Emotions run high as longtime Janesville teacher, coach announces retirement
Certainly not the first, but surely one of the most significant.
The heartfelt tears come with Cramer’s hard-thought decision to retire after 45 years as a teacher and coach in the Janesville School District.
“I wanted to make the decision April 15, like everybody else,” he said of Monday’s retirement announcement. “But I can’t face even you (this Gazette reporter) without crying. I don’t want it to be an emotional thing, but it’s difficult.
“If I cried in any sport, I’d leave for awhile and come back. I want the kids to know that I cry, though, and that I’m always there for them.’’
It’s been that way for about three generations of Janesville students and student/athletes—most notably at Parker High School.
Cramer came out of Tyrone, Pa., and UW-Superior to join the Janesville Senior High School staff in 1966. He made the move to Parker when the west-side school opened in 1967 and has been there ever since, serving in numerous capacities, including chairman of the Physical Education Department, building athletic director and a coach in multiple sports.
Without question, Cramer is most noted for his long and incredibly successful tenure as Parker’s head wresting coach. He has held the position the last 42 years, accumulating more victories, championships and overall honors than he can begin to count.
For the record, however, Cramer’s wrestling teams won 23 Big Eight dual championships, 29 conference tournament titles, 17 WIAA regional team trophies and two sectionals. Cramer also produced 135 individual conference champions and 68 state qualifiers, including 30 place-winners.
Much like the team success, the individual standouts have been too numerous for the coach to single out. However, Janesville Sports Hall of Fame member Shane Fleming was a 1986 state champion, and there were six state runners-up—Keith Gay (1979), Kevin Shea (1984), Phousin Phoulavan (1989), Phil Byrd (1992) and Ben Guerra (1992, 1993).
“There were a lot of unbelievable athletes and great coaches, and there still are, and I was fortunate to be surrounded by them,’’ Cramer said.
And that hasn’t been just in wrestling, he was quick to add.
“I learned a lot those years when I was the building AD,” Cramer said. “I went to every contest. If it was hockey, I was there. If it was swimming, I was there. If there was a conflict with wrestling, I changed the date so I would be at a basketball game.
“It was a full-time job—seven days a week,” he said. “But it really wakes you up, because you learn to appreciate all the other people.”
And all of them haven’t been at Parker, he said.
“I’m a Parker person first, but also a Janesville person,” Cramer said. “I scold parents when Parker loses and they don’t cheer for Craig.
“We’re in it together,’’ he said. “And it’s all for one.”
Cramer learned his lessons well when it came to hard work and commitment in growing up as three-sport athlete about 100 miles north of Pittsburgh and 12 miles from Penn State University, where Joe Paterno truly has become a legend, then playing football for lifetime role model Mertz Mortorelli at UW-Superior.
“I have to stick up for my Penn State shirt, sweatshirt and hat that I wear occasionally—not to conflict with Wisconsin, because I’m a Badger fan, but because I’m also a Paterno fan.
“If you want to know what an icon or true legend would be … to me, he would be the epitome of a what a great coach should be.”
After a Little All-America football playing career that earned him a spot in the UW-Superior Hall of Fame, Cramer also found his niche in coaching. He and his wife, Beth, a Superior native, came out of college to get jobs in the Janesville School District, and it didn’t take them long to learn this was a place they wanted to call home.
“Janesville’s always been one of those places I call ‘uprising communities,’ ” Cramer said. “You start here, you work hard, and you keep going up and up until you reach what you want.”
If Cramer wanted more than taste of coaching, he got it all. Along with a lengthy commitment to Parker football, including seven years as head coach (1982-89), he has coached track and field, golf—and wrestling, of course, where he became a 2002 inductee into the George Martin (State) Hall of Fame.
He still has vivid memories of where it all began.
“The first football practice I went to, John Potter was the head coach,” Cramer said of the Janesville High days. (Dick) Lambrecht (Bob) Suter, (Ron) Ganong and I were the assistants. Now, what great people to be around.”
Cramer found another great one in Ron Brown, his longtime and supremely dedicated wrestling assistant. The two meshed like wine and roses.
“Brownie’s a phenomenal man,” Cramer said. “He loved to do the paper work, and I loved to coach. He very well complemented what we were doing.”
Meanwhile, Cramer has been focusing former Parker standout and most-recent assistant Andy Tubbs toward the future of Viking wrestling.
“I’ve tried to raise Andy to be like I want him to be and ready for the (head) job,” Cramer said. “I hope he gets the job, but that’s out of my hands.”
While it no longer will be “hands on” for Cramer in wrestling and other Parker sports, his heart will always be there.
“My heart is real big … and I just love working with kids,” he said. “I like talking to them and being around them.”
That’s why Cramer has stayed so long.
“I want to give younger people a chance, but I liked what I was doing,” he said. “People should learn from that—to let people finish what they’re doing.”
By no means, though, is Cramer finished dealing with kids. Between his three grown children—Jay, Nikki and Jody—there are eight grandchildren, with lots of involvement in sports. And their grandpa won’t be far away.
“I look forward to watching my grandchildren and transporting them,” he said. “That’s my job now. It’s not a job, just what I want to do.
“I don’t have to drive to Connecticut and fly to Hawaii to see my children and grandchildren. They live right in town, and I see them every weekend, if not every day. I’ve just got the best of all worlds.”
And it may be come with a few tears of joy over the youngsters’ sports success.