MHS coaches share stories about Bob Joers

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MTT News's picture
By: 
Rob Reischel
From left, Bob Joers, shown here with golf coaches Jeff Kenas, Becky Halverson and Tom Cabalka, was highly respected by the coaches at Middleton High School.

Bob Joers touched the lives of countless people in and around Middleton.

Joers, the athletic director at Middleton High School from 1995-2004 and again from 2011-2020, had a particularly strong relationship with many of the coaches in his department.

After Joers died on May 15 following a battle with pancreatic cancer, the Times-Tribune reached out to many of those coaches for thoughts about their former boss. Here’s a sample of what those coaches said about Joers.

The coaches are listed in alphabetical order.

 

Kevin Bavery, boys basketball

— “As an A.D., Bob was simply the 'Gold Standard.’ It wasn't uncommon to see him cleaning the gym floor or setting up chairs on game nights. And he loved sitting courtside at the scorer’s table for both the JV and the varsity games. I loved seeing him there and will miss that so much. When I tell coaches who are outside of MHS some of the things he does they are both astounded and jealous at the same time. ‘He does what? No way.’ And I'll respond, ‘Yup. he does, and I know how lucky we are.’ ”

— “Bob did a lot of great things for MHS athletics and for so many people, but it wasn't what he did as much as how he did it. Spending time with Bob as AD-Coach, but also as a colleague and as a friend, was always something I looked forward to. It was never just business. It always had elements of what a family has — mutual respect, a genuine caring, shared visions and goals, and always humor. I can't ever remember a conversation that didn’t include a lot of smiles and a few of his distinctive laughs.

“I’m going to miss simply just stopping by his office for no reason other than to say ‘Hi’, or him walking through the gym for that same reason. That ‘hello’ would often turn into a 20-minute chat and then ‘let's go to lunch.’ When you see someone frequently throughout the week in a setting, including a lot during the summer, and always in a positive way over an eight-year period they become family.

“He was great with a group of coaches or athletes, but he had an amazing ability one-on-one to genuinely connect. I would go out of my way to stop to see him. I've known for a while that his passing was inevitable, but when the news came it still hit me very hard and I am heartbroken. He was that kind of person.”

 

Lauren Cabalka, girls swimming

— “Bob was one of the only coaches I ever had, from age 7 through high school. I’m still finding it hard to believe this is real. The thing about Bob was that he never lost sight of what was most important in any sport — having fun. He taught me, as an athlete and as a coach, that our goals are always to be competitive, get better and have fun — and he always modeled the perfect balance of that. 

“He was the coach who was never afraid to dress up in a ridiculous costume or make up a silly cheer that no one understood, but laughed at anyway. We used to do a team overnight every year and he and Jill Guertner (our assistant coach at the time) would put on these ridiculous costumes and act out cheerleading skits from Saturday Night Live. I don't remember very many races or what my times were, but I have never forgotten the way he made us feel. I associated fun with athletics from a very young age and, as a result, never quit the sport.” 

— “The summer after my sophomore year in high school, he took me under his wing as a coach for the Gators and breathed belief into me as a coach. I honestly cannot remember a day where there wasn't some type of game — “hero swim”, coaches vs. swimmers relays, dance party or fun activity and it's something our coaching staff has never lost sight of over the years. 

“Any time I needed advice, struggled to make decisions or felt like the joy of coaching was slipping away, he was always one phone call or chat on the pool deck away. He was the greatest coach, mentor, cheerleader and friend one could ever wish for. He put relationships, character and integrity above all else and I think you see incredible evidence of that throughout our athletic program.”  

— “His smile could light up a room. His laugh could fill a stadium. His whistle was one of a kind. His jokes could make anyone laugh. His hugs took your breath away. His love for athletics was second to none. His ability to see the good was admirable. His passion for life was infectious. His impact will be everlasting.”

