Brikowski enters Janesville Sports Hall of Fame
John Brikowski of Janesville still marvels at Parker High School’s road to the boys WIAA state basketball championship.
Brikowski was a seven-letter winner in football, basketball, and track and field at Parker He was an All-Big Eight honorable mention offensive back in football and three-time MVP in track, highlighted by second-place state finishes in the 220 and 440 as a junior.
Brikowski enters the Janesville Sports Hall of Fame on Saturday, May 14, at the Janesville Performing Arts Center. Joining Brikowski in the 2011 class are Alicia Pelton, Gary Schieve, Joel Schmitz and Tom Scalissi.
On one hand, Brikowski, the 6-4 senior starting center on the 1971 open-class championship team, is surprised another Janesville team has not won a state boys championship in 40 years. On the other hand, he learned first-hand how fate plays a huge role in a successful journey to a state title.
“I thought by this time someone (in Janesville) would win (another state boys title), but when you look at how unique that whole thing just fell together,” said the 58-year-old Brikowski, “it’s a very unique experience. Everything just has to fall into place.’’
A team that finished 11-7 in the regular season became one of the greatest Cinderella stories in state tournament history.
“There were some very close games that could have gone one way or another,” Brikowski said. “Monona Grove (57-54, Beloit Regional) was very close, the Craig game (51-50, Beloit Regional) was very close. I mean the basket falls one way or the other, and we were not continuing on.
“In the Neenah game (state semifinal), we were down by 16 points and came back to win by two (54-52).’’
Brikowski shared Parker’s Cinderella championship journey with Craig Brace, John Bobzien, Bob Luchsinger, Mike McGrath, Dick Meier, Jeff Paulson, Jim Quaerna, Terry Ryan, Greg Rud, Ted Schuler, Tom Wolf, head coach Bob Morgan, assistants Dale Barry and Dan Madden and team manager Pat O’Leary.
“The bonds made between teammates remain strong,” Brikowski said. “It was a very close group of guys that got to know each other since junior high.
“We played together a lot. The coaches were with us a lot. Dan Madden moved up with us from eighth grade to ninth grade. And then the same year we went to Parker, he transferred and taught us there.’’
State title was the result
The chemistry worked, and the story became a classic.
“Whether it’s fate, whatever it is, if it doesn’t fall into place, it’s just that it’s kind of an amazing thing,” Brikowski said. “Being the last (championship) team that was in that open-class tournament was a unique experience, which I appreciated more when I got away from it and looked at how things have changed.’’
Participating in local high school sports molded Brikowski’s future. Brikowski, a sixth-grade science teacher (now at Franklin Middle School) for 20 years, has served 18 years as a Parker assistant track and field coach and 14 years as a basketball assistant.
Brikowski and his wife, Bonnie, have two children, Ben, 33, and Sam, 30.
“Some of the best memories I had are being involved in three sports—being involved in three very different sports,” Brikowski said. “Football, basketball, track. It’s different people and different atmosphere. The physicalness of football, the chess-like stuff with basketball, and it’s a track team, but a little bit more individualized.”
Like the basketball landscape has changed since the days of the open-class state tournament, the challenges for a three-sport athlete have changed, too.
“It’s different,” Brikowski said. “There are still plenty of athletes that do three sports and excel at all three.
“The thing is, if you want to move to the next level, you would have to put in that extra time, or think about, ‘I can only do two sports,’ and use that extra time to raise yourself up to the next level.”
Brikowski remains an advocate for the three-sport athlete.
“I’ve always encouraged kids to try three sports if they want to and don’t worry about specialization,” Brikowski said. “That will happen if you’re talented or gifted enough.’’
While basketball brought Brikowski lasting fame, track and field was his best sport. He still holds Parker track records in the long jump, 220 (200) and is tied for the 100 record.
Brikowski accepted a track scholarship to North Dakota State, but he participated only one year.
“I got hurt twice,” Brikowski said. “I took a year off and went three years to Madison (University of Wisconsin) and graduated from Madison.’’
Brikowski worked for 14 years at General Motors before he started teaching.
“While I was down there (at General Motors), I took a lot of classes at (UW) Whitewater,” Brikowski said. “I finally came around to thinking that I really missed being around school.”
Brikowski became certified to teach, and did his student teaching at Beloit Turner Middle School, and he made an important decision.
“I had not planned on teaching middle school,” Brikowski said. “But I fell in love with middle-school kids. They’re just all so different as far as development intellectually, physically and emotionally, and it makes no day like another day.’’
Brikowski said those sixth-graders are curious about his ties to the state basketball championship team.
“First, they ask how old I am, and then they ask, ‘Is that your picture up in the gym?’” Brikowski said. “The younger kids, the middle-school kids, they think that’s all OK and don’t really ask much about it, but the older kids, the high school kids, ask me about my track records.”
Brikowski found out the real worth of his photo on the wall at Parker.
“They ask, ‘Is that really you on the wall?’ And I say, ‘Yeah, that’s me,’” Brikowski said. “And they say, ‘Well, sometimes we get five extra points if one our dodge balls hits one of those pictures up there.’”
Whether it’s the state basketball championship team or individual track records, Brikowski has stood the test of time for Parker High School athletics.
“Records shouldn’t be up there that long,” Brikowski said. “But they just are.’’
Sacrifices, hard work and good luck put Brikowski’s picture on the wall. He should be smiling.