SYRACUSE – In a move that will surely surprise many, the Wawasee School Board approved the hiring of current high school athletic director Steve Wiktorowski to the boys basketball head coaching position Tuesday night.
Phil Mishler sent shock waves through both the Wawasee community and the Northern Lakes Conference just over two weeks ago when he resigned his position as the Warriors’ head coach. The announcement led to a very large search to replace the program’s most successful coach, a task that was placed firmly on the shoulders of principal Mike Schmidt who was recently appointed to his new position on July 5. Schmidt left no stone unturned in his attempt to find the new face of Warrior basketball
“We looked at retired coaches who did not need a teaching position, we looked in-house and we also had a very strong candidate who is currently a head coach that withdrew his application due to personal reasons. We did a very exhaustive search over a short period of time,” stated Schmidt. “We wanted to get an experienced coach who can build relationships with students and continue the tradition of Wawasee basketball,” Schmidt added.
Schmidt knew the perfect man to fill out that criteria.
“I approached Steve about two and a half weeks ago and asked him if he was interested in still coaching, which he was,” Schmidt said.
Wiktorowski, who has been the Wawasee athletic director since 2011, has deep roots basketball. His interest to coach should come as no surprise as he roamed the sidelines for 30 years on the junior high, high school and collegiate levels.
After serving as an assistant for seven years at Northridge High School, ‘Wik’ began his head coaching career at Fairfield High School. He spent seven seasons as the Falcons head coach before moving on to Prairie Heights High School where he would also pace the sidelines for seven years. In his 14 years as head coach he compiled a 123-176 record. The seasoned high school boys coach then took on a new challenge, taking a job as the Goshen College women’s head basketball coach. Wiktorowski led the Maple Leafs for nine seasons, racking up a 93-183 record. He was named the conference’s coach of the year for the 2003-2004 season after guiding Goshen to conference regular and postseason titles and birth into the NAIA national tournament.
Keeping the role as athletic director and taking on the responsibility as boys head coach is a challenge that Wiktorowski says he can accomplish, thanks to the supports of those around him. His wife, Donna, was at the meeting to show the board her full support of the added work load.
“I would not have considered this had it not been for the incredible support that I have from my family and from the support I’ve received from the members of the administration during my time as athletic director,” stated Wiktorowski.
That support was easily seen after a ringing endorsement from Schmidt, who made the recommendation to the school board Tuesday night. Shortly after the initial recommendation, school board president Rebecca Linnemeier referred to Wiktorowski as “a man who brings a lot of integrity to his position and to the school.”
It came as no surprise when the board approved Wiktorowski to be the head coach with a unanimous vote.
But now that he is officially in position, what can Warrior fans expect from the new coach? The simple answer is, change.
“Our style will be different than Phil (Mishler) had. Phil had a unique style of play that really relied on three-pointers. I think we will shoot our share of three’s because we have good shooters. But, we will have to emphasize other things,” Wiktorowski said.
“We’re going to look for more balanced, high-percentage shots instead of relying so heavily on the three-pointer. I want to bring in some things that we ran in college, I think we’ll have a very diverse offense. Opponents will have to do a lot to prepare for us. As for defense, we will look to be a little more traditional than what the team has ran in recent years,” Wiktorowski added.
Wiktorowski will look to keep the same coaching staff intact from last year’s team citing the young talent the staff holds and that he wants the players to have some familiarity going into the season.
As for balancing the role as AD and head coach, Wiktorowski says there will be no favoritism involved.
“We are really invested in the ’20 sports, 1 team’ motto that we have adopted here. I have tried to get the message across ever since I’ve been here that every sport is important. Just because certain sports make more income than others do does not mean they are more important than others from the standpoint of the effect they have on our students. I think I’ve stressed that to our coaches and I’ve preached a lot about integrity, sharing athletes and sharing resources,” Wiktorowski stated.
Wiktorowski says he has not had any contact with the players yet but has a call-out meeting for returning players (incoming sophomores through seniors) this Friday in the lecture room starting at 9 a.m. Players attending the meeting are asked to come dressed to participate.