Parker Vikings relish return to state tournament
JANESVILLE--Logan Coulter had a few days to let the feeling of advancing to the WIAA state baseball tournament sink in.
And by the time Janesville Parker practiced at Riverside Park on Friday, the Vikings left fielder had gotten a history lesson, as well.
“It just feels great to be the first team to go back there in more than 20 years,” the Parker junior said. “It’s really set in that that’s actually a big deal.
“It’s crazy that it’s been that long. My dad and some of the other players’ dads on this team went to state back in the 80s when coach (Dan) Madden was there.”
When the Vikings play in the Division 1 state tournament in Grand Chute on Tuesday, it will be their sixth apperance but first since 1992.
In fact, that was the last appearance by any program in the so-called “big three” boys sports. The football program has never been to a state-title game but was in the semifinals in 2001, and the basketball program’s two state appearances came in 1971 and ’72. The hockey program has recently made multiple trips to state, but it is a co-op with Janesville Craig.
This Parker team is showing that the school can still make noise at the state level despite being the smallest school, in terms of enrollment, in the Big Eight Conference.
Thirty years ago, Parker was a staple at the state baseball tournament.
Madden took the Vikings to state six times between 1974 and 1992. The longest span between appearances was seven years, and the Vikings took home their lone state championship in 1977.
“Getting to the state tournament is tough,” Madden said this week. “In 1971, we had three guys off our high school team sign major league contracts and they weren’t able to get there.
“Then our first trip up there was 1974. Your first time there is always the most exciting. You really appreciate it when you get there.
“I was going through my notes, and of the games we won in the state tournament, we never gave up more than one run except the state championship game in ’77, and that one we won 6-2. So obviously the key to succeed at state is pitching.”
Madden retired in 1997 after 23 years of coaching Parker. There are plenty of ties between those 23 seasons and this year’s Parker team.
“This team means a lot to me, because there are four sons of former players on the team,” Madden said. “And then of the coaches, Brian Martin played for me, Mike Brooks played for me, Brian Bailey played for me and (Tom Klawitter) coached with me. So there are a lot of connections there.”
Martin, the team’s current head coach, said he’s been touched by the outpouring of support from the community.
“I’ve had teachers stopping by all week saying that this is awesome, and a lot of them were at the games this week,” Martin said. “The crowds down here … show there’s a lot of people from town interested in what’s going on.
“And for me, personally, hearing from my former players is huge. And hearing from guys I idolized—(legendary Janesville Craig coach Bob) Suter sent me an email, and I talk to Coach Madden a lot. Growing up with them being the baseball guys in town, it’s huge.
“I pass that on to the players. I think they understand the impact that they’ve made.”
When it comes to high school enrollment, the stats are pretty straightforward.
With 1,387 students, Parker is the smallest school in the Big Eight Conference. Madison La Follette is next at 1,485, and Madison West and Sun Prairie each top the list at marks north of 2,000.
Depending on each sport’s given WIAA state procedures, those figures can present a disadvantage. In football, for instance, Parker would have been a Division 2 team if it had made the postseason in 2013, but it faced Division 1 teams in all nine weeks of the regular season.
At the state baseball tournament, Parker’s enrollment is in the middle of the Division 1 pack. Wilmot checks in at 1,106, and Stevens Point has 2,214 students.
Of course, these are numbers that seem to concern reporters, parents and fans more than players or coaches.
“I always tell kids and coaches that you better make sure your heart is where your feet are,” Parker Athletic Director Joe Dye said in an interview in April. “What I mean by that is, if I’m in the Big Eight right now, I better have my heart in the Big Eight. And I better not be thinking, ‘Maybe I’d be better served (somewhere else).’
“We’re a little bit smaller school right now population-wise than we were. Is that the tipping point in whether or not we’re successful athletically? I don’t think so.
“You’re underselling your own current students if you think you can’t compete.”
Coulter said players never dwell on such numbers.
“Honestly, no matter who it is, any team can beat another in baseball, and really in any sport,” Coulter said. “You’ve just got to have the right mentality.”
Setting the tone
This Vikings baseball team has shown reaching a state tournament is within Parker’s reach.
It also serves as proof that what a team did last season need not have any bearing on its goals for the next. The Vikings won just seven games last year but are now among the final eight teams standing in D1.
“I hope this shows that you don’t have to have I the most talented kids in the world to be a good baseball team, you’ve just got to play together,” Parker senior captain Will Theisen said. “I hope the young kids coming up recognize that and realize they have to put in work and get along.
“We had separate team workouts throughout the winter, going out on our own to throw bullpens. And then when the season started we did things as a team—going to lunch together, going out to dinner, focusing on team chemistry.”
Senior center fielder and fellow captain Cullen Osmond hopes the Vikings’ run provides a spark in mentality within the school’s athletic program.
“Some people go out for sports and go through the motions, because they have it on their minds that the team might not be very good or they want to just spend time with their buddies,” Osmond said. “I know the football players and basketball players and others think it’s cool that we’re doing well, and maybe it’ll motivate them a little.
“And hopefully it makes kids want to grow up and wear a Parker uniform.”