Former Rhinelander High School boys’ swim coach Steve Jensen speaks at the podium during the Rhinelander Athletic Booster Club Banquet at Holiday Acres Resort Wednesday, May 29. Jensen presented Yves Riopel for induction to the Hodag Hall of Fame. He read an acceptance letter by Riopel, who was unable to attend.
Bob Mainhardt for the River News
Ken Zuiker, left, speaks at the podium after receiving the Rhinelander Athletic Booster Club’s Heart of the Hodag Award, while longtime friend and coaching partner Todd Johnson looks on during the ABC’s banquet at Holiday Acres Resort Wednesday, May 29. Zuiker has volunteered in various roles in Rhinelander youth baseball for nearly 25 years.
6/1/2019 7:30:00 AM Hodag Hall welcomes three Drake, Schmidt and Riopel inducted in to HOF, three others honored by ABC
Three standout athletes spanning three generations of Rhinelander High School sports were honored Wednesday night as the Rhinelander Athletic Booster Club held its 40th annual banquet at Holiday Acres Resort.
The highlight of the evening was the induction of three more all-time greats into the ABC's Hodag Hall of Fame - basketball standout Casey Drake, tennis standout Brad Schmidt and former swimming state champion Yves Riopel.
Drake, a class of 2000 graduate, was the most contemporary of the three honorees and was part of the Hodags 1999 state tournament team. Longtime friend and 1997 state-team member Mike Cheslock presented Drake for induction Tuesday night and read off Drake's long list of accomplishments, both at RHS and then in his collegiate career at UW-Eau Claire.
"Don't get me wrong, Casey Drake was a great athlete," Cheslock said. "You don't accomplish the things that Casey did in sports without being a great athlete, but I think Casey would admit that when he stepped on the basketball court there were players who were bigger than him, stronger than him, faster than him or jump higher than him. But I guarantee you - and there's no doubt in my mind - there was not a player on the same basketball court as Casey Drake that worked harder than him."
Drake earned first team All-Wisconsin Valley Conference honors in 1999 and 2000, earning co-player of the year honors in 2000. He also received honorable mention all-state in 2000 and was a Wisconsin Basketball Coaches Association All-Star.
The 684 points Drake amassed in Wisconsin Valley Conference games currently rank 36th on the Valley's all-time scoring list.
At UW-Eau Claire, Drake was an All-WIAC first-team honoree in 2004 and 2005. He led the Bluegolds with 17.6 points and 4.5 rebounds per game as a junior, and averaged 18 points per game as a senior.
"Frankly, I feel like I'm very honored to be up here," Drake said in his acceptance speech. "I don't know necessarily if I fit, but this is a very elite group that is here and I'm very humbled to be recognized by this group."
Drake, who recently accepted a position as principal at Menomonie High School, thanked his parents - Al and Debra - for their support along with his brother, and fellow Hodag Hall of Famer, Jesse Drake for instilling in him a strong work ethic.
Schmidt was welcomed to the hall by his coach, and likely future hall of famer, Bob Heideman. Both came to the program in the same year, 1986. Heideman recalled that Schmidt was a scrawny freshman who barely made the varsity roster in doubles that year. He vaulted to the team's No. 1 player by the time he was a sophomore and was part of back-to-back Wisconsin Valley Conference and WIAA sectional titles in 1988 and 1989.
Individually, Schmidt qualified for the WIAA state tournament in both 1988 and 1989, reaching the round of 16 in 1989. He was also the WVC champion at both No. 1 doubles and No. 2 singles in 1989. He went 19-0 in doubles and 21-3 in singles that year.
More than that, Heideman recounted that Schmidt - a member of Rhinelander High School's national champion mock trial team in 1989 - was a natural-born leader. He served as team captain for two years.
"It's the leadership that brought him this nomination," Heideman said. "I think that speaks mountains about who Brad is."
Schmidt, now a doctor in the Madison area, quipped that as a contemporary of swimming Hall of Famers David and Ken Heck, he quickly realized his talents would be better served in tennis, and thanked his parents for driving him to Wausau for lessons - particularly between his freshman and sophomore seasons - which allowed him to improve his game.
"Sports, they make a difference," he said. "They open doors that you don't think become open to you at some point. Certainly that happened for me."
