By Ryan Aderholdt, special to Wausau Pilot and Review

To describe Wausau Newman Catholic’s football program as an “uphill battle” would be an understatement.

As a team, they have often faced adversity which has lead to the program nearly being shut down (often due to a low number of players).  In spite of this, the team has never closed but they have still dealt with many hardships.

Between the years of 2000-2019 the Newman Fighting Cardinals have held a combined total record of 79 wins and 114 losses and have changed conferences twice.  First, in 2008 when they moved from the Marawood Conference to the Cloverwood Conference, which was a combination of smaller Marawood schools and Cloverbelt (small) schools.  Then again in 2017 when they moved from the Cloverwood Conference to the 8-Man league.

Since joining 8-Man, Newman has played for the number one spot in the 8-Man Jamboree (during the 2017 season) and have held a total record of 32 wins and only 2 losses.  While this impressive run has done well to bolster the team’s reputation, one thing has remained the same.  The team’s self identity.

If you were ever to wander through the athletic section of the school’s campus, you may notice something while walking into the team’s locker room.   Attached to the wall near the doorway is a worn down plaque that reads  “Play like a Champion Today.”  The reason it looks so worn is because every time a player enters the room, it is tradition to touch the plaque as a reminder to give 100 percent effort, win or lose.

A plaque on the hall at Wausau Newman Catholic High School, pictured Dec. 3, 2019. Photo: Ryan Aderholdt

Whether having an undefeated record or an 0-9 season, the team will do their best to live up to that mantra. They even have this reiterated in prayer before each game: the players will do their best to be “humble in victory, proud in defeat, and closer because they have shared this competition together”.

Like many times prior, the Cardinals faced adversity midway through the 2019 season after losing their starting quarterback, Ben Bates. Through hard work and determination, the team was able to rally together and go on to have an undefeated regular season. This was punctuated by an appearance in the post-season playoffs and the opportunity to play for the WIAA’s 2nd 8-Man Football Championship game.

On Nov. 16, Newman traveled to Chippewa Falls for the 8-Man High School Football State Championship to face the Luck Cardinals. This was the Fighting Cardinals’ first state-championship appearance, for football, in WIAA history. While in attendance, I viewed, first-hand, their mantra come to fruition. Every play those young men took the field they, quite literally, played like it was their last game, giving full effort through and through.

No, the Fighting Cardinals did not walk away with their first gold ball for football, but they did walk away with heads held high. Knowing that they competed to the very end, like all the classes before them. Playing like Champions.

Editor’s note: Ryan Aderholdt is a 2012 Wausau Newman Catholic graduate. He lives in Wausau.

Top photo by Brian Kalish for Wausau Pilot and Review