Germantown basketball coach Steve Showalter hurried out of the recent North Shore all-conference meeting to fulfill a request made by an old friend.
As he knocked on the door of former Warhawk wrestling coach Barry Bernstein, he held in his hand a gold first place North Shore medal from Germantown's championship grappling unit of 1986.
Bernstein gave the medal to Showalter five years ago while Showalter was going through a tough time getting the hoops program established. Now that Germantown had won its first conference basketball championship in 33 years, Showalter was remembering something Bernstein told him.
"He told me, 'You can do this. You can make this work,'" Showalter said. "And he handed me this medal and told me that this is what you're working for. 'When you win one (a conference title) of your own, give it back.' And I've held it in my hand several times since for luck."
Best mark ever
But it wasn't luck or the medal that led Showalter and the Warhawks to their school-record 19-4 record and their first-ever North Shore Conference title and their first-ever WIAA sectional final berth.
It was pride, sweat, determination and the fervent wishes of a gym rat from Baraboo who wanted the basketball program to stand on its own two feet and look the rest of the sports world in Germantown squarely in the eye.
For reaching that goal, Showalter is the CNI All-Suburban Boys Basketball Coach of the Year.
"This is for every kid who ever walked through the door and fought for me and played for me," said Showalter, who is in his seventh year with the team. "The other night I was writing down the list trying to get every last name. I've taken a lot of calls this last week and I have a lot of letters and e-mails to get out. I know the award is technically for me, but the award is really for Germantown basketball and its players. They were the ones who put it on the map. It's a tribute to them."
And it's just the kind of attitude that Bernstein, admittedly no big fan of basketball, first admired in Showalter, a 17-year veteran of the Germantown Police Department.
"The first thing I saw in Steve was his passion for basketball above anything else," Bernstein said. "With me as assistant principal (now retired) and him as a police officer he and I worked together well. And he would come to our wrestling matches and bring his boys along and he would observe our interactions with the kids and how we approached competition."
Showalter is a competitor and if you're going to play for him, you have to have the same fire as he does, or else it will be a long season.
"He's hard on us," Warhawk first-team All-North Shore guard Bobby Komorowski said, "but he does it to make us better. He does it because he wants to win."
A disciple of coach Bo Ryan in his NCAA Division III All-American days at UW-Platteville, the fire in Showalter burns brightly. He's played in five countries, won national three-on-three championships and once led the nation of Ireland in scoring for a season, averaging more than 50 points a game.
"That was a fun time," he laughed of his days overseas.
Thrown into the fire
Former coach Bill Colondro brought Showalter to the staff in the late 1990s as an assistant, based partially on a recommendation from Ryan himself. Colondro, coming off the Warhawks' best season ever at 17-4, abruptly left the program at the start of the 2000-2001 season.
"I still consider him a friend and knowledgeable coach," Showalter said of Colondro, "but there I was facing 50 kids at practice. Phil (then athletic director) Datka pointed me in the direction of them and told me we need someone to run the program. I knew all about imposing my will as a player, but I didn't know anything of the tough decisions you need to make as a coach on the court. But a week and a day later, I had won my first game and we were off."
Basketball victories have never come easy in Germantown. Fan support was lackluster and coaches came and went. In 50 years of school history, there have been only 15 winning seasons. But that has changed in Showalter's seven-year tenure. He has been responsible for six of those winning records, which have included three WIAA regional titles (the first-ever in school history) and a school-best winning percentage of .590 (92-64).
"I had such a passion as a player that I didn't know how I'd react if I were around people who didn't have the same energy that I did," he said. "I thought when I came over (as an assistant) that I'd just help out, but this has been more for Germantown, my home, because I think the kids deserve the expertise I think I have."
The Warhawks recently lost out on a chance at their first state-tournament berth in a hard-fought 47-42 loss to top-ranked Milwaukee Vincent in the sectional final. They will graduate some good players, including Komorowski, but five key people will return for another run at success.
"We had it (for a time)," Showalter said ruefully of the Vincent game, "and it's because with our system, our style, I believe we can win any game we play. I don't ever want to give up believing that."
Nor will he likely to be as he puts a North Shore basketball medal in his pocket for luck to replace the one he gave back to Bernstein.
"His wife Nancy answered the door when I came over," Showalter said. "She got a big kick out of the whole thing."
THE TOP COP
A closer look at Steve Showalter, the CNI All-Suburban Coach of the Year:
Occupation: Germantown police officer (17 years) and Germantown boys basketball coach (seven years)
Family: Wife Jill (married 17 years), sons Zack (13) and Jake (11)
College: 1988 graduate of UW-Platteville, degree in criminal justice and law enforcement
Basketball background: Division III All-American while at Platteville under current Wisconsin coach Bo Ryan … played in five different countries … won national three-on-three competitions and played on numerous all-star teams.
Rival's respect: "You just look and see how mentally tough they were throughout the season," Homestead boys basketball coach Ray Curry said. "They make you work for whatever you get and that's a reflection of Steve. It's because he can adapt. He can hold the ball, he can press. His leadership makes all the difference in the world. He should be coach of the year hands down."
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