By Lenny Sementi
For the last twenty-five years people around central Illinois looked forward to two things on a Friday night or a Saturday afternoon in late fall during the playoffs and that would be Tuscola Warrior Football and Greg Campbell’s world famous pork chop on a stick at the tailgate party. Football has been a part of the fabric of Tuscola since 1895, yep 125 years, and the last quarter century has been one of the best Era’s in the vaunted history of the program. Thanks in no small part to all the players, fans, assistant coaches and the guys that led the charge behind the head coaching whistle since 1995, Stan Wienke, Rick Reinhart and current leader of the tribe Andy Romine.
Tuscola currently sits third all time in the state history trailing only East St. Louis and Chicago Mt. Carmel. It also sits just outside the top 50 nationally in both total wins and winning percentage. The storied program has won 66 percent of its contests and posted 734 wins during its existence with one fifth or 249 of those coming in the past 25 years. At which time the Black and Gold won over 80 percent of its skirmishes, captured two state titles, and three runner-up trophies.
As a program the Warriors have qualified for the playoffs 24 out of the 25 years, competed in the final four eight times and the elite eight sixteen times. Coaches Stan Wienke, Rick Reinhart and Andy Romine were at the helm during that time.
Wienke is the longest tenured coach in Warrior gridiron history leading the charge for eighteen years, fourteen of which were during the last 25 seasons. He was 136 and 28 in those fourteen years, delivered the only unbeaten season in school history while leading the way for the school’s first state championship of any kind during the fall of 2006. The Warriors upset the highly touted offensive jugger-naught known as the Aledo Green Dragons capping a 14-0 run. Each of his teams during the fourteen seasons reached the playoffs. He was named the Herald and Review coach of the year following the ‘06 season and was also inducted into the Illinois High School Football Associations Hall of Fame.
Wienke’s son John was the quarterback in both of his father’s title game appearances and earned all-state honors each time. He was also selected to take part at the Nike Elite 11 QB camp, garnered MVP honors at the Nike camp in Boulder Colorado and was a high school All American following his junior season. He then moved onto the University of Iowa after his graduation, serving not only as a backup QB but also the holder on special teams for 3 years and the squads punter during his senior campaign.
When asked about some of his best memories Wienke replied, “The relationships with all the Assistant coaches and the players as well as coaching my three sons Jason, John and Jud and stepson Haven still playing now top the list. Watching them succeed and the Championship run in ‘07 was special. Another was Beau Wilson catching a tipped pass on fourth down and nine, he took it eleven yards for a first down to set up the winning score in a playoff game versus Sesser Valier.”
“Our goals were always the same and they were on a pyramid board in the weight room,” stated the coach. “Win enough games to get to the playoffs and host playoff games, win all home games, beat conference rivals, win conference championships, and win a state championship.”
“What does Tuscola football mean, ‘It’s a championship program’ not a team. It’s a school, a town, the fans, the volunteers and the area, it’s all of that put together to make a football program. That is why we are so successful year after year after year. With that recipe we will be a top notch program every year!”
Coach Reinhart took the reins over in 2008 and held onto them for seven seasons posting double-digit victories four times. He collected 61 wins triumphant in over 70 percent of the games he patrolled the sidelines at Memorial Field and qualified for six playoffs, reached the title games back to back to back years and collected the programs second state championship in 2009. Then followed that up with runner up outings in both 2010 and ‘11. In all he reached the quarter finals five times and the semi finals four times. He was named both the News Gazette and the Herald and Review coach of the year in 2009 and is also a IFCA and St. Louis area Hall of Famer.
“Growing up in Tuscola I was in awe of Bill Butkovich and Gene Murray. They were honored men, head football coaches of the Warriors,” stated Reinhart. “I applied in 1990 when Stan got the job, the timing wasn’t right for me and it was right for Tuscola because Stan did more for Tuscola Football than anyone in the history of the program in my opinion. When he left in ‘08 I got the job so I returned home after 33 years. What an honor, Some of my fondest memories during my time on the sidelines were the people involved. We went to the state championship three years in a row and won it in 2009 and on September 26,2014 I won my 200th game as a head coach. No better place for that to happen than in my hometown.”
