Reflecting on Norb Wishowski (DB ’54)

Norb Wishowski graduated from Don Bosco in 1954 and returned to Thomas More as a beloved teacher and coach.

By Mike Mikula (TM ’84)

Teacher. Coach. Mentor. Colleague. Friend.

Those were just some of the many words that described Norbert Wishowski (DB ’54).

It is difficult to capsulize the many facets of this man in just a few paragraphs. I was fortunate, like many, to have known Norb on these various levels. To the people reading this article, know that I am merely scratching the surface, and the few anecdotes I provide are a mere microscopic view of his life. Everyone has, I am sure, their own stories and memories of this legendary man, and by reading my account, I hope you also can recall some of your own memories of him.

Norb was, in many rights, iconic and his impact stretched beyond just Thomas More. His resume was vast, having taught and coached at Thomas More High School, Pio Nono High School, Burlington High School, and Burlington Catholic Central High School, to name a few. He taught Spanish and coached just about every sport in his career. Norb earned too many accolades to mention; he is enshrined in various high school athletic halls of fame, including St. Thomas More, as well as the Wisconsin Cross Country Coaches Association Hall of Fame and the Wisconsin Basketball Coaches Hall of Fame.

Wishowski with Brian Krysiak (TM ’98) at the 2007 STM All-School Reunion

His gift in teaching the Spanish language was unmatched. His memory and knowledge of the subject were guideposts for his fellow educators. I can still hear him snapping his fingers—his way of asking students to recite the language back to him. The sound was truly deafening.

One story about Norb that I would like to share defines his humbleness and coaching ability. He would always be the first to tell you of his setbacks—that things were not as easy as they seemed and emphasizing that success does not come easy. He told me that when he started coaching cross-country back in the 1960s, he knew nothing about the sport. Burlington High School needed a coach and he decided to take on the challenge.

For their first practice, Norb and his student-athletes decided to take the literal meaning of the sport’s name and go for a walk along the railroad tracks and trails of Burlington. After realizing there was much more to the sport than just running, success came fast for Norb, although not without setbacks. One of Norb’s top runners was injured in a farming accident, preventing the star athlete from ever competing again, and several others would also succumb to injury before his departure from Burlington High School.

While he only coached at Burlington for two years, he laid the groundwork for future success. That autumn that team would qualify for state, and they are still the only boys’ team in Burlington history to accomplish this feat.

Fast forward to the 1970s when Thomas More was in its renaissance of sports, specifically in cross-country. The team originally did not have the trademark uniforms that most teams enjoyed. The runners would compete with school-colored generic shorts and t-shirts that simply said “Thomas More Cross-Country.”

Mikula with Wishowski at Norb’s induction into the STM Athletic Hall of Fame

Regardless of what the team wore, however, Norb’s runners were usually victorious. Thomas More’s first invite where the runners debuted their new uniforms—a big step up from the old garb—was not only a success but a bit of a mystery to the coaches at the meet. Noticing a gleeful Wishowski, a rival coach said to him, “I don’t know why you are smiling so much today, Norb. The team that had ‘Cavalier’ on their singlet beat us all today.”

Instead of gloating or bragging, Norb just smiled and walked away. He was never about accolades. Every time another state championship was won, he always took on the Vince Lombardi philosophy: “act like he had been there before.”

Some people will say it was luck; others will say he had a genuine gift. During Norb’s induction to the Thomas More’s Athletic Hall of Fame, I spoke about the gratitude I had for him. “In my years of running for you, my father never attended a meet/invite, but I would like to think he was there in you, Coach Wishowski, and I thank you for that.”

Regardless of what one may think, one thing is for sure: Norb’s “father figure” role in and out of the classroom—and on and off the field/court—impacted so many lives and helped so many Thomas More alumni to become better people.

Wishowski (center, front) with (from left to right) Jack Ward, John Hoch (TM ’87), Mike Mikula (TM ’84), Ben Rezutek (TM ’93), and Bob Maroszek at Norb’s Wisconsin Basketball Coaches Hall of Fame induction

 


In celebration of our 150th Anniversary, throughout the 2020-21 school year, the St. Thomas More Communications Committee will release a series of engaging stories and spotlights to highlight and celebrate influential figures and memorable moments from our school’s 150-year history.
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6 comments

  1. Great article! Mr. wishowski was all of that and so much More to me at thst time in my life. Blessed and THANKFUL.
    Joe saggio ‘83

    Joe Saggio
  2. It was nice to see the memory of Norb Wishowski kept alive WITH this tribute. Coach Taught discipline and commitment with great detail and integrity for which i will always be grAteful

    Tom joerres pn 70
  3. I remember Norb in spanish class and the snapping of his fingers. since there was no spanish equivalent of Brian, he called upon me with my middle name, Walter (walterio). A classic to say the least. Although Norb was small in height, he was tall in stature. he will forever be remembered.

  4. Hola, pacO. QuE tal! Como Esta? I can still
    Hear the SNAPPING mYself.

    I never had THE OPPORTUNITY to compete for him but maN did he coach some great runners and great tEams.

    Rest in peace.

    Paul smith ‘77
  5. WONDERFUL article. Coach wishOwski could bring On the fury for battling the hills anD finIsh strong wiTh a life lesson for The Home stretch. Truly a man for all seaSons who spoke to EVERYONE as an individual. My locker was across from his classrOom so i always recEived aN extra dose of spanish and a reminder to stay low coming out of the blocks. Peace.

    Paul karweik (Ret. Colonel)
  6. I graduated in 1975 and spent 3 years As a manger for his teams. He taught me so much. I owe him so much. His remaRkable personality, INCREDIBLE sense Of humor, and common sense intellect were a joy to experience. He remains in my daily prayers and as a vOice oF wisdom in my soul.

    Chuck Barth

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