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Hans Wiederkehr

Shoreham-Wading River, Miller Place three-sport athletes excel at Blue Chip Prospects Long Island combine

“By no means is Long Island considered a hot bed for football players, but we have a ton of talent here,” horeham-Wading River defensive back and quarterback Xavier Arline said, hoping to show off his skills on the
gridiron at the Blue Chip Prospects Long Island football combine May 6.

The event at Sachem High School North, put on in conjunction with the Suffolk County Coaches Association to showcase top Long Island football talent, ran the 70 athletes that attended through six stations before breaking off into specific position drills. The football players participated in the 40-yard dash, vertical jump, standing broad jump, 185-pound bench press, 5-10-5-yard shuttle and 3-cone drill.

Shoreham-Wading River quarterback Xavier Arline leaps over a defender. File photo by Bill Landon

Arline ran the second fastest 40-yard dash (4.55) and 5-10-5-yard time (4.41), behind Brandon Didier of North Babylon, who ran a 4.51 and had a 4.39.

“Knowing I have a good foundation to build off of is confidence boosting,” the sophomore said. “It just shows that with additional training and hard work I can compete with athletes across the country.”

Miller Place junior Tom Nealis, a 6-foot 4-inch wide receiver, ran a 4.91 40-yard dash and had a time of 4.67 in the 5-10-5.

“It was great to be out on the football field again and it was cool to see a lot of other top players and great
athletes there,” said Nealis, who also plays baseball and basketball. “I feel that playing baseball may have put me at a slight disadvantage. Baseball takes up a lot of time that could have been used to practice these drills and work on quickness.”

But he said that won’t hold him back from his dream of being a Long Island standout like Sachem North’s Dalton Crossan, who signed with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in February, and William Floyd alum Stacey Bedell, who just received an invite to the rookie minicamp of the San Francisco 49ers.

“The way the game is played is like nothing else,” Nealis said. “No other sport can you physically feel
the effort and intensity of your opponent. Seeing these guys make it to elite programs opens my eyes to the possibilities.”

Miller Place’s Tom Nealis grabs a catch. File photo by Bill Landon

Arline said the success of more recent graduates who have gone on to play Division I football, like Sayville’s Jack Coan (University of Wisconsin) and his former teammate Ethan Wiederkehr (Northwestern University) helps ignite a fire in him. Despite verbally committing to the University of North Carolina to play lacrosse as an eighth-grader, the sophomore is keeping his options open.

“This was a great opportunity for me to see where I am at as a player and athlete,” he said. “I wanted to attend this event to gain experience, find my highs and lows and compete against myself. It created a baseline and foundation for me to build on as I begin the football recruiting process.”

Hans Wiederkehr, Ethan’s father who is the president of the football coaches association, and a two-time Long Island championship winner while he was the head coach at Babylon, said since football doesn’t have travel teams, an event like this helps get student-athletes exposure.

“I’ve always thought it was a great tool for all the kids,” he said of the combine, that’s in its 16th year. “The best part for me is every kid really wants to be there and every kid wants to do great. They all have hopes and dreams, and some leave with a reality check while others get to see how good they really are.”

Arline said he thinks he has what it takes to shine at the next level in his favorite sport.

“The most difficult part about the combine was not knowing what to expect — I had very little to no preparation going in,” he said. “With hard work, perseverance and a little luck I believe I can get there.”

Hans Wiederkehr, a former athlete, NFL player and football coach at Babylon and Shoreham-Wading River, is a member of Suffolk Sports Hall of Fame's 2018 induction class. Photo from SSHOF

Seeing coaching as an action, not a title, has yielded great success, and now a prestigious honor for a few local leaders.

Former Babylon head football coach and Shoreham-Wading River assistant Hans Wiederkehr, and Middle Country track and field coaches Bob Burkley and Harry Schneider were named members of the Suffolk Sports Hall of Fame’s 2018 induction class, announced by the organization Feb. 13. The three will join eight other selectees at the induction ceremony May 10 at 7:30 p.m. at Watermill Caterers in Smithtown.

“I’d like to thank all the kids that played for me — they’re the main reason I’m here,” Wiederkehr said. “I love the kids. I’d do anything for them.”

Former Middle Country head track and field coach Bob Burkley, currently an assistant at Northport, is one of 11 to be inducted into the Suffolk Sports Hall of Fame this year. Photo from SSHOF

After a successful career as a lineman at Syracuse University, Wiederkehr spent a season with the Pittsburgh Steelers as an offensive lineman in 1985-86. From 1986 until 2002 he served as a physical education teacher and director at Babylon, and coached varsity football from 1987 to 2002. The Panthers won 10 league crowns, six Suffolk County titles and two Long Island championships during his tenure. From 2014 to 2016 he was an assistant coach at Shoreham-Wading River. The Wildcats won three Long Island championships and two Rutgers Trophies, given annually to Suffolk’s top football team.

