Raffel hangs up his clipboard

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MTT News's picture
By: 
Rob Reischel
Jerry Raffel (right), who has been the lead assistant for Middleton’s boys basketball program since 1991, recently decided to retire from coaching./Times-Tribune photo by Mary Langenfeld

John Boyle was fishing for a compliment.

Little did he know, that plan was about to blow up in his face.

Boyle, Middleton’s boys basketball coach from 1991-2006, recently asked his sons Danny and Tone who their favorite coach was during their time at MHS.

In unison, the Boyle brothers both said, “Raf.”

“They didn’t take long with their answer,” John Boyle said. “They just spit it right out. I was like ‘thanks guys.’ ”

Boyle shouldn’t feel too bad. A large number of players that passed through MHS the past three-plus decades would probably have the same answer.

Unfortunately for MHS, though, Raffel recently told Middleton head coach Kevin Bavery he won’t return next season. Raffel — who worked for the Middleton Police Department for 28 years — also retired from his campus support position at MHS.

Raffel and his wife, Teresa, hope to travel more in future winters. And that means for the first time since 1991, Raffel won’t be part of Middleton’s coaching staff next season.

“I just knew it was time,” Raffel said recently. “The winters were getting longer and I want to be some place warmer.

“You do a Monday through Sunday, seven days a week basketball season, and you get to Saturday and you’re doing varsity reserve basketball games and you’d rather be doing something else. I just knew it was time.”

 

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Raffel wasn’t looking to join the coaching rat race back in the fall of 1991.

Back then, he was a relatively new police officer in town just starting a family. Time wasn’t something he had a surplus of.

Raffel, a 1979 graduate of Madison East, had played for Boyle during his time with the Purgolders and still idolized his former high school coach. Boyle had recently moved to Middleton after being named the Cardinals’ boys basketball coach.

Both men were at a Middleton football game one random Friday — Raffel working crowd control and Boyle as a spectator — when they crossed paths.

Shortly thereafter, Boyle asked Raffel to be his lead assistant.

“I knew he’d be a good one,” Boyle said. “His attitude and his enthusiasm and his knowledge of the game are all outstanding. Plus, we’re both East-siders.”

Bavery — who rolled into town 15 years later after Boyle retired — wasn’t an East-sider. But Bavery quickly realized having Raffel on his staff would be key.

“You couldn’t be any more loyal than he is,” Bavery said. “It’s cliché, but he is a shirt off his back kind of guy. No matter what you need, he’s there for you.”

Raffel was tough, but fair, demanding yet reasonable. He scouted opponents, helped with game plans, was integral in practices and was a trusted confidant of both Boyle and Bavery — two coaches that have since been named to the Wisconsin Basketball Coaches Association Hall of Fame.

“The biggest thing is X’s and O’s wise, he brought a lot more to the table than people realize,” Bavery said of Raffel. “And where I would be the guy who plans everything and lays everything out, he would tend to find detail in the detail and really point things out.”

 

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Working a high-pressure job and eventually raising four kids would fill the plates of most people. But once Raffel started coaching, he was hooked.

This was a labor of love — and basketball definitely had Raffel’s heart.

“It got to be so fun and the winters just flew by,” Raffel said. “When I started having kids, I was coaching football too, working 10-12 hour shifts through the night, getting a little sleep during the day with the kids — maybe.

“There’s days I know I stayed up 24 to 48 hours straight, but we did that when we were young. I was always on night shift back then and sometimes I’d be on the bus back from Janesville or Beloit and head right over to work and I’d be up until 7 o’clock. But it was a lot of fun.”

Raffel had a remarkable amount of fun with both coaches he worked for.

Boyle is one of the great basketball minds to pass through Dane County in decades. And Raffel gobbled up every morsel of knowledge possible.

During Raffel’s time with Boyle, Middleton reached the 1998 WIAA Division 1 state championship game. That remains the last MHS team to reach the state tournament and only the second team in school history to reach the state finals.

“John is one of the greatest facilitators of the game you’ll ever see,” Raffel said. “He knows X’s and O’s and knows how to design something for what he has to play with. And what a great philosopher. He was unbelievable to work for.”

Bavery didn’t know Raffel when he replaced Boyle 17 years ago. But after a couple of meetings, Bavery quickly knew he wanted Raffel on his staff.

Good choice.

Over the last 17 seasons, Middleton has gone 242-154 (.611) and won a pair of Big Eight Conference titles, including one this past winter. Raffel and Bavery also became extremely tight, allowing the two to have a free-flowing exchange of ideas that benefitted the entire program.

“Kevin has been one of the perfect guys to be with,” Raffel said. “It was a perfect marriage because we both could (complain) at each other and have a difference of opinions, but we really admired each other.

“Sometimes he’d listen to me and sometimes he wouldn’t, which is perfectly fine. As a head coach, he has that right. We never held anything against each other. I think he still respected my opinion. He just felt it wasn’t the time to do what I wanted to do.”

In a sport where turnover is the norm and few coaches last more than a handful of seasons, Raffel remains amazed he worked under just two men during his time at MHS. And remarkably, both are in the Hall of Fame.

“Who else could say that the whole time you coached, both coaches got to be Hall of Famers?” Raffel asked. “Both were so instrumental in the game and where it’s going.

“Kevin’s still involved. His youthfulness is really carrying forward. I was so blessed. And the greatest thing they both gave me is I had a voice. So many times people are like managers when you’re an assistant. I’ve seen it before, but not here. I was hands on. I had a lot of say and both coaches always backed me.”

 

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Raffel, who turns 62 next month, spent two months contemplating his future after the Cardinals’ dream season ended in March, then decided this was the perfect time to step away.

First, he knew duplicating last year’s memorable campaign — in which MHS set a school record for wins — would be incredibly hard.

“It was such a great year,” Raffel said. “I figured it was a good time.”

Second, Raffel — who coached sons Jake, Travis and Logan at MHS — doesn’t have any more children in the pipeline. And while coaches will coach whoever is put in front of them, there’s something different about directing your own children.

“It’s special,” Raffel said. “It’s also tough. I’ll tell you, they were the hardest to coach.

“You’re probably tougher on them and more critical of them, and when you get home, Mom doesn’t like that. But by the same token, having that time together is really special.”

Raffel has certainly been given the gift of time now.

He and Teresa will eventually look for a place to purchase in Florida. Raffel wants to visit Alaska, Hawaii and Australia. And he hopes to develop more consistency in a golf game that ranges between magical and maddening.

As for coaching, those closest to Raffel think he could have some Michael Corleone — “every time I think I’m out they pull me back in” — in him.

Raffel stopped by a tournament at MHS in June, and before he was even home, he called Bavery.

“He came by to watch a couple of games,” Bavery said. “And right away he called me with some ideas he had for Will (Garlock).”

Boyle, like many others, wasn’t surprised by that story.

“I know he says he’s done,” Boyle said of Raffel. “But I’ve got to see it to believe it. He’s just got such a passion for the game.”

Which is one of many reasons Raffel was beloved — and a favorite of so many that passed through MHS.

 

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