In his early days, he was a hardnosed, ambitious coach who demanded much from his players, but who made them look almost spoiled with his work ethic.
Now Germantown offensive line coach Gary Soike, after just completing his 39th year with the Warhawks, is darn-near a softy, remembering only the good about his players, recalling sadly the funerals of former charges he's had to go to, and relishing every time he gets to hold his wife Roberta's hand during the national anthem before games, before he heads up to the press box to help make decisions, and she goes to the sidelines to work the statistics, just like she has for more than 25 years.
In short, he's eternally grateful for the day he met lifelong friend and colleague Germantown head coach Phil Datka, whom he'll join in the Wisconsin Football Coaches Association Hall of Fame in March.
A common bond
"We had basically grown up on the same street (South 15th in Milwaukee) just a couple of years apart," he said. "We didn't run in the same crowd, but we knew the same names. He went to (now defunct) Don Bosco and I went to South Division. It was like a fraternity down there in those days. Everyone was a friend to everyone else."
Datka was already two years into his legendary career at Germantown, when Soike arrived on the scene in 1970 and they've worked together hand-in-glove almost ever since.
"The biggest thing about our philosophies is that to us, it was always about the kids and not us," Soike said. "It's always been neat that way. I've always felt privileged and honored to coach. There's never been a kid I really disliked. It's always been fun, even during the hard times.
"And working with Phil, he's been like a brother to me. He was my best man for (my) wedding, and I was best man at his son Doug's wedding."
For Datka, too, it's always been an easy fit with Soike.
"He's been very loyal," Datka said. "He's had a great passion for football and is very good at his job. He's always enjoyed working with the kids, and like all of us, he's mellowed with age. We were a lot different coaches in the 1970s than we are now."
The friendship has always been easy, too. The trips up north, the almost comic attempts at teaching Soike how to water ski, the time he and Datka got lost driving in a fog storm outside of Gary, Ind., and the joint family trips to Disney World.
Coach's wife pitches in, too
Then there's Roberta, who has been almost as much a fixture as Gary himself. She's a former teacher who now works for Harley-Davidson.
"We needed a statistician and she was at all the games anyway," Soike said. "I asked her and she surprised me when she said 'Yes'. ... And she's still into it. I tell you though, to be able to hold her hand before the game during the national anthem is a real God-send. It just brings a tear to my eye."
Datka was also surprised she said 'Yes' all those years ago.
"The job used to be so much harder," he said. "I really think she got the short end of the stick at times, but I tell you, the program has really benefitted from her service."
'A team within a team'
As well as from the efforts of her husband. A sound technician, who was a lineman himself for a brief time at UW-La Crosse before entering the service in the late 1960s, Soike attended many clinics and learned some simple truths about line play which has served the Germantown program well over the years.
"You look at a guy's feet, his footwork, and that tells you a lot about how well he can do," Soike said, "… and I always emphasize to the guys that the offensive line is a team within a team. The fate of the guy next to you is dependent on how you do. You're not going to see your names in the paper but if you job well you'll get credit for it."
Datka is pleased as punch for his friend.
"This is just a very deserving honor," he said. "He's been assistant coach of the year at least once. Just a very stabilizing force for us and a great friend. Sometimes people can't even tell us apart. Someone will actually buy him a drink at a restaurant thinking it's me, and I tell you, he won't turn it down (laughs).
"That's actually happened," Soike chuckled, knowing his lifelong friend would probably do the same thing if given the chance.
- Steven L. Tietz
2010 WFCA Hall of Fame
Germantown assistant part of 18-person class
OTHER 2010 INDUCTEES: Allen and Rich Bessert, Ashwaubenon; Vincent Cibik, Cedarburg; Ron Hahm, Watertown Luther Prep; Douglas Hjersjo, River Falls; John Hoch, Lancaster; Randy Keister, Evansville; Dick Koch, West Allis; Mike Lecher, Pewaukee; Frank Matrise, St. Joseph's; Ken Mueller, Barron; Harold Mulhern, Osseo-Fairchild; Patrick Prochnow, Green Bay Preble; Chris O'Connell, Regis; Chuck Raykovich, Chippewa Falls; Bob Stevenson, Marshfield; Cal Tackes, Stratford; and Bob Wurdinger, Kaukauna.
SOIKE'S BEST - Terry Stephan, two-time all-stater 1996 and 1997
"Truth is, I didn't have to do too much with him, he was just that good, but I tell you one thing, he had great feet. We played flag football in phy-ed and at 6-3 and 270, he was the quarterback, and he was really good at it. He wasn't going to run a 4.2 40 or anything like that, but he was nimble and quick and people couldn't catch him."
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