“What makes Tuscola football special? Here is a glimpse of what makes it special. In 2009 my mom was very sick. A benefit of coming home was to be with her. The kids and townspeople knew her as Grandma Sugar. Like all small towns everyone knows everyone. The parents started showing support by printing up badges that said “Win One for Sugar.” We were 3 and 3 and playing Maroa in Week 7. We shut them out and never lost again. Mom passed after the Brown County Game when we beat the number 1 seed in the state. The support from the community was overwhelming. That’s the thing; Tuscola Football is more than wins and championships. It’s a family, a brotherhood made of people who never quit and never let up.”
“Where else do you have a PA announcer like Doug McCumber who never missed a game for 40 years, Hop Connor who raised the flag from the late 50’s to 2009, chain crew made of guys like the Harris twins, who ran the chains since the 80’s and guys like Steve Hilligoss who painted the field and now every Tuscola head coach paints and maintains the field, The Warrior Pride is undeniable. I have been at five different programs. No one has a work ethic equal to the Warriors of Tuscola. I have my 50th class reunion this year. I can’t wait. Because I can say to my fellow classmates, ”Yeah, I was the Head Coach of the Tuscola Warriors and we carried on the tradition of excellence.” Why? Because that’s the way it happens in Tuscola. Go Warriors!.”
Coach Romine was the defensive coordinator during Reinhart’s stint before getting behind the wheel of the Warrior machine as the head coach. His team’s winning percentage of 87 percent is just shy of amazing and is one of the tops in the state during his five years as head coach owning a 52-8 record overall. Tuscola posted three straight undefeated regular seasons in his first three years and won back to back to back Central Illinois Conference crowns. He has four double-digit winning seasons, three quarter final berths, a semi final entry, and a runner up finish in 2017 when the Warriors collected the second most wins in program’s history.
Coach Romine’s top memories include a come from behind win in round three at Brown County in 2009. “They had the best team in the state, the 2014 playoff run coming off of a pair of seasons that were below our standard. Also, the ‘15, ‘16, and ‘17 undefeated regular seasons, though the losses were crushing.”
“As far as goals we want to compete for a conference title and make the playoffs playing our best ball in November. Tuscola football is a standard. It is a measuring stick for nearly every other program in the area. People want what has been created in our program. Finally, it’s filled with great consistency.”
Combined Romine has been part of 113 wins in the black and gold. His partner in crime for all 113 has been offensive line coach Ted Minger. As for assistants there are probably too many to mention and I’m sure I will miss some for that I apologize. Let’s start with coach Wienke who has helped out with QB’s and the offense under both Reinhart and Romine and now has 180 of his career wins at Tuscola. The next two are Pat Pierce and Josh Shelmadine.
Pierce, a star running back under Wienke, has been on staff under all three coaches and donned the whistle for the last 20 years taking part in over 190 victories. He coached sons Noah and Jonah in the title game in ‘17 and now his namesake Patrick.
Shelmadine is over the century mark as well with 107 to his credit and yours truly has been running the defense for 3 of the 6 title games and 146 wins and had the chance to coach my son Cale and his buddies in the ‘17 championship game.
Two other former players and 1st Team All Staters in 2011 Phil Meyer and TJ Onstott both were part of the staff in ‘17 and Onstott is still teaching technique to Warrior linebackers. Ryan Hornaday is another past Warrior that has been part of more than a few title games and one of the players up front leading the way for Pierce back in the day Jeff Hettinger had the offensive line whistle in the early 2000’s. Another big boy off that offensive line was George Barnett. He never coached in Tuscola but has climbed the ranks as a college coach and now calls the offense at Miami of Ohio University.
Tim Burk was a big part of installing the spread offense with Stan Wienke in ‘95 and served with him through ‘98. Andy Jones and Lance Landeck both from Villa Grove were also big cogs on the offensive coaching staff during Wienke’s reign. Drew Sterkle and Deon Chester were both offensive assistants under Reinhart and Cory Lee was a carry over from the Reinhart era into the Romine regime. New to the staff when Romine took over were Connor Plotner and Morgan Athey. Plotner has now been in black and gold for five years and is in charge of running backs on offense and defensive backs on defense while calling plays at the JV level.
