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Wednesday

April 2014

23

Football

Oconomowoc raising money to name football stadium after former coach Ed Rux

Oconomowoc High School football coach Ed Rux works with his players during an afternoon practice in 1997.

Oconomowoc High School football coach Ed Rux works with his players during an afternoon practice in 1997. Photo by: William J. Lizdas

Fundraising campaign reaches out to former football players, part of Athletic Fields Forever project

To execute the many facets of Oconomowoc High School's lofty Athletic Fields Forever campaign, corporate sponsorship will be necessary. But when it comes to the name of the new-look football facility, OHS will be going old school. Just like former football coach Ed Rux.

As part of the "Restoring Cooney Pride" project — the football arm of the AFF — project managers have put into motion a plan that would allow for the stadium to be named after Rux, who piloted the Raccoons from 1967-99 and won 209 football games in his tenure.

"This should be Ed Rux Field," said Ross Kopfer, who has spearheaded the effort to contact former players and generate the funds necessary to secure naming rights. "We've got plenty of (other corporate) naming opportunities — new bleachers, new fields, a new track. We went to a few of his ex-players and realized we'd be able to come up with this. We're close enough where we can say we are going to get it done. We've had a promising start, but we still need donations in a big way."

The AFF, a plan aiming to renovate essentially every corner of the outdoor sports facilities at OHS, has been divided by sport into units responsible for fundraising. Restoring Cooney Pride divided its $1.4 million goal into three parts: youth football, community philanthropy and naming rights. With the goal of accumulating $500,000 toward that end, Kopfer went to work creating a database of Rux's former players and seeking contributions toward the name to Edward C. Rux Stadium.

"I'm going to guess a third of the players are in Oconomowoc and the surrounding communities, but the rest are all over the United States," Kopfer said. "He has successful people in all walks of life: in business, teachers, coaches. It has been our biggest challenge finding contact information."

Kopfer, a member of Rux's 1987 team that reached the state championship game and fell, 3-0, played three years for the man enshrined in the Wisconsin Football Coaches Association Hall of Fame.

"He was the epitome of old school," Kopfer said. "He was hard on you, and you might not get away with some of his tactics today. But he made me a better person. Everything he did on the field and off the field had an end goal of turning you into a winner."

Living legend

Today, Rux lives at Oak Hill Terrace in Waukesha and has been in the Alzheimer's unit for three years.

"I think his physical health is good," said Ed's son, Steve Rux, who has led Waukesha West football to perennial success and two state titles. "It's hard to know what he recognizes. When I sit down and talk to him and bring my sons in, it's hard to know exactly what he's processing. He's been nonverbal for a couple years."

The younger Rux said he was approached roughly three months ago with the idea to name the renovated stadium after his father.

"I think it's such a great honor for my dad," Steve said. "The guys appreciate the amount of time and work that he put in. The experience they had at Oconomowoc High School playing football, being part of that tradition ... you talk to just about anybody who played in the '80s and early '90s, and they agree it's truly a lifelong memory."

Rux, a history teacher at OHS, had only two assistant coaches in his early days — Gale Douglas and Dave Thomas — a far cry from the expanded coaching staffs of today.

"Ed liked to play tough, physical football," said Douglas, who coached with Rux for 30 years. "We did that year after year, and Ed was very successful at getting the kids to play that way. That was his style. We had a lot of tough kids, and that's the way we played on the field."

Bob Cicenas, one of the toughest and best running backs in OHS history, earned a scholarship to play football at Georgia Tech and later finished his collegiate career at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee after playing on Rux's first team in 1967.

"Ed was a master psychologist at knowing how to push each of his players to their limit," Cicenas said. "He knew which guys he had to console and which guys he could berate if he had to. He knew the right buttons to push with every one of his players."

Oconomowoc developed a tradition of power football under Rux, who worked with both the offensive and defensive lines.

"Ed was a tremendous offensive line coach," Cicenas said. "We ran the ball a lot, and he taught the guys how to block, how to open holes. I can remember he took Jim Younger, who was a running back for us as a junior, and made him an unbelievable offensive guard his senior year. That's how good of a line coach he was."

Rux's teams won or shared 10 Wisconsin Little Ten conference titles and qualified for the playoffs 12 times. He was twice selected Regional Coach of the Year.

"As time goes on, I see more and more things (from my father in my own coaching)," Steve said. "I think it's primarily in the preparation that goes into having a successful program. I don't think there's anyone I learned more in that aspect than from my father. ... Enjoy the game and enjoy the guys that you get a chance to work with each year and don't live in the past and don't look too far in the future with the team that we have."

How to help

For more info about the football fundraising campaign, including illustrations of improvements, visit RestoringCooneyPride.com. Donation pledge forms can be found online.

Former players or alumni who want to donate can reach Kopfer at Rosskopfer@yahoo.com or at (262) 391-5225.

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