A winning program for March madness

Brad Luepke is hanging up coaching basketball at St. Paul Lutheran School in Bonduel, and as his assistant, I will, too. I’m writing this for two reasons. First is to thank Brad for the fun ride. Second is to alert any high school in the area that has had the same dismal, depressing ending to their season year after year, you can change that. Ask Brad to be your varsity coach, if you’re tired of losing and would like a winning program.

There are high schools in the area that have parochial feeder programs. These schools have five starters from the parochial and five from the public school in each freshman class, but their season ends the same each year.

In December 2015, Brad asked if I would assist him with coaching. We coached the St. Paul Girls’ A Team. The A team is made up of eighth-grade girls, but Bonduel is small so we have a mix of underclass students. Saying “yes” to assisting Brad was one of the best commitments that I have ever made, and it has been an exciting five-year ride.

St. Paul is in the Big 6 conference, and that first year we took second in the conference but did manage to get invited to the state tournament. The team had two eighth-grade girls starting, and the remainder were in seventh grade. We ended up winning the consolation bracket.

Over the next four years, we won the Big 6 conference championship each year and only lost one regular season game. The Big 6 is made up of parochial schools from Shawano, Clintonville and Green Bay. Each of these communities is larger than Bonduel. We got invited to the state tournament each year, finishing fifth or sixth. In 2020, we finished second, which is the best any team from St. Paul has ever done. During this same time, St. Paul was invited to the national tournament at Valparaiso University for four consecutive years.

For the five-year span, St. Paul Girls A teams’ overall record for the Big 6, state, and national tournaments was 126 wins, seven losses. Some of the victories at nationals were against various state champions and numerous state second-place teams. Most schools in the state tournament are larger than St. Paul, and several of the schools at nationals have more kids in their school than the village of Bonduel has listed on its population sign.

Brad is respected and well-known by coaches on the state and national boards. Brad has been told that when the board is considering which schools to invite, many board members do not know where Bonduel the town is, but Brad has put Bonduel basketball on a pedestal, and everyone knows the quality of Bonduel basketball.

At the 2020 Shawano Optimist tournament, Brad coached against three tournament teams. The first two were undefeated DePere and Appleton teams. St. Paul played a tournament team from Menasha for the championship and won 52-26. What is a tournament team? A tournament team is normally made up of players from five to eight schools and the parents pay for their children to try out, with no guarantee of being on the team. If their children make the team, the parents pay many dollars for those children to play and tour with that tournament team.

St. Paul is what it is today because Brad works with younger kids in the summer by holding open gyms. There is no requirement to come to open gym, but the girls show up, and they bring their little sisters. We work with all of them. The little sister tells us that she wants to be on a winning team just like her big sister.

In the past few years one night each week our practice has been at 4:45 p.m. Many kids ride the bus and would just be getting home, then parents would have to run them back into town. Brad holds a study hall, which is also a bonding time for the team. It is mandatory that the girls get their homework done before any fun stuff.

Once or twice each season Brad has a bonding party at his house where the girls have a ton of fun. Frequently, Brad discusses life lessons with the team. Brad praises the upper class for accepting the younger team members. Two years ago, we went to nationals with five eighth -graders, one seventh-grader and two sixth-grade students on the team and took sixth place.

The nationals committee considers 140-plus schools from around the country, and 32 are selected. At nationals, you expect to see several teams with athletic girls 6 feet tall or taller, so the competition is superb, and the coaching is excellent.

It is fun to watch Brad during a timeout. Brad will tell the girls, OK, this or that has been happening, so the other team will try to do this or that, so this is what you will do. Brad is correct 90% of the time in this coaching chess match, and what is most pleasing is to see the confidence in the girls’ faces as they head back onto the floor. Brad is a winning coach.

Richard W. Kucksdorf is a retired U.S. Army colonel residing in Bonduel. Kucksdorf has other writings on his website, “Observations From Flyover Country,” at rwkucksdorf.com.