No east side, no west side as Bluebirds go to state
And Jim Hessenauer says as far as he’s concerned, none of the kids on his bus care whether they come from Craig or Parker high school.
They’re just a hockey team.
“I can say that because I see Craig kids and Parker kids that are friends,” said Hessenauer. “I think they’ve got a good attitude towards each other … It’s not, ‘You’re from Craig. You’re from Parker.’”
Hessenauer, of Janesville, is the semi-retired Van Galder bus driver who drove the third-ranked Janesville Bluebirds to practice at the Alliant Energy Center in Madison this morning. He’ll drive them again Thursday night to face top-ranked Eau Claire Memorial in the WIAA state hockey tournament.
The Bluebirds are 19-1-2 for the season.
In a town polarized by two high schools, the co-op Bluebirds team is a unifying influence.
As far as the players are concerned, they’ve been teammates since they were little kids playing in Janesville Youth Hockey.
“We’ve been used to playing together since we were younger,” said Jarod Hilmer, a Parker senior and Bluebird defenseman. “We’ve always been on the same team.”
Bluebird fan Barb Moore’s hockey playing sons and daughter graduated from Parker between 1977 and 1991. Her youngest son, Darrel Moore, coaches the Bluebirds junior varsity team, and she hardly misses a game.
Moore loves the way Craig and Parker students mingle in the ice arena stands. She works in the lunchroom at Parker but is sometimes invited to watch the game with Craig students, she said.
“We have friends yet that for years skated with those kids, and they were on both sides of town,” Moore said. “I think it’s awesome to keep our city and our kids close together.”
Janesville School District Administrator Tom Evert is pleased to see Janesville’s east and west sides united on the ice. He said the Bluebirds probably bring back memories for residents who remember when Janesville had one high school.
“I think the Bluebird hockey team is an excellent example of setting city geography aside and focusing on the big picture,” Evert said. “The team has obviously been very dedicated and focused.
“It doesn’t matter whether you’re a Parker or Craig student. The focus is on the team.
Q: When was the last time the Janesville Bluebirds went to state?
A: 2005. Fifteen buses of Janesville students rode to the game, and many more families drove to Madison. Janesville fans spilled over into opponent’s seating, said Bluebirds fan Barb Moore.
Q: When did Craig and Parker combine hockey teams?
A: In the 1991-92 school year. This is only the third time the team’s gone to state since then.
Q: Where did the team’s name come from?
A: The Bluebird was the mascot of the former Janesville High School.
Q: Did Janesville High School have a hockey team?
A: No. Jim Hessenauer, a Van Galder bus driver who often drives the Bluebirds to games, graduated from Janesville High School in 1957. He said he and his friends played hockey outside at Traxler Park, or they swept the ice around Monterey Rock and played there.
The third-ranked Janesville Bluebirds will play top-ranked Eau Claire Memorial at 5 p.m. Thursday at the Alliant Energy Center, 1919 Alliant Energy Center Way, Madison.
Tickets are available in Janesville at:
-- The Educational Services Center, 527 S. Franklin St.
-- Parker High School, 3125 Mineral Point Ave.
-- Craig High School, 401 S. Randall Ave.
Tickets cost $8 and will be on sale until 4 p.m. today and from 7:30 a.m. to noon Thursday. They also may be purchased at the door.
Because this is a WIAA event, student athletic passes will not be accepted.