved dramatically in the last 10- to 20-years.
But there have been drawbacks.
He knows the coaching profession is more intense than ever, with more and more demands to be a fundraiser, a public relations expert and a massager of egos. Petroff knows that modern coaches won't last as long as the old ones.
And there are also difficulties for the modern student/athlete and they are more culturally driven, he said.
"It's difficult nowadays," he said for the kids. "There are a lot more demands on today's athletes. I have a grandson in Illinois in the sixth grade and he has an off-season conditioning program even for that and I have another grandson, whose lacrosse team will play up to six games a day in tournaments."
"And more and more these kids are being asked to take part in off-season programs," he said. "It's getting harder and harder for the kids to discover the joys of being an all-around athlete. There is more and more specialization and training.
"They always have to be ready for the next season, so when do they get some time just to hang out and be themselves?"
As for Petroff, he will spend more time hanging out himself. He will be 68 in September and he would like to spend more time with his still-active wife (Ruth Ann has completed several marathons) as well as his children and seven grandchildren.
"I'm a warrior by nature," he said, "but I am looking forward to getting the stress out of my life. I want to take better care of myself and sometime soon, I'd like to have a day when I wake up and find that the only stress I have is whether there's cream in my coffee or not (laughs)."
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