“I had tremendous parents, tremendous support, and then I took the time to coach my own son at Shoreham and dealt with the same type of people,” Wiederkehr said. “I’ve been very lucky to have that support, and I think that’s the foundation of amateur athletics.”

The former Division I athlete and NFL player is also one of the longest tenured athletic administrators of any coaches association in Long Island history. He has served as president of the Suffolk County Football Coaches Association since 1999, known for its famed awards dinner that draws more than 900 guests annually. Widerkehr is also an inductee of the East Lyme High School Hall of Fame (2004) and the National Football Foundation Hall of Fame (2009).

Burkley was the varsity track and field coach at Newfield High School from 1964 to 1970, and at Centereach from 1971 to 1998. He won 28 league championships and 10 county championships. Following his time in Middle Country, he was an assistant at Bayport-Blue, from 1999 to 2004, at Center Moriches from 2005 to 2009, and has been at Northport since 2010. Burkley has coached 60 student-athletes who went on to have their own track and field coaching careers. He coached five national champions, two national record holders and five New York state record holders. Burkley’s teams went 26 years and 158 matches without losing a dual meet. He was also a lifeguard captain at Jones Beach for 42 years and was named New York State Lifeguard of the Year in 2010.

“I’ve been very lucky to have [the parents’] support, and I think that’s the foundation of amateur athletics.”

— Hans Wiederkehr

“I’d like to thank my wife for letting me spend all this time the last 55 years coaching student-athletes,” Burkley said, smiling. “I still love it, and I love it because of the athletes — their dedication, responsiveness. It’s so rewarding to work with kids that love what they’re doing and stick with it.”

Much like Burkley, Schneider taught physical education in the Middle Country school district for 32 years, coaching boys cross country, boys winter track and boys spring track and field during each of those seasons and beyond. Since retiring from teaching and moving to Sedona, Arizona in 2000, he has continued to coach boys and girls cross country and track and field.

Schneider’s boys cross country teams at Middle Country won 10 division titles, 18 league championships and 11 county titles. His dual meet record was 165-20. In 1995, his team was ranked No. 8 in the nation. Boys winter track teams at Middle Country won seven division titles, 21 league championship and 11 county titles under Schneider’s guidance, which also produced a 103-3 overall record. Burkley coached 85 individual champs, two national champs and 11 state champs. In the spring, he won eight division titles, 28 league championships and 10 county titles. His record was 189-4-1. He coached 78 county champs, four national champs and 15 state champs among his spring track campaigns. He won more than 80 coach of the year awards and more than 65 of his student-athletes went on to coach throughout the United States.

Ed Morris, former executive director of the Suffolk Sports Hall of Fame, is being inducted into it this year. Photo from SSHOF

Among other coaches, referees and players to be inducted is Miller Place native Matt Ryan, noted as one of the greatest handball players in American history. The 1996 U.S. Olympic captain was a three-time U.S. Handball Player of the Year, and his 225 official international matches are an American record. Ryan also played professional handball overseas and starred in multiple world championship tournaments. His athletic prowess, however, began on the basketball court. As a senior in 1984, Ryan was named New York Basketball Player of the Year. As a junior, he was second team All-Long Island and won a gold medal at the Empire State Games with the Long Island squad. In 2013, he was inducted to the Miller Place Athletic Hall of Fame. In 2004, he was honored with the Boys and Girls Clubs of America National Service to Youth Award.

Former executive director of the Suffolk Sports Hall of Fame, Ed Morris, is also in this year’s class. He served on the executive board since 1992 prior to taking over the organization in 2000. A Sachem alum, he is also the first recipient of his namesake award, the Edward J. Morris Lifetime Achievement Award. He has also served on the board of directors of Suffolk County PAL.

Half Hollow Hills graduate Stephen Bowen, who spent 10 seasons in the NFL, and Shannon Smith, a three-time first-team lacrosse All-American who is among the most decorated players in the sport, and is also the head women’s lacrosse coach at Hofstra University, also highlight this year’s class.

“When I found out that I was one of the new members I almost felt guilty, because there are so many wonderful men and women coaches in Suffolk County,” Wiederkehr said. “There so many that work hard, and sometimes don’t achieve some of the success some other coaches have, but that doesn’t bother them, they just keep working and working and working.  I’m very honored and humbled to be a part of this induction class.”

