Zach Mielke remembers standing on the sidelines as a young boy.
As a ballboy and manager, he dreamed of one day getting a chance to wear an Evansville uniform and play under the bright lights.
Mielke’s time finally came three and a half years ago, and he’s relished every moment. A four-year starter in both football and basketball and a will-be three-year starter in baseball, Mielke is living out the dream of being a hometown three-sport star.
“He’s a rare breed,” Evansville boys basketball co-coach Kendall Buttchen said. “Nowadays, the three-sport athlete is almost extinct. And to do three sports and do them at such a high level like Zach does, it’s a testament to the hard work he’s put in.”
Mielke was a four-year starting quarterback for an Evansville/Albany football team that won three conference championships. He was named first-team all-conference each of the past two years.
He said most of the pressure he felt as a freshman starter came from himself. But there were also some rumblings that perhaps Mielke had won the starting spot in part because his grandfather, Ron Grovesteen, was the head coach.
Evansville/Albany relied mostly on the run game, but Mielke was about as solid as a freshman starter could be, throwing for 673 yards and five touchdowns, with three interceptions, for a team that shared the Rock Valley North crown with Jefferson.
“I felt like I had a lot of pressure on myself just to perform good and for the team,” Mielke said. “But as practice went on, the first couple weeks, all the seniors helped me get in rhythm with them and it got easier and easier.”
By the end of his football career, Mielke started 41 games and threw for nearly 5,000 yards. He had 49 touchdown passes and just 15 interceptions.
“I tell you, it’s been a great four years,” said Grovesteen, who took on the role of co-head coach in basketball with Buttchen this season. “He’s put a lot of time in, just like many of our athletes here. That’s where you find out their commitment to each program. He’s a three-sport athlete, so there’s not a lot of time off for him.”
Mielke has been a four-year starter in basketball, too, for an Evansville team that won a conference championship last year, when he was named first-team all-conference.
One of his favorite high school memories is his sophomore basketball season, when the Blue Devils won a regional title before losing to East Troy on a buzzer beater in a sectional semifinal.
This year, he’s been at or near the top of the list of leading scorers in the Rock Valley. The team is 6-6 overall and 5-4 at the midway point of league play, and Mielke believes the young team’s best basketball is yet to come.
“The season started out good and then got a little slow,” Mielke said. “But now we’re coming around. I think we’re coming together as a team.”
Barring unforeseen circumstances, Mielke will also patrol the outfield as a three-year starter for a Blue Devils team that should be in the mix to win a Rock Valley title.
Evansville finished a game out of first place last year and was a regional champion his sophomore year.
While the three sports certainly differ in their own ways, Buttchen says the one constant for Mielke throughout the school year is his leadership.
“There’s not much he hasn’t seen in his four years,” Buttchen said. “He’s a natural-born leader who lets his actions speak louder than his words.
“And his competitiveness is rare, too. But it’s a good thing, and it makes everyone around him more competitive.”
Mielke said he doesn’t have one favorite sport, but instead focuses in on each of them depending on the season.
He hopes to play football or basketball at the collegiate level but is still sorting through his options. He’s got time for that, and to make a few more Blue Devils memories.
“It’s been a lot of fun,” Mielke said. “At a small school, it’s fun to have people look up to you.
“This is the most fun I’ve had in my life. You make memories with all your friends. I still talk about memories from my freshman year with seniors from that year. We look back at all the fun we had.”
Much of it has likely been exactly what he dreamed of when he was chasing footballs for grandpa on the sidelines.
“Ever since I can remember, I remember watching him coach,” Mielke said of Grovesteen, adding he’s treated like every other player in practice, though he enjoys their chats about sports away from the field and court. “All throughout elementary school and middle school, I was on the field or court as a manager.
“I always grew up wanting to get on the football field on a Friday night or the court on a Tuesday night.”