— “He was the greatest coach, most supportive mentor and one of the most influential men I have ever known. His impact runs deep in our community and in the lives of everyone he touched. I would give just about anything for one more hug, one more pep talk, one more cackle, one more walk around the pool deck. I find myself wondering how I will navigate my future in coaching without him but I already know the answer. If I have learned anything over the last 28 years, it’s that we just need to be a little more like Bob every day.”

 

Tom Cabalka, football, golf, basketball and baseball

— “Whoever hired Bob to be our A.D. did us all a big favor and certainly saw Bob's potential. He was a great leader. Under Bob's leadership, his desire for making our athletic department the best in the state was his goal. I believe every player and coach in our program knew of Bob's goal and it became our goal as well. His support for every team was amazing and tireless, traveling from one game to the next, from one practice to another. 

“A question he would always ask his coaches was, ‘What do you need, and how can I assist you?’ With an athletic department as large as Middleton's and with the great number of participants a strong and caring leader is important and Bob was the best.”

— “I loved playing golf with Bob. Every time that he would hit a good drive or long putt every group within a few holes knew something had happened. Countless times he would make our group aware of how he once hit a drive 350 yards! We would kid him about it must have hit the cart path and rolled another 150 yards down the hill. If I were given the opportunity to pick my dream foursome, it would include my father, Dewey (Stendahl) and Bob. All three are no longer with us, but were my greatest inspiration.”

— “Bob at times would visit me at my elementary school and this particular time we were in our floor hockey unit. Bob had my class convinced that he was a NHL hockey player, even though he couldn't lift the plastic puck off the floor. He most enjoyed signing autographs afterwards for the excited class. His smile and laugh were infectious.”

 

Cory Christnovich, girls track and field

— “If you met Bob, then you were part of his family, and he treated you that way. He always would greet you with a smile and a hand shake, be there with a pat on the back or a job well done, or a lending hand and some guiding words. Bob was fabulous in that he always had your back and would do whatever was needed.” 

— “One day last season our clerk of course for our track meet had an unexpected life event come up. The clerk is the second-most important person at a track meet behind the starter. Bob jumped in and took on the role on a day when it was 35 (degrees) and rainy, no questions asked other than how do I do this. 

“He was present at every track meet we hosted, moving hurdles, raking long jump pits, or doing whatever was needed to make the meet better. He never needed the spotlight or was above doing anything to help the kids have a great track and field experience. He gave all of his time and efforts to make the athletic experience for a Middleton athlete something special.”

 

Mary Duffy, girls soccer

— “For many people, it seems obvious who will make an important impact on your life, but as many of us are reflecting right now on our memories and life lessons and moments that we will take with us, we might not have thought of our Athletic Director as one. I don't even remember who my own athletic director was when I was in high school, but for many athletes current and past, they will remember this man as one of the important people in their lives. 

“This community will remember this man as one of the most influential in creating so many moments and aspects that we are the proudest of. Bob embodies that Middleton motto that we as community members, teachers, coaches live by, strive to be. I am one of those people who didn't know my A.D. would make such an impact on my life. Bob Joers is the heart and soul of our Athletic Department, of our pride in our athletes and all that they have achieved, of our school.”  

— “He always stopped by my home games to check in on how I was doing. He set up the flags, turned on the scoreboard, but then asked how I was doing. Was I ready? How do the girls look? What do you need for me? He was the most supportive A.D., person, friend that we had as coaches. 

“He believed in us so much. He believed in what sports could do for people. His belief was so contagious. His spirit is contagious. He had this attitude that we can do this, together. He knew that we could do all together. He fought for us, battled with us and supported us in all of our endeavors. Middleton sports is where it is now because of Bob Joers and his love for MHS, his community, his coaches, his athletes.”

— “My favorite memory of all was winning a (sectional) semifinal game in penalty kicks in 2012 versus Waunakee who was slated for the state championship game that year. I don't remember who took the PK’s or who scored, but I do remember celebrating with the team, the fans and Bob. He came over to me and gave me the biggest bear hug and smiled. That pride and belief in me will stay with me forever.   

