West Allis Hale's Cwiklowski golden as football coach
Huskies' mentor marks 50 years teaching on sidelines
George Cwiklowski always enjoyed teaching, so he naturally thought coaching might be a nice fit for him as well.
It's safe to say that coaching did indeed work out for him — for 50 years, no less.
Cwiklowski marked his 50th season on the sidelines this fall, highlighted by 28 years at the helm of the West Allis Hale varsity team.
He was honored at halftime of the Huskies' final game of the 2013 season, receiving a plaque from the Wisconsin Football Coaches Association.
The ceremony was kept as a surprise for Cwiklowski, who is now Hale's freshman coach.
He simply walked back onto the field after the Huskies' halftime meeting and headed toward the Hale sideline before being directed to midfield, where West Allis Mayor Dan Devine stood with the plaque.
"I don't know what to say," Cwiklowski began. "I appreciate the 40 years here (including head coaching and the other positions he has held). I appreciate all the kids who have been through here, the parents, the administrators.
"It's been so much fun to have this commitment to coach at the greatest high school around, Nathan Hale."
At that, the entire Hale team surrounded him in congratulations and he received a lengthy standing ovation from the home crowd.
Later, the 75-year-old Cwiklowski reflected on the special moment.
"That (the ceremony) was a complete surprise; I did not know that was coming," he admitted. "I don't know how many coaches have received an award like that. It was just a tremendous thing to be honored like that."
Saying thank you
The Hale football community simply wanted to say thank you to Cwiklowski, who in many ways has been the face of the program in the past 40 seasons.
"Coach Cwik is West Allis Hale football," current head coach Brandon Ehret said. "The impact that he's had on the kids throughout the years...it's hard to put into words. The 50 years of coaching — for me, that's 20 years before I was even born.
"It was a tremendous amount of time and sacrifice for him, and this is his life. You couldn't ask for a better coach to have (at the freshman level). The impact that he's had on those freshmen, and their improvement, is unbelievable."
When told of those comments, Cwiklowski replied, "I appreciate him saying that. He has got this program on the right highway, and he is doing things the right way."
Played at Pulaski
He has an extensive background in athletics, having participated in football, basketball, baseball and track at Milwaukee Pulaski, from where he graduated in 1956.
He then spent one semester at the University of Wisconsin-Madison before becoming a part-time and full-time student at various times at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee.
Cwiklowski had played quarterback all four years at Pulaski but hurt a knee early in his college career and could not play football anymore. He did play basketball and baseball at UWM after that.
He had two uncles who were coaches, one the head football coach at Milwaukee Washington and the other the head baseball man at Milwaukee Juneau, and he began to think about coaching as a career.
"I had always been interested in athletics," he said, "and I enjoyed teaching, so it made sense."
His first coaching job was as a freshman football assistant as Whitefish Bay High School in 1963.
In 1964, he was hired at Catholic Memorial as a freshman football coach and head wrestling coach. He was there four years before being hired by the Milwaukee Public School system, teaching and serving as a varsity football assistant at Washington.
Comes to Hale
In 1970, he was hired by Hale athletic director Jack Driessen as the head football coach. He held that spot for 28 seasons before retiring from head coaching in 1998.
In his tenure, the Huskies won two conference championships, in 1974 (the old Suburban) and 1989 (the Suburban Park). The 1974 crown was Hale's first in 22 years.
Hale went to the WIAA playoffs only twice, but that was because the field was much smaller than it is now. At that time, only conference champions and some second-place teams were invited.
"In the early 1980s, we had a team with only one loss, but it did not get in," Cwiklowski said.
He holds unique memories of that 1974 championship squad.
"Those '74 players are special to me because they have kept in contact with me and each other over the years," he said. "Some are living outside the area, but they have stayed together.
"Some of them attended the ceremony (at the Hale game this season), even some who live out of the area. This is a close-knit group. That 1974 season was a special time."
At the same time, he does not want to single out that group.
"Every team had its own personality," he continued. "Every team was different. I have good memories of all of them. People often ask me which was my best team, and I tell them I don't like to say."
After retiring in 1998, he served as a volunteer coach at Milwaukee Hamilton, but when Scott Otto took the Hale head coaching spot, he asked Cwiklowski to be his freshman coach. He has held that position since then.
He has enjoyed that experience, saying, "It's great to mold these kids in the philosophy of the varsity program. You see a vast improvement in the kids from day one until the end of the season.
"Some of these kids haven't even played football before, so it is still a process in the beginning of the season. Once you get through that, though, you enjoy seeing how much improvement they make."
He said he needs to tailor his approach to the needs of each set of players.
"Sometimes you can go fast, sometimes slow," he said. "You have to know the kids and how much they can process. It's nice to make it fun, but at the same time, you have a commitment to get the things done that they need to reach the next level."
Will decide about 2014
At this point, Cwiklowski is not sure if he will return to the job next fall.
"At 75, you take things one year at a time," he said.
Still, it is hard to imagine Cwiklowski not being on a football sideline, which has after all been his second home for 50 years.
THE CWIKLOWSKI FILE
WHO: George Cwiklowski
WHAT: Long-time West Allis Hale football coach who celebrated his 50th year in high school coaching this fall
COACHING: Cwiklowski coached at Whitefish Bay, Catholic Memorial, Milwaukee Washington and Milwaukee Hamilton, but he spent 28 years (1970-98) as the head coach at Hale, during which time his teams won over 120 games and two conference championships...he has served as Hale's freshman coach since 2005...he was also the head basketball coach for 13 seasons
HONOR: He was inducted into the Wisconsin Football Coaches Hall of Fame in 2003
TEACHING: He taught history and physical education for a total of 35 years, including 29 at Hale, before retiring in 1999
APPRECIATION: Cwiklowski wants to thank all the people he has worked for or who have worked under him, including assistants Fred Pauc, Dale Bakken, Larry Nickels, Terry Fredenberg, Lonnie Heller, John Kaszubowski, Dan Celoni, Doug Krueger and Jeff Sikich; equipment manager Rich Minga and athletic directors Jack Driessen, who hired him as the Hale head coach, and Doug Marnocha
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