Fred Wakefield also was an assistant coach off the Wienke coaching tree and was the first of 26 all staters during the quarter century. His selection to the Class 2A squad led was just a starting point. The lanky Wakefield bulked up in college and starred at defensive end for the Fighting Illini before moving on to play for both the Arizona Cardinals and the Oakland Raiders in the NFL.
Burk’s son Dusty whose name is synonymous with Warrior football was a two time all stater and one of the most decorated high school athletes the program has ever seen. He was named the USA Today’s Small School National Player of the year in ‘97 and was also a high school All American. Jason Hausman and Luke Little were all state selections with Burk in ‘96 and ‘97 respectively. Kenny Houge was a two timer both in 2A in ‘99 and 2000. Dan Bridge joined him on the ‘99 squad. Ryan Bonner was the next 2A selection in ‘02 and Wade Hoey followed collecting 1A honors in ‘04. Harlan Gilmore and Jordan Kling joined the 1A club off coach Wienke’s first semi-final team in ‘05. Then it was John Wienke in ‘06 and ‘07 when Stephen Bosch also crashed the party.
During Reinharts time Zach Bosch, Gunnar Edwards, Jud Wienke, Jack Leonard, Phil Meyer, and Onstott all took home the 1A honor while Nick Bates was picked to the 2A team in ‘14. Bates was then Romines first All state pick in ‘15 and was followed by Kaleb Williams in ‘16, Dalton Hoel and Hunter Woodard in ‘17, CJ Picazo ‘18 and Brandon Douglas this past fall.
Cody Shelmadine secured Herald and Review Player of the Year accolades in ‘09 after the championship year. Dusty Burk, as well as John and Jud Wienke are the only three in Warrior history to be named to the prestigious Chicago Tribune All State All Classes team. Burk threw for 7,526 yards in his two-year career, the total at the time was well above anyone else in the state. He set the total offense season record in senior year gaiing 5,138 yards with 4,052 yards through the air and another 1,086 yards on the ground. And, then fired six touchdowns in a playoff game his senior year to break the state record for an encore.
State records are numerous for the program. Several were broken in the 1A title game verse Aledo. A game in which the two teams combined for 900 yards of offense and John Weinke threw for a record 384 yards, including a best ever 4 TD’s threw the air. Broc Winn, Joe Vandeventer and Nick Hanke all hauled in TD’s in that game. Winn’s 2 TD grabs and 149 yards receiving also set a new state mark. Hanke’s 80-yard scoring scamper yet another state record. Edwards intercepted a state-best three passes in the ‘09 title game to break yet another and Bridge blocked a season best eight kicks in ‘99 to top the stats list.
Romine has coined the phrase “Always a Warrior” as a program mantra and that says it all. Well over 20 players have moved on to the college level and every one of them beams with pride when people ask them where they are from. They simply say Tuscola and the name speaks for itself. From Braden VonLanken way back to Wakefield and Josh Lehmann Warriors have dotted the landscape at the local and national level and will do so for years to come.
My memories are simple, tops was Broc Winn and Joe Vandeventer leading the ‘06 team in the pre game tent at U of I in the song ‘Crazy Game of Poker’. No, doubt in their mind they would beat Aledo. Stan and I had some trepidation, the Green Dragons ran roughshod through the playoffs but after our first scoring drive we looked at each other and said ‘We got this.’ Stan’s always told a story in camp about Dewalt Tools and why they choose black and gold as their colors and it was because they signified power and to this day there is nothing truer about Warrior football. Coach Romine always says there is a team here next year, wait your turn and you will be a champion his ability to get kids out is astounding. Both my children were on the sidelines during the ‘06 and ‘07 seasons as managers and I cherish those memories. Coach Romine is right about one thing, the coaches and the players through the years are some of my best friends. What is Tuscola Football ‘Its Family’ from tee boy Kalen Fiscus, to the team dinners served by senior parents, to John Woodard and John Lehmann in the press box, to Gina Romine’s defensive dinners on Tuesday nights and Bruce Woods and my wife filming our games on Friday nights.
This is hard to find an end to the article because of all the great things the black and gold represents like our AD Ryan Hornaday’s pride in the program. There are just too many names to put in one article and for those of you that were not mentioned I’m sorry but like always you are a big part of the last 25 seasons and are ‘Always a Warrior.”