— “I will remember the calm, ease and good humor he seemed to face every challenge he faced. And I will work to be more like him in my endeavors, in working with others, in coaching, in facing future challenges. Every time, I step onto a field of competition, Bob Joers will be present because his belief, support, mentorship, friendship is with me and is something I will always remember and cherish.”

 

Brian Finnel, boys cross country

— “Bob was a tremendous person and a great mentor for all of the coaches. Losing Bob is devastating, a loss that will no doubt impact the whole community. I will really miss Bob’s humor, particularly in his stories. He always kept things light-hearted in the good times, but also in the challenging moments we coaches go through. I really appreciated all of his guidance. He will be so dearly missed.”

 

Tara Franklin, girls track and field

— “Bob was such a life force and had such a presence in the halls of MHS for so long that he just was the face and voice of MHS Cardinal Athletics. I was a young rookie who was teaching and coaching when my friend Bob transitioned from the Indoor Pool Director to the Athletic Director (I even wrote him a letter of recommendation).

“He helped me guide and grow the girls' track program throughout the years and I was there to admire his leadership, learn from his knowledge, and be in his “Larger than Life” presence. His easy going and calm demeanor was something that everyone appreciated. Rarely do I ever remember Bob being upset or raise his voice, other than cheering somebody on with words of encouragement!”

— “When Bob did the Ironman, what an army of support he had! I remember that so many of us were out and about in the surrounding communities waiting with signs and cowbells to catch a glimpse of ‘Iron Bob’ zooming by on his bike and running past us in the streets of Madison. We were all so proud of him and were thrilled to be his cheerleader for a change, since he was always out there cheering everyone else on!” 

— “I was always so amazed at the lengths he would go to in order to be present at so many MHS events, and balancing that energy with being such an amazing husband, father, and friend. We are all better because of him. RIP Bob. You were a class act and one of THE BEST people I will ever know.”

 

Becky Halverson, girls golf

— “Bob was the kind of A.D. that any coach would be lucky to have. He was always there to provide any help he could to make sure the coaches and athletes had what they needed to become better. I always knew that if I needed something or was dealing with a tough situation that I could call Bob and he would be there to listen, give his insight and then end with a laugh. I'm going to miss that so much! No matter what the situation, my conversations with Bob turned into laughter and smiles.”

— “Bob was not only an A.D. to all of us coaches, he was our family. He made it a point to get to know each one of us. There are a lot of coaches in Middleton who have coached for many years and part of that is because of the culture that Bob created for our athletic department — a culture that we take great pride in and it started with Bob. I would compare Bob to the Dewey Stendahl's of the world. A true friend, a mentor, a class-act. I know that Dewey Stendahl and Bob are both now enjoying a walk on the golf course because every day is ‘A great day for a walk on the golf course.’ ”

 

Perry Hibner, girls softball

— “Bob was genuine. He was a great person and fun to be around. He put coaches and student-athletes first and made sure we all had what we needed. His door was always open if you had a question or concern, and he worked tirelessly. It seemed he was everywhere. He was MHS athletics.”

 

Brent Jorgensen, baseball and girls basketball

— “Bob was a tremendous A.D. As my boss, Bob really did do everything that you could ask for. Bob was always visible at practices and games, he knew all of the coaches by name and was able to connect with each of them on a level other than sports. Once every few weeks he would tell you something new that he liked about your coaching philosophy or practices. He was a great communicator and always made himself available when you needed him.

“He found the positives out of every situation and he was a great advocate for players and coaches. I always appreciated that he would ask you once a week 'How are you doing?’ and ‘What can I help you with?’ These were genuine questions from Bob, too. His level of humility, kindness, and passion was incredible. His commitment to taking care of coaches and athletes was second to none.”

— “Bob had great energy, great enthusiasm, and a great sense of humor. I've never had a conversation with Bob that didn’t result in some sort of laugh or chuckle, no matter how lighthearted or serious the conversation. He just loved to laugh and he soaked in all of those little moments. There are many private conversations that I'll remember and appreciate. Some were as my Athletic Director, and others were just as a confidant and mentor.”

