Reporters Colten Bartholomew and Zach James discuss the process of selecting a Tribune playe…
Carl Fruechte has coached the Caledonia High School football team to 151 victories, while Sparta coach Adam Dow has led the Spartans to six.
Fruechte’s Warriors have won their last 54 in a row, and that streak includes four consecutive MSHSL Class AA state championships.
Dow’s Spartans are no longer on a winning streak after their season ended in the WIAA Division 3 state quarterfinals.
But there is significance to what both accomplished in 2018, and that’s why they are sharing the Tribune’s award for football coach of the year.
“When you get everyone — kids, coaches, community — to buy into what you are doing, it becomes something special,” Dow said of Caledonia’s success. “That’s what we are seeing in Caledonia.”
Dow is taking the first steps in getting those involved with Sparta to buy into the things he thinks can make it better, too. His first season at the helm also gave a program with minimal recent success a lot of promise after winning in the postseason for the first time.
Matching what has been accomplished in Caledonia isn’t realistic, but it gives a lot of coaches something to aspire toward.
Sparta’s performance, which Dow took to a new level after a short — but very impactful — tenure as head coach by current activities director John Blaha, has a community excited about its football future. That excitement has existed for years in Caledonia.
Fruechte’s program is where Dow — and any other coach — wants his to be. The Warriors’ current winning streak is the longest in the nation, and the fourth straight state title it won a couple of weeks ago is the 10th in program history.
But it doesn’t get there by chance, and Fruechte already is working on getting his team ready for a new season. He tries to give himself an opportunity to shut down when a season ends, but it doesn’t work very well.
“It’s already on the brain,” Fruechte, whose 151-31 career coaching record calculates to a winning percentage of 83 percent, said of the 2019 season. “We’re starting to figure out what the biggest needs are and what each of the kids want to get better at.
“We’re meeting with the juniors now, and then we will move on to the sophomores and freshmen just so we can get their thoughts and talk about what we can do to help them get better.”
But what about that break after the season ends?
“It doesn’t always go very well,” Fruechte said. “I try, but it might last a week.”
Dow is also back in the planning stage for sustaining what his first season produced. The Spartans had never before won a playoff game, and they battled back from a series of close losses to not only qualify for the playoffs, but win twice once they got there.
“What I learned this year is how satisfying it is to watch a group of kids face adversity and go from waiting for the wheels to fall off to anticipating who was going to make the big play to changing things,” Dow said. “They believed they could do it, and that hasn’t always been the case.”
To put Sparta’s case in perspective, it was 11-78 overall and 5-57 in the MVC from 2006-2015. Blaha coached the Spartans back to the playoffs in 2016 before the team missed out again in 2017, and Dow took over. Sparta’s last three seasons have resulted in an overall record of 16-15 and MVC mark of 9-12.
Dow’s new goal is to keep that momentum going, and he joins Fruechte in what has become a very familiar process in Caledonia, which hasn’t lost a game since 2014, hasn’t been beaten in a conference game since 2007 and hasn’t lost more than one game in a season since 2006.
“It’s always exciting to be successful at what you do,” Fruechte said. “This is going to sound cheesy and like a lofty goal, but our job is also to make better men for our society, and that never gets tiring or sickening or boring.
“We are kind of reborn every year for that, and we try to do that (in Caledonia) through football and other sports.”