|Even after his death, grandfather inspired Elk's run to state|
|Written by Todd Mishler/Walworth County Sunday|
|Saturday, 05 November 2011 12:57|
Sandy and Donald Walter are surrounded by their grandsons, from the left, Tyler Walter, Erik Papenfus and Jon Stopple, after a game early in the season. Elkhorn lost 3-0 in its first trip to state in team history, but their coach says they never lost their sense of heart, even after the death Oct. 18 of Donald Walter. Family photo.
(Read the story in the e-edition HERE.)
ELKHORN — The legend of the 12th man started with the Texas A&M University football team in 1922, and many manifestations of the tradition have been displayed at athletic venues at all levels of competition between teams and their fans ever since.
Elkhorn Area High School’s version of that story has played out the past several years with three families and the boys soccer program.
Senior Tyler Walter and juniors Erik Papenfus and Jon Stopple are first cousins and three major reasons why the Elks qualified for the WIAA Division 1 state tournament a week ago, giving the school its first state appearance to go along with its first conference, regional and sectional titles in the program’s 23-year existence.
And while it could be argued that their grandmother, Sandy (Walbrandt) Walter, was the bigger fan, the trio’s grandfather, Donald Walter, provided them and their teammates with the extra incentive and inspiration during their magical and unexpected postseason run.
Donald Walter died Oct. 18 after a long battle with heart disease. The cousins grieved along with family and friends, and two days later showed their heart and fortitude in knocking off Kenosha Bradford in a shootout.
The boys attended their grandfather’s funeral the morning of Oct. 22; and that evening they and the Elks avenged their only regular-season setback with a 2-1 victory over top-seeded Kenosha Tremper to reach the state tourney.
And even though Elkhorn ended up falling to Neenah (3-0) in its state opener Oct. 27, the cousins and their coach are convinced that their 12th man, Donald Walter, was with them every step of the way.
“We believe in our hearts that Don was our guardian angel and got us through sectionals,” said Quentin “BZ” Kayser, who has coached the Elks to a 37-11 combined record in his two seasons at the helm. “He carried us through the shootout … Erik just seemed to know where the ball was headed and stopped three shots. It was so emotional. It was like the whole community rushed onto the field. It was so neat to see Grandma Walters. Our success didn’t bring Don back, but it helped the grieving process.”
The cousins agreed that the team’s tourney showing, which capped a 20-game winning streak to advance to Milwaukee, was bittersweet.
“All three of us said before the (Tremper) game, ‘Let’s do this for Grandpa,’” said Papenfus, a two-year starter at goalie who made 12 second-half saves against the Trojans and six in the loss to Neenah. “It was difficult to play, but once I got to the field, it was all about soccer. I knew he was looking down on us and gave us the strength.”
Stopple and Tyler Walter were two-year captains who said that family, friends and teammates helped everybody cope with the sadness while celebrating the team’s accomplishments.
“At the beginning of the year, we all had to write down our goals, and a bunch of us said, ‘Let’s go to state,’” Stopple said. “This team was very close, and we had success because of hard work. And there was a big attitude shift toward supporting soccer this year.
“But our grandfather was a big part of my life, and when he passed away, I wanted to dedicate the games to him.”
Walter added, “We worked well as a team, because we worked together and trusted each other.
“We adopted a theme last year to always ‘hold the rope,’ to stick up for each other. And most of the team attended the funeral and said we’d win it for him.
“That kind of team commitment was like a second family and got me through it,” Walter said. “This was my last year, and even though we ended with a loss, I’m going to miss these guys. I’m proud of our team.”
Kayser’s older son Jordan, a senior midfielder, was the unparalleled offensive leader with 26 goals and 78 points, but the coach said the Elks’ success was the result of being a true team.
“There were no ifs, ands or buts, this team always showed heart and passion,” Kayser said. “They got along so well on and off the field. We weren’t always the most talented team, especially at sectionals or state, but our kids had so much drive and focused so hard.
“And many of these kids are farm boys, so they know what hard work is all about. And those are life lessons they’ve learned. But what these kids accomplished will never be forgotten, at least not in this community.”
And neither will their 12th man, Donald Walter.
|Last Updated on Tuesday, 08 November 2011 11:16|