I first noticed a year prior. It must have been some time late in the fall of 1998 that I realized that my next birthday, 9/30/99, would fall directly on the day of the Upstate Eight Golf Championship of my Senior season. It was, as I would say then, either going to be the best birthday ever, or one of the worst.
My Junior season had, in many respects, been a complete failure. My friend, and co-leader, Jon Duppler held up his end of the bargain. He was always so consistent and relaxed. While I, on the other hand, stumbled out of the gate and never recovered. I tried hard, perhaps too hard. All I remember feeling was pressure, for the local paper had done a pre-season write up on the “dynamic duo,” as they called us. We had been part of a state qualifier the year prior, so the sky was the limit. After finishing a distant third in our conference - to the eventual State Champion St. Charles team - we surprised everyone at Regionals, but fizzled out in Sectionals. Jon went on to the State competition alone, while I drove back from Rockford in the rain wondering whether I would ever regain my confidence.
1999 started with a match on a Friday afternoon before the school year officially began. I remember feeling extra nervous knowing that I had to get off to a good start. I shot 37, was low in the match, and we won. I can’t overstate how important that start was for me. Everything began to flow from there.... The rest of the season we won invitationals with various teammates stepping up. Mike Rodriguez gave us extra fire power we did not have the year prior. Ryan Eberdt and Jim Danowski bickered at each other like old men - something they still do 20 years later - and always surprised the opposition with the occasional low rounds. Jon, of course, was always Mr. Consistent, and could always go low. Bret Pemoller and Jon Hunter also played key roles.
The moment that I think about often from that season, and the one that possibly started my leadership journey in business, happened in the parking lot at Bartlett Hills Country Club just after we had defeated the defending State Champion Saint Charles High School, and our rival, Elgin High School (golf matches can sometimes be with 3 teams). I had shot a “sizzling 32” in the match (that’s how our local paper described it!), which was supposedly a school record. The rest of the team played well and we won handily. Yet, when we got back to the bus, our junior varsity team was yelling at the St. Charles bus about how we had destroyed them. I yelled at OUR team, telling them to shut up, this was only the first battle and I did not want this incredible team to have bulletin board material for the conference championship. And besides, had the JV team even won their match?
A few weeks later, however, our team arrived to its final match against Nequa Valley with confidence that had morphed to cockiness. Believing we were invincible, we decided to mark our golf balls “10-0” that day (“10-0” representing a perfect regular season). As you can imagine, we finished “9-1.” Afterwards, Jon and I led another team meeting about what we had learned that day. As leaders, Jon and I accepted responsibility for allowing that nonsense to go on. To this day, I don’t talk about outcomes in sporting events until they become final!
We entered the Conference Championship on 9/30/99 in a three-way tie with Nequa Valley and Saint Charles. So the conference tournament outcome would decide everything. The weather was a little windy, cool, and damp, to start the morning off. With the added expectations of what was at stake, I started my round in similar fashion to the weather by bogeying 4 of my first 5 holes. Walking to the 6th tee I remember being on the verge of panic attack. Was this really happening, I thought.
I told myself two things in this moment that are applicable to my job twenty years later. First, I had teammates. Jon, Mike, Ryan, Jim, Brett, or Jon would have my back. I also knew Chad Dalhman would be walking the course firing the guys up, exemplifying what teamwork is all about and inspiring us all in the process. And secondly, a comeback happens only when you believe it can happen. So don’t worry about what you are going to shoot, I thought, just hit the next shot.
For the following three hours, hitting the next shot was all I thought about.
I played even par the rest of the way and shot a 4 over 76, which was not great, but good enough. Jon shot something lower (75?). Frankly, I don’t remember what the other guys shot but it was enough to win easily.
We had won our Conference Championship!
Happy birthday indeed!
We were champions.
While our time together ended a few weeks later, just shy of taking home a trophy down at State, I still go back to THIS DAY - 9/30/99 - as the day when we finally put it all together and achieved something none of us could have done on our own.
For the last 20 years I always get a text from Ryan Eberdt that says the following:
“Happy Birthday and happy anniversary.”
It is typical Eberdt, and why we love him. I also echo it today.
Happy 20th Anniversary to the 1999 Upstate 8 Champs!
To the guys of that team: The best part of that team was that team. Winning a few golf tournaments, even the Conference, did not make our lives any better. Although success is always a lot of fun! What’s telling, and why I have written this post, is that you guys taught me that it is not so much what you do as who you do it with that matters most. Upon reflection, this experience helped shaped my thoughts about leadership, team-building, and achieving goals with others.
I am so thankful for the memories we share.
Now, as I pivot back to modern day, I see elements of you all in our team at Hoffer Plastics. That’s not surprising, for we have a lot of good people here. People who are willing to play in the rain, or even in the snow.
I miss you guys.
I thank you guys.
It was one heck of a run that I will never forget.