Hans Wiederkehr, a former NFL player, decided to leave his playing career behind to coach high school football at Babylon for 15 years. Photo from Hans Wiederkehr

T.J. Lynch grew up without a father. With no direction or motivation, all he knew was that he enjoyed playing football. Hans Wiederkehr, the head coach at Babylon High School at the time, struck up a relationship with Lynch like he had with many players before him. He would pick up the athlete early in the morning to make sure he was going to school, take him to the weight room and speak to him about the potential he saw.

“He was the biggest positive influence in my life,” the 1998 graduate said of Wiederkehr. “He was a very caring man, and he guided me. He showed me how to train, breathed words of encouragement and wisdom about life into me and lifted me up. He made you want to be better on the field and in the classroom. He got you excited about life.”

Hans Wiederkehr coaches from the sideline. Photo from Hans Wiederkehr

Relationships like the one Wiederkehr had with Lynch are what the soon-to-be Suffolk County Sports Hall of Fame inductee had hoped for when he decided to trade in an NFL career for a high school coaching gig back in 1988. Making a positive impact on someone’s life drew him from the gridiron to the sideline, and as a result he’ll hold a special place in Suffolk’s athletic history.

The Shoreham resident was born in Connecticut and played for East Lyme, graduating in 1981. He competed in the state championship his senior year, and after receiving multiple offers to play at the next level, decided to commit to Syracuse University on a scholarship. The 6-foot, 4-inch 322-pound offensive lineman played under defensive coordinator George O’Leary, a Central Islip native who went on to coach at his alma mater, and eventually with the San Diego Chargers and Minnesota Vikings. While leading Central Islip, O’Leary mentioned to Wiederkehr, who had a physical education degree, that if things didn’t work out with the Pittsburgh Steelers, where he was on the injured reserve list following college, that a teaching job and eventually head coaching position would be available at Babylon. While rehabbing, he spent a year as an assistant at Babylon under 20-year head coach Tom DiNuovo, which is where he caught the coaching bug. He returned the following year and took over the helm when DiNuovo retired.

“Probably the most enjoyable part of coaching is teaching a kid something that he really doesn’t think he can do, and then looking into his eyes after he completes something and say, ‘I told you so,’ that’s the biggest kick I get out of coaching,” Wiederkehr said. “You work with kids who are there because they really love the game, and I fell in love with coaching. I decided this is what I want to do.”

The head coach, who went on to enjoy a 15-year career, said he wanted to pay it forward, giving to others what coaches had given to him. When he was a sophomore in high school, his parents moved to Schenectady, but he wanted to stay in Connecticut because he saw potential in his team. Head coach Tom Smyth opened up his home to Wiederkehr and let him live with him until he graduated.

“He was the biggest positive influence in my life. … He got you excited about life.”

— T.J. Lynch

“He was a lead figure in my life next to my dad,” Wiederkehr said of Smyth. “I wouldn’t be where I am if it wasn’t for him. He got my name out there and opened up the doors for me. It’s unbelievable the pedigree of coaches that I’ve had, and all those guys have one thing in common — they preached outworking your opponent.”

While at Babylon, Wiederkehr amassed a 99-41-2 record, good for a 0.70 winning percentage. The Panthers reached the playoffs 12 times and won nine league titles under his guidance, going on to play in nine Suffolk County finals, winning five, followed by two Long Island championships. He coached alongside Rick Punzone, his defensive coordinator, and the pair of 25-year-olds led the team until Wiederkehr retired in 2002, leaving the team in the hands of
Punzone, who has now been the head coach at Babylon for 15 years.

“With his experience we had very successful teams,” said Punzone, the godfather of one of Wiederkehr’s daughters, who considers the coach a best friend of his for the last 28 years. “He’s a brother to me. He was professional, and always gave me free reign over the defense. We weren’t always the most talented but he got the most out of the kids, which is why we were always known as one of the tougher schools around. It’s because of his leadership, work ethic and organization.”

Wiederkehr left coaching to focus on his daughters, and eventually went on to coach his son in youth programs at Shoreham-Wading River.

“He stopped to watch my sisters develop,” his son Ethan Wiederkehr said. “It just shows you what type of person he is. He’s a family first type of guy. He’s not selfish, he cares about others and he’s a humble person. It’s been amazing to call him my father.”

One win shy of the coveted 100, Hans Wiederkehr left the helm of Babylon to work with youth in Shoreham-Wading River school district, including his son Ethan, above at a county awards dinner with wife Karen. Photo from Hans Wiederkehr

Punzone also noted Hans Wiederkehr’s work with and attention to detail regarding his position as president of the Suffolk County Football Coaches Association.

