With a recent crispness to the night air, fall is knocking on the door. We all know what comes next.
Ski season, right?
For the past 31 years that has the case for Bill Patza, a local icon of high school skiing, and even longer for his wife, Cindy. This season, however, will be different.
You will see the area’s longtime ski and snowboard coaches at Mount La Crosse now and then, but they won’t be coaching. Bill, who coached the Central/Logan ski and snowboard teams for more than three decades, has stepped down from that position. Cindy, who coached the Aquinas/Onalaska/West Salem teams — and different levels of the United States Ski Team Association before that — also has retired.
The two will, however, run the highly popular state ski meet one more year. The event, which features more than a hundred high school boys and girls ski and snowboard teams, has been held at Mount La Crosse for the past 26 years.
“We have thought we are getting to the age where we don’t have the energy that the kids deserve,” said Bill Patza, 62, who has coached seven boys state ski team champions, six girls state ski team titlists, along with five boys state team snowboard champs.
“We are still struggling with it (decision), but deep in our hearts we know there are so many kids that are up-and-comers that deserve more than we can give.”
Bill Patza, who was a member of the La Crosse Fire Department for 27 years before retiring, said he and Cindy want to spend more time with his mother-in-law, Lois, as well as the rest of their family, including twin granddaughters. While both still enjoy coaching, the time commitment was difficult to meet, Bill Patza said.
The pair can’t walk away from the Wisconsin Interscholastic Alpine Racing Association (WIARA) Ski & Snowboard Championships, however, as the Patzas, along with a number of others, were instrumental in bringing the meet to La Crosse as well as keeping it here for 26 years.
“For 26 years we have been running it and we are going to run it again this year,” Bill Patza said of the event, which requires a bidding process to secure the meet. “We will run that program. We will run the national team one more year, then we hope to train somebody to take over.”
Filling the Patzas’ ski boots won’t be easy, Central Activities Director Joe Beran knows, as Bill Patza coached five boys and three girls individual state champions in additional to the team titles.
“It is going to be real tough to replace them. Bill and Cindy know so much about the program. Of all the programs I have, I like to be hands-on with them. But with ski and snowboard, I was hands-off because they were so good at what they did and how they handled everything,” Beran said.
“And that state tournament is pretty awesome for the kids, for the city of La Crosse and the overall community. It is nice to know they are going to do it one more year.”
Beran said he has been in contact with several people who have expressed interest in the coaching position, but with it being such a specialized sport with unique coaching skills required, it will be challenging to find the right fit.
“It is not just us (Central) that is trying to find a replacement, everyone is,” Beran said of the multiple schools needing to find a coach or coaches for the ski and snowboard teams. “And just about every aspect with Bill, from building positive relationships with kids to coaching to teaching, he had such a big impact.”
That impact happened during ski and snowboard team practices and meets, and has continued after with many of his former skiers years later.