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Nickel and Puckett also honored at GT Hall of Fame ceremonies

Were top-flight all-around athletes

Feb. 12, 2013

Two inductees to the Germantown Athletic Hall of Fame on Friday graduated just a year apart and were multisport athletes of great renown.

Randy Nickel, class of 1991, who works as a physical therapist for schools in the Hartland area and coaches his young son in select baseball, is a great "what-if?" case. A celebrated option quarterback and defensive back in the late 1980s, he went to Wisconsin on a football scholarship, built up some muscle in a redshirt year and was scheduled to be a starting linebacker in his first full year on the team when just weeks before the season opener, he tore his hamstring.

A misdiagnosis resulted in missed opportunity at treating the injury correctly and quickly and so his football career was over before it really got started.

But there was a bright side to his time at Wisconsin. He stayed at school, and finished his challenging physical therapy degree in just 4 1/2 years. More importantly while there, following his departure from the football team, he moved in with some friends into new student housing. It turned out to be right next door to where a girl named Beth was living.

They met, dated and have been happily married for 15 years.

He still remembers his high school days well. One track memory in particular stands out, when the Warhawks were contending for the Washington County Invitational title one year and then coach Jack Stiever told him that if he and teammate Mark Guenther could finish one-two in the 200 meters, they would win the meet.

"And we got to the finish line and Mark (Guenther) jumped into my arms, we had done it," Nickel said "It was an awesome moment."

He was a great basketball player, but stopped playing the sport after his sophomore year to save his knees.

"Coach Kloth (Dennis, a member of the selection committee and former basketball coach) still holds that against me," laughed Nickel, "but I do have one great memory of basketball. The first game of sophomore year, we played Homestead, which had (then all-stater) Larry Hisle, Jr. We had (leading scorer and former Germantown baseball coach) Parrish Wagner and Greg Zak and I took turns covering Larry.

"One play, I made a bad pass that went right to Larry (Hisle). I think I got credit for an 'assist' as he dunked right over me (laughs)."

Germantown still hung on for the upset win that night.

Though 1990 graduate Karen Puckett was good at basketball and very good in track, it was volleyball that she excelled in. She had an excellent 26-inch vertical leap and received an athletic scholarship to the University of Illinois-Chicago to play volleyball. She received many awards for her play and is still listed among the school record-holders in several categories.

A top-notch student, too, she graduated from UIC with a degree in physical education and K12 education and then went on to earn two master's degrees, one from UIC in Urban Kinesiology and then from Aurora (Ill.) University in Outdoor Therapeutic Recreation and Administration.

She has taught on all levels and did substantial work with the underserved populations of Chicago's inner-city. She now works with special needs children, teaching adaptive physical education. She has also coached and officiated in various sports, including volleyball.

An auto accident a year ago left her with strong concussion symptoms but she has just recently been able to come back to almost a completely normal schedule.

"I'm much better," she said with a sense of relief in her voice.

She spends a great deal of her time fostering her 14-year old daughter's own athletic ambitions, which have manifested themselves in high-level age-group finishes in the sport of in-line speedskating.

Puckett is profoundly grateful for the honor and thanks many people who reached out to her including former coaches like Wayne Thuecks, as well as former football coach Phil Datka. She said she had a great deal of fun catching up with old friends during the ceremonies last weekend.

"It's great that they've put something like this together," she said of the Hall of Fame. "I'm especially grateful because Germantown has become such a hub for athletics (in the suburban Milwaukee area). School brings back a lot of good memories. There were a lot of good people I worked with while I was there."

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