“He’s taken our association to the next level,” he said. “I’m a coach in the association and we’ve never had as good a leadership as we’ve had under his reign.”

Joe Cipp Jr., the head coach at Bellport for the 31 years, who has collected his own 202-84-3 record and been a coaching friend of Wiederkehr’s over his entire career, said he took on being president the same way he tackled anything else in his life, giving it 100 percent.

“He puts a million hours in, just like he does with coaching, without getting paid,” Cipp said. “I could say he puts in 150 percent of the effort, but there’s no such thing. He makes the football awards dinner something special to the kids in Suffolk County. He does a tremendous job, and it speaks to the type of person he’s been his whole life. And as a coach, he was able to demand tremendous [effort] of his kids and still be well-liked. It’s the best combination you could be.”

Wiederkehr is one of 11 honorees selected for the hall of fame out of 32 nominees. According to Section XI Executive Director Tom Combs, who was a head coach at Babylon’s rival Harborfields for 13 years, his former opponent is the first to get into the hall of fame his first time being nominated.

“It says a lot about what a good man he is,” Combs said. “It’s very competitive, especially their first time on the ballot, and Hans is just a great coach and mentor to a lot of people. His teams were always very well
prepared and it usually came down to our two teams for the head of our division. There were some fierce battles. He’s a hard-nosed guy but the kids loved that discipline and direction that he provided. You could see he motivated the kids, and they loved him.”

Hans Widerkehr with former players. Photo from Hans Wiederkehr

He added that giving up reaching the monumental 100 wins once again shows how he’s always willing to put others before himself. He eventually became an assistant coach to the Shoreham-Wading River varsity team under head coach Matt Millheiser. His son Ethan was part of two undefeated seasons and three straight Long Island championships. The 6-foot, 5-inch 273-pound offensive lineman accepted a scholarship to play at Northwestern University after winning the Bob Zellner Award, presented to Suffolk’s top lineman. He has aspirations of going pro.

“I fell in love with the team aspect of it, the relationships you build with your teammates and extend your family,” Ethan Wiederkehr said. “It’s hard to pinpoint any one thing since he taught be so much, but through hard work and dedication you can accomplish almost anything. I’ve learned to push through difficult obstacles to gain success. There was ups and downs having him in the sideline, but looking back now it’s been a blessing to have him by my side. He’s developed me as a person and an athlete through our experiences together on the field.”

Ken Gray, whose multisport standout son Chris played under Wiederkehr, remembered the first time he met the coach.

“Parents want their kids to win, and he was about teaching them about not always wining at an early age and expanding the program,” said Gray, whose son started playing football at 5 years old. “Shoreham-Wading
River wasn’t a big football community, and I’d say over 10 years he did a pretty good job of developing a pretty good program. I think that’s a result of Hans’ commitment to the community and the kids.”

Babylon athletic director Michael DeJoseph, was one of several who along with Cipp, wrote letters of recommendation for Wiederkehr to be inducted. DeJoseph said he was not at all surprised when he heard the news but, like many, said he wasn’t aware he’d been selected, because the coach remains humble.

“Probably the most enjoyable part of coaching is teaching a kid something that he really doesn’t think he can do, and then looking into his eyes after he completes something and say, ‘I told you so.'”

— Hans Wiederkehr

“It’s beyond well deserved,” said DeJoseph, who was hired by Wiederkehr as a teacher and coach of the junior varsity team, and eventually worked his way up the ladder. “He really cared about the kids, and he showed me and the players blueprints for success. As impressive he is as a coach he’s probably more impressive as a father, husband and family man. He’s a community guy who cares for others.”

Former athlete Drew Peters, a 2002 graduate, also said he knows about his former coach’s devotion firsthand. He played on the varsity team all four years of high school and said he and all of Wiederkehr’s players felt like he cared about him.

“He treated you like you were one of his kids,” he said. “When you’re on a team of 30-plus kids, every one of you felt very special to him, and I think that’s what made you play even harder. He had that father-like figure to everyone on the team and we always wanted to do our best for him.”

Peters spoke of his coaches sacrifices, saying Wiederkehr would drive from Shoreham, even during the winter months, to pick up his athletes at 6 a.m. and take them to the weight room before school started. He said he’ll never forgot how the man with three children would sacrifice his own time to come to each one of his teammates houses to pick them up. He became so close with so many of the players, he even attended
several of their weddings, including Peters’.

