MADISON – When standing in the Kohl Center watching the WIAA D5 Championships, with the Miners on the floor, anyone of a certain age is going to conjure up memories of when a Shullsburg boy’s basketball team had made it to Madison, 1991.
For several members of that championship team, their memories of those games and that season have begun to fade a little, but they flocked to the stands to watch this year’s team make their own memories this past weekend.
Sitting together midway up in the corner of the Kohl Center were Chad Boettcher and Justin Edge, the former flying back from New Jersey to watch what was likely his father’s last games in coaching, being the assistant to Lierman, who was his second in command back in 1991.
“Its the way it should be,” Boettcher said of having Lierman and his dad on the sidelines. “They both got it, it doesn’t matter which one leads, they work together as a very good team.”
Chad noted he does not recall details from that season, “I don’t remember a thing,” he quipped, but he was just enjoying watching the current Miners making a run in the semifinals and hoped they would have special memories of this.
In another section of the crowd was Eric Wiegel, who also didn’t have specific memories from those games 26 years ago. “The game itself, I really don’t remember when we played, but the feelings and the memories of what it was, definitely,” he responded.
Talking to Eric midway through the second half of the semifinals, when Shullsburg went from having a close game to having put it out of reach, Wiegel remembered a similar run the ’91 squad had in the championship game.
“It feels great to sit here and watch these kids do this,” Eric stated, noting that nearing three decades from their title run, he knows the dads of the players much more than any of the current players.
But it doesn’t matter how long it has been, since the dream of getting there is universal. “Its one of those things you dream about when you are a little kid, playing at the park or in Phy. Ed.”
And while the location has changed for the title game, there is something about playing in front of a crowd that is four times the size of your hometown. “Walking in Fieldhouse, when there is 8,000 people, when you had never played in front of a crow more than 2,000, it is quite a feeling.”
Another person in the stands was Brad Lutes, who got to see this current incarnation of the Miners a few times leading up to last Saturday’s championship game. Lutes had invited the players to compete in a summer league he hosts in Sun Prairie, where he has been coaching for the past eight years, and he and Lierman also discussed some offensive moves for the team before the season.
After Shullsburg won sectionals, Lutes offered up his school’s gym as a place for the team to practice while at state, which they took him up on Friday afternoon after the semifinal game.
Lutes felt it was something he should do, remembering Shullsburg alum Bob Laacke did for the 1991 team, opening the Cambridge gym for them, allowing the team a short drive to work out between games.
The practice in Sun Prairie allowed Lutes to get to know this year’s squad. “They are just really good kids….just a humble group of young men. Not just talented, but respectful.”
As for the moment they found themselves in, he just told them to do what they did the second half of the semifinal game– to leave it out on the court. “They played as well as I have seen any high school team play. Those kids played really, really hard.”
“They had a lot of the same qualities we had,” Lutes continued with comparisons. Both were senior-heavy squads with kids who had been together since kindergarten. They had their stars, but each member of the team made their contributions.
“It was a pretty special time for our group,” Lutes reflected, being able to be the first Miner team to break that sectional barrier, defeating Wausaukee’s Anthony Pieper, who holds the record for most points scored by a high school player in Wisconsin.
Another thing the teams had in common was Lierman and Boettcher on the bench, although in reversed order between 1991 and 2017.
Lutes shared the bench with Boettcher when he was in college, being an assistant with Shullsburg, and remembers Lierman cutting his teeth in the position back in 1991. Those two coaches had a great impact on Lutes, as he went on to coach in Sun Prairie, and Spencer for five years before that.
He said between them, and football coach Scott Matye, he learned that coaching was not only about goals and games, but nurturing the student. “They cared about you as a person, even more than as a player.”