Gazette sports editor lays down his notebook after 46 years

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Sunday, August 21, 2011
— Dave Wedeward arrived at the Rose Bowl four hours before the game on New Year’s Day in 1994.

The stadium was largely empty. Clear blue sky, 70 degrees.

Wedeward, the Gazette’s sports editor, and reporter John McPoland sat on the bench on the sidelines, soaking it in. It was a heady time. Wisconsin was returning to play in the hallowed game after a hiatus of more than 30 years.

“That field was so lush and beautiful. I thought I’d died and gone to heaven,” Wedeward recalled.

It would be impossible to come up with a Top 10 list to cover his years with the Gazette, Wedeward said. But the glow in his 68-year-old cheeks as he told this story said it surely is near the top of the list.

Wedeward will retire Nov. 1 after 46 years at the Gazette, 39 of those as sports editor.

He has interviewed many greats, from the White Sox’s Eddie Stanky to the Vikings’ Bud Grant to Marquette’s Al McGuire, but the memories and friends he’s made over the years in high school sports have a special place in Wedeward’s heart.

In his early years, Wedeward drove to different communities on Sundays. It was important to learn about those towns, he said.

For similar reasons, he has written a column about high school sports for years. He could have assigned it to someone else, but the column kept him in touch.

“I value the relationship I’ve had with those communities,” he said.

Evansville, Milton, Orfordville, Fort Atkinson, Clinton, Delavan, Elkhorn—the list goes on. Wedeward has stories about all of them—the players and coaches and the fans who packed the gyms and stands across the decades.

He’ll tell you about Evansville’s basketball glory years of the late 1960s, Edgerton football in the ’80s and the quality of the Whitewater High School teams: “No matter what sport it was, the Whippets were good, and they were classy.”

He recites chapter and verse about the great Janesville-Beloit football rivalry and the newer but no less intense intra-Janesville rivalry of Craig and Parker.

“If we start reminiscing about those people—it’s endless,” Wedeward said.

Edgerton will always be special. That’s where Wedeward was born and raised and where he got his start writing sports.

Sports were huge in the Wedeward family. His mother was a cum laude graduate of UW-Madison who taught high school English, German and Latin. His father, who managed a grocery store, returned from World War II and, along with his buddies, got season tickets to Badger games. They were also devotees of Edgerton High athletics and the state high school basketball tournament.

Wedeward was about 9 when he asked to be taken to an Edgerton basketball game. He was immediately hooked. He remembers thinking: “I can’t believe how anybody could not love this.”

His father took him to his first state basketball tournament in 1955. He has not missed a state boys tournament since.

Wedeward’s brothers played high school sports, but Dave didn’t. He was born with physical limitations.

He walks on short, bowed legs with a distinctive gait that limits his mobility. When asked about it, he says he’s just bowlegged, a condition that goes back to birth, and that’s that.

It takes only a moment talking to him to do what he does—ignore it.

He went through phy ed class like everybody else, played YMCA basketball and played softball in phy ed class, where, he says with a proud glimmer, he was known as a switch hitter.

You might think he has a hard time getting around, but he has spent years getting himself to games during winter snowstorms, up and down stairs and across icy parking lots.

It’s never been an issue, he said, and wasn’t painful until the typical aches of an aging body set in.

“Sometimes I say to people, I’m not as bad off as I look,” he said.

Wedeward wrote sports part time for the Edgerton Reporter starting in 11th grade and through his college years.

“He’s like family to us,” said Reporter Publisher Diane Everson, whose parents hired the young Wedeward.

Wedeward graduated from Edgerton High in 1961. He attended UW-Whitewater and Milton College before signing on with the Gazette in 1965.

His first boss was George “Butch” Raubacher, a no-nonsense sports editor who taught Wedeward the basics of dealing with people and writing.

Raubacher told him, “If you want it, this could be a job for life.”

Wedeward is glad it turned out that way.

“I knew I’d never be happy anyplace else. I grew up in this area. I know this area.”

He more than knows the area. He is famed for his encyclopedic knowledge of the high school sports scene statewide.

“I’ve just been amazed, time and time again, the stuff he comes up with,” said retired Craig coach Bob Suter, whose teams provided many memorable moments over the years.

“I played high school sports in Fort Atkinson many years ago. Dave covered some of my games for the Gazette, and he remembers more about them than I do,” said Gazette Editor Scott Angus. “To this day, he recounts the details of a game between Fort and Edgerton in 1973 like it was yesterday. That’s amazing considering the thousands of games he has covered.”

Suter and other coaches said Wedeward’s reporting was always fair, win or lose.

“Never once was I ever embarrassed, or were our kids ever embarrassed. I think that’s so important,” Suter said.

Those who worked with Wedeward repeated the same word, again and again, in describing him: passion.

Don Huebscher, now editor of the Eau Claire Leader-Telegram, learned sports reporting from Wedeward in the late 1970s and early 1980s.

“He helped teach me to have passion for what we do. Dave has that passion for newspapers and telling stories, but he was never a cheerleader,” Huebscher said.

“It was a labor of love for him. It was more than a job.”

Doug Chickering, the former executive director of the Wisconsin Interscholastic Athletic Association, said he didn’t always agree with Wedeward, but he trusted and respected him.

“We’re losing a real advocate for high school sports, someone who understands there is a difference between high school sports and the collegiate and professional levels,” Chickering said. “He truly believes that high school athletics is a part of a student’s education and total development.”

The sports scene changed greatly over Wedeward’s tenure. The variety of sports increased, and interscholastic girls sports began in the 1970s.

Newspapers changed greatly, too. Wedeward started on manual typewriters. He adapted to several generations of computer technologies.

He also adapted as the Gazette added a Sunday paper and moved its Saturday paper from an afternoon to morning publication in 1987, crunching the time available to pull together the mass of high school sports information generated on Friday nights.

“I rolled with the punches and adjusted with the times,” Wedeward said. “I’ve felt good about how I changed.”

“It’s hard to fully appreciate Dave’s dedication through the years—the hours that he devoted to Gazette sports, the care he put into every story and column, the love he has for southern Wisconsin and its sports scene. There will never be another like him,” Angus said.

“Under Dave’s leadership, the Gazette’s sports section became one of the best in the state, and he and his staff have dozens of awards from the state newspaper contest to prove it,” Angus said.

The Gazette will not hire a new sports editor.

“The Gazette, like many companies, is struggling in this economy, and we need to find savings where we can,” Angus said “The remaining four sports staffers will assume many of Dave’s responsibilities. All are veteran journalists who know southern Wisconsin sports and how the Gazette covers them.

“We won’t be able to do everything we’ve always done, but we’ll do our best to cover what’s most important to our readers,” said Angus, who will assume a more active role in managing the sports department.

Wedeward looks forward to spending more time with family, including his wife, Letha, a retired General Motors worker, and his father, Jim, 95.

He said he’ll probably continue his streak of high school basketball tournaments in retirement, but he’ll be able to enjoy the games in a way that a journalist can’t.

“I look forward to being a fan and sitting there,” he said, “and maybe cheering for somebody.”

Last updated: 6:03 pm Thursday, December 13, 2012

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