Avon athletes remember their role model and biggest fan
To most high school teens, role models tend to be superstar sports figures like Lebron James, Peyton Manning or Tiger Woods. To many Avon residents and athletes, Danny Sternhagen was that superstar role model. Sternhagen died March 20 at the age ...
To most high school teens, role models tend to be superstar sports figures like Lebron James, Peyton Manning or Tiger Woods.
To many Avon residents and athletes, Danny Sternhagen was that superstar role model.
Sternhagen died March 20 at the age of 45 after fighting Muscular Dystrophy for nearly his entire life.
He was diagnosed at the age of three, and he grew up watching his older brother Steve shine in all high school sports.
At times, this caused jealousy and stubbornness, Steve said. But it also helped mold him into the Avon supporter he was his entire life
"He was always there," Avon standout athlete Earv Archambeau said of Danny Sterhagen. "You'd see him in the stands at every sporting event."
Archambeau met Sternhagen in fifth grade -- the first year he moved to Avon. He also saw him one last time before the boys' state basketball tournament where Avon took sixth place, which also happened to be Archambeau's final basketball game as a Pirate.
Sternhagen attended almost every Avon sporting event for years. He created the game-day programs and he sat side court in his wheelchair, happily critiquing the game.
Sternhagen talked to the team before the regional championship game against Corsica.
"He told us if you want to go out strong, you need put everything you have in this game," Archambeau said. "That really motivated our entire team."
As many knew around the town, Sternhagen's condition was growing worse as the state tournament was starting. He spoke to the team during a pep rally as his final motivational talk.
"That meant a lot to the kids," said Avon head coach Mel Fathke, who along with girls' head coach Brad Poppe, was a pall bearer at the funeral.
Avon won its only game on the second day of the tournament, which was Friday -- the day Sternhagen died.
The Pirates were forced to play with heavy hearts on Saturday afternoon in the consolation championship against Viborg. Even though the team lost, Sternhagen would have loved the thriller the game was.
Senior forward Matt Dykstra and junior Marshall Cihak each had a chance to hit the game-winning shot for Avon with less than 10 seconds remaining.
When the team returned home, Sternhagen's funeral was on Tuesday.
Steve Sternhagen said the church was packed. Both the upstairs and the downstairs of the church were full, and he and his family received stacks and stacks of sympathy cards.
Now, athletes like Archambeau and Dykstra, who are both going off to play collegiate athletics, will remember their former motivational speaker, even though they won't be able to hear his pep-rally speeches anymore.
Fathke's son Danny Fathke is now in college, and he said he remembers a lot of the things Sternhagen told him while he was playing sports for Avon.
"He was a great guy," Danny Fathke said. "Coming from a guy who can't walk, it meant a lot when he was at every game. He's such a motivation when he couldn't do what we could, but he was always cheering for you."
Archambeau, entering his final sports season at Avon, is in his fourth activity of the year.
He helped Avon to the 9A football championship -- which Sternhagen missed but was overjoyed about -- he played basketball in the winter, and now he's on the golf and track and field teams this spring.
"He showed me that life's short and you should give it your all, all the time," Archambeau said.
Sternhagen's mother, Rosalee, said she's proud when she hears comments like that come from the athletes her son talked to.
"I think it was his way of being part of the team," Rosalee said.
Every team needs a role model, and Sternhagen -- even though he couldn't run a touchdown or dribble down the court -- was that for Avon.