— “I've heard people say that they are 'devastated' by Bob's passing and I think that's a great way to describe it. But yet, I still don't think there are appropriate words to summarize Bob's life, legacy, and impact on the community. He truly was one of those people that was larger than life. 

“In the last text message that I sent to Bob, I told him that I owe him a 'thank you' for so many things that I can’t possibly summarize it in a message so I would just like to leave it at ‘thank you.’ He will be greatly missed, but I'm thankful for all of the experiences and times that we were able to share together.” 

 

Jeff Kind, girls basketball and baseball

— “Finding adequate words to describe Bob’s legacy at MHS is extremely hard. An athletic director’s job is extremely difficult, and it takes a special person to do it and an even more special person to do it exceptionally! 

“It would take pages to describe all the challenges an A.D. faces and no one can begin to know them all unless they have lived it. Bob dealt with all of that and was able to forge great relationships with all his coaches. He made our jobs easier. He made us better!”

— “My favorite memory of Bob as an A.D. is all the little informal interactions we had. They always seemed to end with Bob asking, ‘need anything?’ He dedicated his life to serving others and made our world a better place for having been here — a life well-lived! We’ll miss him tremendously.”

 

Joe Line, boys track and field

— “Bob has meant a lot to me over the years. The thing I will miss most is his one-on-one talks. He was a mentor to me and so many others. He has made me a better coach and person. He has a way to connect with you whether he is talking about something serious and just joking around. I will truly miss his presence.”  

 

Danny Lynam, boys swimming

— “The biggest thing that Bob stressed as an A.D. was that we were a family, that was first and foremost. He understood that if we took care of and supported each other, we would be better able to support and take care of our athletes.

“He knew that success didn't come from more training, or harder workouts, but by creating a culture of caring, growth, and learning. He not only talked about it, but did it. I would bet you couldn't find another A.D. that stops in at more practices just to say, ‘Hey, how is everything going? What do you need?’ Our athletes knew who Bob was because he was present.”

— “Bob's door was always open, and no matter what he was doing if I popped my head in I would always get a ‘Hey man, what’s up?’ He loved to talk swimming, and was someone I could go to for advice, or to vent frustrations. I never saw Bob as a boss, but a mentor who helped me grow to be the coach I am today.”

 

Franco Marcos, girls volleyball

— “Bob was a great leader, mentor and friend. He was always honest, sincere, caring, and a great communicator.  He cared about all the coaches and players in the programs and treated all of us with respect and dignity.  He included us in all decisions that affected our programs and valued our input. Bob always wanted to know if we had everything we needed and asked if he could help or assist in any way. At our check-in meetings during the season, Bob not only used it for mentoring, but also for us to get to know each other better. It was a great experience. He put people before the game.”

— “I had just started coaching in the district and had a part of our driveway and garage floor that needed to be paved. One Saturday, a number of Middleton coaches led by Bob showed up at my door and helped me do the paving. That was over 20 years ago and the pavement is still perfect. We had a lot of fun working, socializing and talking sports.”

 

Jason Pertzborn, football and baseball

— “Bob was always even keeled. He didn't let emotion get in the way of a discussion or what needed to be done. He was fully supportive of his coaches, and if he felt you needed to change something, he let you know without getting personal. He was always willing to help you get better and reflect on yourself. That was always very important to him. I can recall him always wanting coaches to be open to evaluation and criticism and being able to not take it personal. He always had a great way of presenting situations and asking a lot of questions.

“Coaches expected a lot from him, and he expected a lot from us. He set the bar very high. He had an infectious laugh, and was very fun to work with and be around. I will definitely miss him walking out to our practices and hanging out. He loved to be there and observe, and as much as that is a great accountability attribute, he just loved doing it and being a part of the football program. He really pushed coaches to visit each other's practices to see different ways of doing things.

