Panthers homecoming rally honors 'gold ball pride'
By Ed Byrne
The Brillion News
November 25, 2021
This story appears in the November 25, 2021 print edition of The Brillion News.
REEDSVILLE – One man, from Wayside, stood along Park Street watching the parade of fire trucks delivering the Reedsville High School football team to a welcome home rally at the Panther gym late last Thursday afternoon.
It was the trip home for the team that had beaten favored Coleman 17-0 earlier in the day at Camp Randall Stadium to capture the WIAA Division 7 state football title.
There were fire trucks from Reedsville, Brillion, Wayside, Collins, Menchalville, Valders, Whitelaw, Branch and Kellnersville in the wagon train – all with red lights flashing and sirens piercing the crisp night air as they drove down the street, past the lights of Panther Stadium where the boys of fall had built their season of excellence.
The man said he watched it all, and couldn’t stop the tears from running down his face.
“It brought all of these little rural communities together,” he said.
Indeed it did.
The Panther gym, at the elementary school, was packed. The bleachers hold 1,600 and they were full, but there were people standing, too.
When the team entered the gym, with Cole Ebert leading the caravan of players and carrying the trophy with the gold ball, the crowd stood and cheered with a deafening roar.
School Superintendent Kristopher Brown opened the program with a story about his young son thinking that the Reedsville football team was going to play the Badgers because the game was at Camp Randall.
The spotlight, though, was on the players and their coaches. Brown said the state title was not a one-day accomplishment.
“Years of work, years of dedication, all culminated in today’s exciting opportunity – and taking advantage of that opportunity,” Brown said. “I want to thank you [the players] from the bottom of my heart, for letting us come on your journey.”
The master of ceremonies was “Newman” - the Voice of the Panthers whose birth certificate might read Jamie Mangin.
He began by honoring Henry “Hank” Behnke, a member of the 1946 RHS boys’ basketball team, the last Reedsville team to win a state team championship, 75 years ago. Behnke stood and was applauded by the crowd.
Mangin then introduced Panthers Head Coach Aaron “Freddy” Fredrick, who thanked his wife and the other coaches’ wives for allowing them all to coach.
“Let’s celebrate it and hope it doesn’t take another 75 years,” Fredrick said.
Assistant coach Ryan McCulley – the high school principal and offensive coordinator - recognized the other members of the coaching staff.
“You have to sacrifice a little bit of yourself ... for the betterment of the whole team. This group right here has done that more than any group that I’ve seen before,” McCulley said. “They pick each other up. They encourage each other. These are the best teammates for each other that I’ve seen ... They don’t care how we get to the end zone. They don’t care how we stop the other team.”
McCulley summarized the season.
“It was an awesome journey, an awesome experience,” he said.
The architect of the team’s defense, assistant coach and defensive coordinator Mike Nate, remembered the players as boys in elementary and middle school.
“It doesn’t matter who won the football game at recess ... But I’ll tell you what does matter. The score today,” Nate said. “The stories of what happened on the field in the game are priceless and will stay with me forever.”
Mangin then passed the microphone to players.
“Today was amazing. This team being at Camp Randall ... it was amazing,” Liebzeit said.
He mentioned that the sign coming into Reedsville, honoring the 1946 basketball team for its state title needed to be updated, with a football added.
Mangin said that, up in the press box, he could hear Darren Wagner’s mom cheering from the stands.
“I can hear my mom everywhere I go,” Wagner said as he thanked his parents.
Cole Ebert began by thanking his family first.
“I’d like to thank the fire department for putting on the show. Seeing all the trucks down the road, it was amazing,” he said.
Mangin then introduced quarterback Brennen Dvorachek “If you hear cowbells, it’s Grandpa,” he said.
Then a cowbell rang.
“We wanted to do one thing, to get the gold ball," Dvorachek said. “It was our last game, so we knew we had to win.”
He said his memories will last forever.
“I want to thank my teammates for putting up with me and making fun of me,” Dvorachek said. “I’m glad the season ended like this.”
RHS Athletic Director AD Ben Krull announced that Liebzeit’s wish for a football on the sign at the end of town had been taken care of.
“There is a football on that sign,” Krull said. “This group of individuals, they have officially made history.”
Coach Fredrick got in the final words. “It started well before July. All of the blood, the sweat and the tears,” he said. “I don’t think I have ever seen such an unselfish group of people in my life ... There are no words to describe how much I am going to miss this football team ... For every drop of blood you bled, for every touchdown you scored, for every sack you made, for every block downfield ... Congratulations on that gold ball, baby."