I never like to insert the word ‘former’ in front of a Wayne Hills football player who has been graduated from high school.
And if you attended the annual Father-Son Beefsteak for the Hills football program this past Thanksgiving Eve, then you know that alumni are welcomed at the event, and given the chance to speak about their playing days. The alumni are welcomed back as Wayne Hills Patriots, plain and simple.
It’s a tradition which began in the early days of Chris Olsen’s tenure as head coach, nearly 25 years ago, and continues today, under Olsen’s successor, Wayne Demikoff. It’s always held on the eve of Thanksgiving, and has a special feel if the current team’s season is still alive, meaning the Patriots are preparing for a state championship, as is the case in 2015.
The event is the result of a lot of hard work by the football parents, along with Tony Giampapa. And it generally draws between 250 and 400 people, including current and former players, along with their dads, uncles, sons and grandfathers. Many alumni, who have won championships at Hills, will speak about the special feeling of the ultimate victory, and encourage the current team to continue that trend.
There have been some electrifying moments at the dinner.
This year, Robby Schiller, a 2013 graduate of Wayne Hills, spoke emotionally about his days as a Patriot. He was a part of two state championship teams, but couldn’t play in the 2011 final, something which clearly stays with him today.
His voice cracked as he reminded the current players what it means to play for Hills and win a championship. He also stressed the importance of making the right decisions in life, something he’s learned as he has grown up and become a humbled young man.
Four years ago, as Hills was preparing for a state championship game, the crowd at the beefsteak was overflowing.
On hand that night was Michael Krause, a 1990 graduate of Wayne Hills who was a sophomore offensive lineman on Olsen’s first team in the fall of 1987. He played three varsity seasons at Wayne Hills, before graduating and moving on to the United States Military Academy, in West Point.
Krause played four seasons on the Army offensive line and competed in the Army-Navy football games from 1991-1993. He graduated from West Point in 1994 with a degree in Aerospace Engineering and has since earned an MBA.
Krause, the son of Michael and Loretta Krause, was a Major and helicopter pilot in the Maryland National Guard, flying the CH48, Chinook. He had just completed a tour of duty in Kandahar, Afghanistan, supporting Operation Enduring Freedom and the 101st Airborne, when he attended the 2011 beefsteak.
As Olsen introduced Krause, the large crowd rose to its feet with a thunderous ovation. Olsen recalled a moment that will stay with him for the rest of his life.
“I was watching the Army-Navy game one year, and at the end, I see Michael hugging Chuck Puglia (a Patriot and Wayne Hills graduate) who played for Navy, and I can’t tell you how proud I was,” Olsen said.
Krause walked to the front of the cafeteria with his brother, Mitchel, a 1992 Wayne Hills graduate and Patriots player, who was later graduated from the University of Connecticut.
“Coach, I have something I’d like to present you,” Michael Krause said.
He handed Olsen a large Plexiglas plaque, adorned by the American flag that had flown over Kandahar, and was unfurled in honor of Olsen.
“Coach had taught me so much about leadership and responsibility,” Krause would say later on. “A lot of soldiers in Afghanistan fly a flag for someone special. Obviously, my parents mean the world to me, as well, and I know they were proud of my flying the flag for Coach. The football program at Wayne Hills prepared me for life at West Point. There were times I didn’t think I’d be able to get through the curriculum at West Point, but I was able to, thanks to my family and coach Olsen.”
Chris Olsen, with Michael Krause (right) and Mitchel Krause, after Michael presented Olsen an American flag, at the 2011 Wayne Hills Father-Son beefsteak. Olsen was overcome with emotion after receiving the flag.
The plaque reads a quote from General Douglas MacArthur: “Upon the fields of friendly strife are sown the seeds that upon other days and other fields will bear the fruits of victory.”
It then reads: Operation Enduring Freedom. Kandahar, Afghanistan. This American Flag is presented to Coach Chris Olsen. It has been unfurled over the Red Desert of Afghanistan, Kandahar Province on board a CH47D Chinook Helicopter during a combat mission on May 29, 2011. This flag flew in honor of your dedication, commitment and sacrifice as a leader and mentor of young men. For instilling in us a determination to persevere and demand from us every ounce of potential we could muster and leaving us with the confidence to face any challenge that life could offer.
“I can’t even begin to tell you what it means to me,” an emotional Olsen said afterward. “I knew Michael was in town and was going to attend, but something like this? It’s incredible. The young men and women who defend our country are amazing. Nothing can top this. I’m eternally grateful. You get into coaching to hopefully mold young men’s lives, but to know I had this effect on an American hero like Michael is beyond words.”
The tradition of the beefsteak will endure for many years to come. And with each renewal, a new story will resonate.