— “During my time doing baseball, he would meet us occasionally on Saturday mornings for breakfast. Even if he didn't make it to breakfast he almost always met us at the field to get it ready. We had a lot of fun and shared a lot of laughs riding in the Gator from MHS down to Sorenson Field and back. I feel very fortunate to have those memories together. It also was great to have an A.D. willing to come out and do whatever it took to make sure we could play a game whenever possible — raking, lining and putting down diamond dry. Having him there made it fun!”

 

Tom Schmitt, baseball and girls golf

— “Bob had genuine interest and care for the coaches in our MHS athletic program and the student/athletes that were the bloodline of our success. Bob did not just measure success by wins or state titles, he used the feedback he got from players, parents and coaches, community members and opposing team members. 

“He listened when it was time to listen to understand you. He directed you when you asked for directions. He guided and shaped so many people. Bob led by example: if something needed to be done he did it or he dug in elbow to elbow and did it with his staff, his athletes, his community of Cardinal Pride. 

“He was always willing to go the extra mile the extra 10 minutes to get things done and get them done the right way. He had tremendous pride in being a Middleton Cardinal. Bob was respected across the state by other AD's, WIAA board members, officials and coaches. He was present in Middleton Cardinals athletics.”  

— “My first year in the 2003 regional finals at home against Monona Grove, Bob comes out to the field during pre-game. (Monona Grove coach) Kenny Eeg and I are talking by MG dugout. Bob notices that the backstop netting was caught up on a metal step on the wood light pole. 

“So Bob, being the athlete he professed to be, shimmies up the pole and releases the netting. Kenny and his players are in awe. We went on to win and Bob always agreed with Kenny that that was the difference in the game and the reason we won that night and able to go on and win the state title.”  

— “We have an athletic program that is unrivaled due to his efforts to keep encouraging and building coaches and players to become better. Bob organized three meetings a year that were "Mandatory" — all coaches were to be in attendance. 

“Bob made it so we heard other coaches talk about their programs, had time to talk about the Student/Athletes that we shared among our seasons, and how those kids did while with that team. He brought in speakers to build our ability to teach and coach our kids. He gave directions on how to be a better person and coach. Not many schools do this and I think that it has helped in the success of our athletic program.”  

— “We lost a great friend, mentor, boss and PERSON when Bob lost his battle with Pancreatic Cancer. I'm sure he will be up in Heaven helping to organize their games.”  

 

Tim Simon, football, boys basketball and baseball

— “I am just so heartbroken and devastated. Bob was an amazing A.D., the absolute best! The Best! He was renowned not just throughout the conference, but throughout the state. The support he gave to coaches, the student-athletes, to the community was unbelievable. 

“He was, by far, the most dedicated A.D. He was everywhere — at virtually every athletic event. I know us coaches always enjoyed seeing him stop in or out at our practices to see what was going on. Sometimes he would even “get involved" — throwing the football, shooting a basketball. We always got a kick out of seeing him doing those types of things.”

— “He had a personality that would light up a room!  He was simply magnetic and had a certain charisma about him that just made you always want to be where he was. He had a contagious positive attitude every day, and as a coach you just wanted to drink all that positivity in.

“However, as much as he enjoyed the success of our teams — wins and losses — that was not the top priority of his Athletic Department. His top priority was always about building relationships and treating people the right way. He always reinforced that we are “In the People Business” — and the cornerstone to his Athletic Department was all about relationships and relationship building. 

“If we do things the right way, for the right reasons, and treat each other (coaches and athletes) the right way, everything else would work it's way out. Our true success was seen every year, every season, every day in the family he built within our coaching staff.” 

— “My favorite memories together are all those little memories, those normal ‘life things’ — golfing, coffee runs, poker. Maybe most of all the little impromptu ‘deck nights’ that he, John Boyle, and myself shared together. The dozens of times, where in the spring and summer, the three of us would congregate on his or Boyle's deck and ‘solve all the problems of the world.’ We would share so many laughs together — and the stories got better each year!”

 

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