Grafton High honors its athletic stars of the past

Former pro players, college stars, coach inducted into Hall of Fame
By 
MITCH MAERSCH
ovaukee Press staff

The Grafton High School Athletic Hall of Fame more than doubled on Saturday as the second class of legends were enshrined.

Sarah Eichler, Tom Molaski, Rich Strenger, Bob Maronde and Ken Peterson now have plaques honoring their accomplishments in the high school commons.

Eichler and Maronde will forever be linked as a player and coach. The two won two basketball state titles and are three-time qualifiers for the state tournament.

Maronde fittingly introduced Eichler and gave one of many examples he remembers of her competitiveness.

In the 2009 sectional final game, Eichler wanted to guard Ripon star Taylor Wurtz, who was going to the University of Wisconsin-Madison on a basketball scholarship. Maronde said she could if she had two fouls or less in the fourth quarter. Eichler met the requirement, and Maronde granted her wish.

On the first play after a timeout, Maronde said, he could tell Ripon was going to run a high ball screen, but the Tigers never got the chance. Eichler stole the ball and cruised in for a layup that pushed the Black Hawks’ lead to seven. She stuck on Wurtz like “Velcro” the entire fourth quarter, he said, and the Hawks went on to win the game and the state championship.

Eichler, a 2009 grad, was named Wisconsin’s Player of the Year in 2009 and eclipsed 1,000 career points. She played at UW-Green Bay and one season professionally in Denmark. She also earned three letters in soccer and was on the 2008 state-qualifying team.

Eichler has been an assistant coach for college teams and now works with her father as a painter in Grafton as she attends graduate school online to earn a master’s degree in psychology.

“There couldn’t be anything more appropriate and more special to me than getting inducted within the same class as he is, because he is a big reason for my success,” Eichler said of Maronde.

Her coach was lauded for his unique motivational tactics, including playing sad music on a trumpet in a dark gym during mock funerals after tough losses.

Maronde coached the Hawks to five state tournament appearances, was the Associated Press State Coach of the Year in 2009 and was inducted into the Wisconsin Basketball Coaches Hall of Fame in 2019.

He coached for 25 years at Grafton High, including a few years as the boys’ coach, and is known as one of the first coaches in the area to hold summer training sessions.

Maronde said he remembers learning how to do athletic tape jobs on players before games and early as an assistant coach had to deal with a wardrobe issue when his starting freshman center locked herself in a bathroom stall minutes before a road game at Arrowhead because her shorts didn’t fit right.

Maronde thanked his wife, Sue, of 45 years, assistant coaches, head coaches he worked under and his players.

“I’m here,” he said, “for what my players accomplished and how my players performed.”

He is an assistant women’s coach for Concordia University Wisconsin in Mequon.

  Tom Molaski, a member of the Class of 1985, grew up with a hoop on his crib. His father coached the fifth-grade basketball team at Holy Redeemer and took his son to practices, once telling him he was going to start at point guard the next game.

There were a couple of glitches. One, Tom was in third grade.

“I didn’t even go to school there. We went to the church,” he said.

Molaski went on to score 1,531 points at Grafton High. He was named Braveland Conference Player of the Year twice and received all-state recognition.

He was also an all-conference baseball player who helped lead the Hawks to a conference title.

Molaski played four years at UW-Madison and helped the Badgers reach the National Invitation Tournament, their first postseason appearance in decades. When he graduated, he was second in career assists, fourth in steals and second in games played. He is still eighth on the all-time assists list.

After averaging 25 points per game in high school, he joked that he didn’t go to Wisconsin to pass, but “I couldn’t get my shot off” against high-quality defenses.

Molaski lives near Chicago and works in corporate sales for Uline in Pleasant Prairie.

Rich Strenger, a 1978 grad, was a tight end on the Hawks’ 1977 state runner-up football team, was a first-team all-conference selection in basketball and won a conference title in track and field.

Strenger became one of four Hawks to play for legendary University of Michigan football coach Bo Schembechler, who he said was “demanding but fair,” and got to play in a Rose Bowl.

Strenger was moved to offensive tackle and received All-Big Ten and All-American honors. He was drafted in the second round with the 40th pick by the Detroit Lions and played six seasons in the NFL before injuries took their toll. During his career, he helped open holes for Lions’ legendary running back Billy Sims and James Jones.

Strenger said he is “honored and humbled” to be part of his high school’s Athletic Hall of Fame. He runs a law office north of Detroit.

Ken Peterson, a 1967 grad, won the state long jump title twice, and his mark of 23 feet, 1.75 inches remained a state record until 2012. He was voted most valuable player as a wing back and defensive back for the football team, leading it in touchdowns and interceptions, and was on the 1966 state-qualifying basketball team.

Peterson competed in track and UW-Whitewater, where he set school records in the long jump and triple jump, and was inducted into its hall of fame in 1997.

He later became a missionary and moved his family to Africa. Peterson died of a heart attack while on a run in 1986, days after winning a race.

His son Steve, who traveled 9,000 miles from Cape Town, South Africa, to attend the ceremomy, said his father hung a rag from a clothesline in his backyard to practice long jump. If his head hit the flag when he jumped, he would jump farther, and he kept moving the flag higher.

Peterson’s wife Annie said she remembers Grafton legend John Bliese, who coached Peterson in three sports, once telling him to leave practice and not return until he got his temper under control. Peterson didn’t leave, but Annie said, “I can tell you in the years I was married to him he never lost his temper.”

The five newest Grafton Athletic Hall of Fame members join last year’s inaugural class of Bliese, Kip Cramer, Rachael Hencke and Jeff Sewell.

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