A lot of people think Homestead wrestling and baseball coach Ernie Millard is nuts.
He's a two-sport coach with a still-young family, and he's famous for his heart-on-his-sleeve nature and emotional reactions to things. But he almost always gets the most out of his kids no matter what the talent level, and he is much beloved by many for his professionalism, honesty and character.
Not to mention his work ethic.
That's why Millard was in bed by 8 p.m. Jan. 24, completely zonked out by his annual, wildly-successful two-day wrestling extravaganza held Jan. 22 and 23. First of all, there was the 19-team varsity scramble meet (in which the Highlanders finished a competitive 11th) on Jan. 22.
After that wrapped up at about 11 p.m., they swept off the mats, restocked the concession stands and promised the volunteers the moon again, as they prepared for the next days' 20-plus team junior varsity tournament.
'First off, I want both the varsity and the junior varsity to wrestle at a high level, and two, it just would have been impossible and way more work to try and hold the two meets on different weekends,' he said. 'I just love the challenge, though I try not to think of all the IOUs that I incurred this weekend.
'Somewhere there's a county music song with my name on it.'
The IOUs are owed to the likes of his longtime trusty volunteers, such as Tom Price, Dave Keel, Drake Zortman and many, many others who made this event possible.
'There are so many alums and volunteers,' Millard added. 'It's a pretty good system. Tom (Price) and I run our own seeding meeting, and we do a pretty good job of separating the best kids.'
This whole idea of a big-time varsity tournament on a Friday night was and remains a bit of an alien concept. Millard said he hatched the idea many years ago when talking with Menomonee Falls' Jim McMahon (whose team was second on Jan. 22).
'I said to him, 'Why not Friday night?'' he said. 'It's not the greatest tourney out there, but for a sport that's been so important and impactful on my life, I just want to see it do well here ... all that we do here, we're just trying to strengthen the sport of wrestling.'
That also included hosting the Wisconsin Challenge Series JV state qualifier some weeks ago for some 20-plus schools.
Homestead's combination varsity/junior varsity weekend began with just four teams on two mats 15 years ago with the junior varsity kids in the mezzanine upstairs behind the old gym, Millard said.
It's come a long way since, and Millard and company have impressed a lot of people along the way.
McMahon said his kids love coming to this meet, so does Matt Sommerville of multi-time team champion Oak Creek.
'The guy (Millard) just works unbelievably hard,' Sommerville said. 'I can't believe they get that JV meet in, too.'
And as noted, his kids like to succeed for him, too. The Highlanders had their best tournament of the year, Millard said, posting a match record of 27-22, the first time they've had a winning mark this winter at an invite.
The Highlanders scored 184 points for their spot as Oak Creek (461.5) and Falls (398.5) claimed the top two spots.
Eight of the nine young and relatively inexperienced Highlander competitors earned spots in the top seven of their brackets, and everyone won at least two matches.
They were led by third-place finishers Tyler Denmark at 160 pounds (4-1 for the tourney and 20-9 overall) and Michael Shears at 195 (4-1, 14-13). Taking fourths were Cal Scholtus at 106 (3-2, 15-12) and Cooper Hunt at 113 (3-2, 9-3), while fifths were claimed by Messi Elgin at 113 (3-2, 11-15) and Doug Lennon at 152 (4-1, 18-7).
Frank Martin was sixth at 152 (3-2, 11-8), Miles Wolfram was seventh at 182 (2-2, 14-12) and Jacob Zupke at 160 lost his first two matches but then won three in a row to earn ninth (10-6)
'It was a little distracting for all of us, but I was really happy with how focused the kids were,' Millard said.
The schedule in the last week of the regular season is just as nuts for the Highlanders, as they close out the North Shore Conference dual meet schedule with matches against Whitefish Bay (Jan. 26) and Cedarburg (Jan. 28) and then take their annual fun road trip to the Wisconsin Dells Invitational on Jan. 28.