Henry was the original track star at Germantown
Four-time state champ inducted into school HOF
Wilbert Henry wasn't ground zero for Germantown track, but among those in the know about the sport and the school history, he's darn near the epicenter.
The four-time WIAA State Class B champ in the early 1970s, he won two 440-yard dash titles, a 220 crown and then anchored a mile relay for the ages.
He ran impossibly fast times on the slow, often difficult to negotiate cinder tracks. He won the state Class B 440 title in 48.8 seconds in 1971 and anchored a mile relay team that included his older brother, Mike, and which ran a state WIAA Class B record of 3:21.2. The irony of that time was that it was a then all-classes record for about 10 minutes until a surprising Neenah group ran 3:20.7 in the Class A race.
Germantown's time, if adjusted to today's metric distances (the race is now known as the 1,600-meter relay), would be a modern-day Division 2 state mark by quite a bit (all yards records were retired in the early 1980s when the WIAA switched from yards to meters).
And the Henry-led Warhawks were just getting started. They finished second in the state Class B meet team standings that year and then behind his individual victories in the 220 and 440 (a very quick 48.1), won the WIAA State Class B title in 1972, the first state team title ever for the school.
Henry, who was the precursor for other Warhawks track greats like Jerry Vance, Todd Hernandez, Dan Goesch, Adam Schleis, Marcus Wallace, Ben Holcomb and Jared Foerch (the modern school 400 record-holder and current coach), led a class of three inductees into the Germantown Athletic Hall of Fame on Friday night, all of whom who had ties to the great sport of track.
They included 1991 football and track great Randy Nickel (state place-winner in the 400 and long jump) and 1990 women's sports stalwart Karen Puckett, who still is arguably the greatest discus thrower in school history and who herself was a key component of a dynamite 1,600 relay (see separate article for more on those two).
The Las Vegas area resident Henry could not make it in for ceremonies, but was honored and humbled by his induction. He is proud to say "Germantown is still home" though most of his entire extended family has moved west.
"I remember watching eight millimeter films of his state meets at Monona Grove," former Germantown track athlete and coach Todd Brawner said. "He was amazing. He was and still is the man (for Germantown track). … Bill (Pohland, legendary first track coach at Germantown) called him the only athlete that he ever coached that was world class."
Henry's was a story carved out of legend borne on the hard surface of reality, as he grew up in Milwaukee before his family eventually moved to Germantown.
He was born moving fast.
"We were always running," he said of himself and his siblings. "Whenever we needed to go somewhere, we ran. There were a lot of fast people in the neighborhood where I grew up."
He wouldn't say if he ever got caught in the many games of tag played in his old neighborhood growing up, but one doubts that happened much, if at all.
A fine basketball player (he's still in the top 10 of all-time scoring at Germantown), track was always his first sport.
His was the first Germantown class in the then "new" high school building along River Lane, but the team's track was still at the old site, the old legendary cinder track at Kennedy Middle School where the high school used to be.
"So we had to get bused over to the track (for practice and meets)," he said. "You didn't want to be behind on a cinder track. A lot of that stuff would get thrown in your face and it was even worse when it was wet (laughs)."
Working with Pohland, Henry, his brother and the likes of Gary Vanderpool and the intense John Mueller (all of whom were on the record-setting relay), were part of the early halcyon days for the track program, as Germantown dominated the Scenic Moraine Conference for many years.
"It was a really good team," Henry said. "A lot of unique individuals. There were about 350 boys in the school at the time and about 100 of them were out for track."
The most "unique" of the bunch was Mueller, whom Henry called "a very different guy who would dare anybody to try and beat him." Legend has it that Mueller originally tried out for the team on a dare running a remarkable 440-yard (one lap) time while wearing cowboy boots.
But he couldn't beat Wilbert - hardly anyone could at the time. It would have been nice to see how far Henry would have gotten in college, but he admitted he made some "young and dumb mistakes" and so the college experience never quite worked out for him.
Happily, he noted, that has not been the case for some of his five children, two of whom (Austin and Devin) he is proud to say have bettered his best time of 47.8 (adjusted for meters) for the 400 and both of whom also ran on the 1,600 relay and ran it well.
"There is no better race than that," he said of the relay, the last event of the day at almost every track meet.
And he's very happy to hear stories of how the Germantown athletic program, especially the track team, has still prospered to this day (another state title was won in 2006 under Brawner's leadership).
"It's nice to be remembered, to be honored like this," he said. "It's good to be included along with some of the other very successful athletes that they've had. They're building a nice history there."
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