“He teaches you a lot more than just the sport, he prepared us young men to go through the struggles that you’ll face in life,” he said. “My senior year we lost in the Long Island championship and it was a tough game for us, but there was a controversial penalty that I was involved in and he took me under his wing after the game and said, ‘Hey, if this is the worst thing that’s ever going to happen to you in life, losing a football game in high school, then you’re going to have a pretty good life.’ And I just remember that being something that obviously at the time was very upsetting but it’s true, it was a game that was very important to everybody, but he definitely had a way of putting things into perspective.”

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The Shoreham-Wading River football team poses for a group photo in celebration of it's second consecutive Suffolk County championship with a 24-14 win over Elwood-John Glenn on Nov. 19. Photo by Bill Landon

By Bill Landon

Since November 2013, all the Shoreham-Wading River football team has known is how to win football games, and although the Wildcats had their hands full with No. 2 Elwood-John Glenn, the team was able to grind out a win, 24-14, for the Suffolk County Division IV title Thursday night at Stony Brook University’s LaValle Stadium.

“When you work hard this is what you get — a county championship,” Shoreham-Wading River junior quarterback Kevin Cutinella said. “It’s been a battle throughout the season. We’ll watch film and practice late to prepare for the Long Island championship the same way we did for this game.”

Shoreham-Wading River junior quarterback Kevin Cutinella scrambles out of the pocket in the Wildcats' 24-14 victory over Elwood-John Glenn for the Suffolk County Division IV title on Nov. 19. Photo by Bill Landon
Shoreham-Wading River junior quarterback Kevin Cutinella scrambles out of the pocket in the Wildcats’ 24-14 victory over Elwood-John Glenn for the Suffolk County Division IV title on Nov. 19. Photo by Bill Landon

Amid rain and harsh winds, Elwood-John Glenn lined up in punt formation after a three-and-out, and snapped the ball to the punt protector, who was unable to handle the wet ball, and the Wildcats pounced on it, recovering the fumble at the nine-yard line. Two plays later, Cutinella punched in for the touchdown, and with the extra point good, helped put his team out front 7-0 at the 8:42 mark of the first quarter.

With the Knights unable to answer, the Wildcats were on the move again. On the first play from scrimmage, senior running back Chris Rosati drove the ball down to the nine-yard line with just over four minutes remaining in the stanza. Two plays later, Rosati pounded his way into the end zone for the score, and with senior kicker Daniel Mahoney’s extra-point attempt successful, the Wildcats edged ahead 14-0.

On Elwood-John Glenn’s ensuing possession, Chris Forsberg almost went the distance as he broke free of tacklers and covered 81 yards. Shihan Rudyk finished it as he punched it in from three yards out to put the Knights on the scoreboard. With the point-after attempt good, Elwood-John Glenn trailed 14-7 with 7:37 left in the half.

The Knights struck again soon after, when quarterback Wayne White found Kyle Tiernan for a 25-yard touchdown pass to tie the game at 14-14 heading into the break.

The rain intensified and the wind picked up in the second half, leaving both teams struggling for traction in the third quarter.

After an injury timeout, Shoreham-Wading River senior Jason Curran took over under center, but it was Mahoney who helped his team score next, as he attempted a 33-yard field goal attempt in the fourth. The senior made it look easy, as he split the uprights to put his team out front, 17-14. According to the kicker, it wasn’t as easy at it looked.

Shoreham-Wading River senior running back Chris Rosati breaks outside for a long gain in Shoreham-Wading River's 24-14 victory over Elwood-John Glenn for the Suffolk County Division IV title on Nov. 19. Photo by Bill Landon
Shoreham-Wading River senior running back Chris Rosati breaks outside for a long gain in Shoreham-Wading River’s 24-14 victory over Elwood-John Glenn for the Suffolk County Division IV title on Nov. 19. Photo by Bill Landon

“It was like kicking a rock,” he said, adding that he was exhilarated to see the ball go between the posts. “It felt like my leg was 10 pounds heavier and the ball was 10 pounds heavier.”

With five minutes left on the clock, the Wildcats added insurance points when Curran handed off to Rosati, who did what he’s done all season, grinding up the middle for the touchdown. With Mahoney perfect on the evening, Shoreham-Wading River put the game away 24-14.

“We put in the right kids in the right spots,” Shoreham-Wading River assistant coach Hans Wiederkehr said. “We were able to make plays at the right time.”

The Wildcats advance to the Long Island Championship, where the team will take on Locust Valley on Friday at Hofstra University. Kickoff is scheduled for noon.

“We’ve got a lot of homework to do because we’ve never seen them before,” Wiederkehr said. “But we’re going to get right back to what got us here — practicing hard watching film.”

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