Riopel was a state champion in the 400-yard freestyle at the WIAA state meet as a junior in 1969. He was the state runner-up in the event in both 1968 and 1970. He was also of a runner-up finish in the 200 medley relay that in 1969 with teammates Larry Hyde, Bruce Grill and Mike DeBrock.
According to Steve Jensen, who was Riopel's swim coach at RHS, Riopel went on to swim at UW-Madison, and qualified for the NCAA championship before returning to Rhinelander, where he volunteered with the Rhinelander Swim Club.
Riopel was unable to attend Wednesday's banquet. Jensen, who presented his former pupil for induction, read a letter on Riopel's behalf.
"I sincerely thank the Athletic Booster Club for nominating me to the Rhinelander Hodag Hall of Fame. My experience have lasted a lifetime. I find myself teaching my grandchildren how to swim and dive," Jensen said, reading from Riopel's letter. "The water has always been a special place for me and for my family, and a lot of fun. The Rhinelander pool is pretty much where it began for me and my girls, so I thank everyone for such a tremendous experience."
The inductions of Drake, Riopel and Schmidt bring the Hodag Hall of Fame up to 111 members - which include former standout athletes, coaches and teams in Rhinelander High School history.
Zuiker receives Heart of the Hodag
Long-time volunteer baseball coach Ken Zuiker received the club's Heart of the Hodag award, presented annually to a volunteer who goes above and beyond to support Rhinelander area sports.
Zuiker has coached in the youth ranks in Rhinelander for the better part of 25 years, between the Little League, Babe Ruth and American Legion levels, and is currently the president of the Hodag Diamond Club after previously serving as Rhinelander Little League and Northwoods Babe Ruth League president.
Todd Johnson, who surprised Zuiker with the honor at Wednesday's banquet, has been Zuiker's coaching partner for many of those summers. "No one has done more to promote and support youth baseball in Rhinelander" than Zuiker, he said.
"He took on these roles because he cares a lot about baseball in Rhinelander," Johnson said. "These roles have taken a lot of his time and, as you can imagine, it has not always been an easy road. I know he has days at work where the majority of his day is spend fielding calls about baseball."
Johnson said the hallmark of Zuiker-coached teams is their sportsmanship, attention to detail and desire to make sure everyone on the team is valued equally. Johnson said Zuiker's teams play by five simple rules - respect the game, respect your teammates, have fun, hustle and give your best effort.
"I've had a first-hand view, some might say a ring-side seat, to witness the positive impact Ken has made on so many kids," he said. "Ken is a great baseball coach - the best I've been around - but, more importantly, he cares about each and every kid he has coached."
Zuiker was moved by the honor, and said it was only appropriate that Johnson be the one to present the award - though he felt somewhat sheepish being recognized in such a manner.
"Anyone that (has done this) knows long-tenured volunteers don't do it for the recognition," he told the crowd. "The last thing I want to do right now is be standing at this podium, but I'm humbled because I stand before a group that has also dedicated themselves to serving, volunteering, coaching, parenting, etc. I thank you ABC for this honor. I'm truly humbled."
The ABC also recognized the two recipients of its $1,000 student-athlete scholarships, presented annually to Rhinelander High School seniors who excel both on and off the field of play. Emma Roberts and Russell Benoy were this year's honorees.
Roberts participated in girls' tennis, Nordic skiing and girls' soccer all four seasons at RHS, earning nine varsity letters. She won an individual conference tennis title at No. 3 singles as a junior and her title at No. 2 singles last fall helped clinch the Great Northern Conference team championship for the Hodags.
Benoy, like Roberts, was a three-sport athlete all four years at RHS and earned nine varsity letters participating in boys' soccer, swimming and tennis. He's racked up numerous all-conference awards along the way and was part of this year's state champion 200-yard freestyle relay at the WIAA Division 2 swim meet, as well as a podium finisher in all four events he swam at state.
Both rank near the top of this year's graduating class. Through seven high school semesters, Roberts had a cumulative weighted GPA of 4.508, while Benoy had a GPA of 4.359. Roberts will attend UW-Madison next fall, where she will major in biomedical engineering. Benoy will attend Pomona College in California next fall where he plans to study liberal arts.
Jeremy Mayo may be reached at email@example.com.
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