Burlington receiver eligible to play Friday, Horlick’s Fletcher must watch next game from press box
Jacob Weidert grabs his head in agony after receiving a vicious hit Friday night. The senior  was down for 20 minutes before an ambulance took him to the emergency room of a Burlington hospital. (Mike Ramczyk/Standard Press)

Jacob Weidert grabs his head in agony after receiving a vicious hit Friday night. The senior was down for 20 minutes before an ambulance took him to the emergency room of a Burlington hospital. (Mike Ramczyk/Standard Press)

 

By Mike Ramczyk

Sports Editor

While a Burlington High School football player has avoided a serious injury, Racine Horlick’s head coach will be suspended one game for a comment he made in the wake of the injury-causing play during Friday night’s 39-24 Burlington victory.

Horlick football coach Brian Fletcher apologized for the comment in a statement released by the school’s athletic director Tuesday.

Burlington senior Jacob Weidert was cleared by a doctor Monday to fully participate in practice. His father, Chris Weidert, said Tuesday Jacob planned to return to practice Wednesday and hopes to play Friday night at Lake Geneva Badger.

With around 3 minutes to play in Friday’s game in Burlington, and the Demons leading 33-18, Jacob Weidert, a senior, made a catch inside the Horlick 5-yard line and dove headfirst for the end zone.

Horlick’s safety was a step late in making a play and was forced to dive headfirst to push Weidert out of bounds.

The collision that ensued left Weidert motionless on the ground surrounded by coaches and training staff.

Horlick’s player was flagged for a personal foul for the hit, and Horlick coach Brian Fletcher didn’t agree with the call.

“Would we have gotten that call if my safety was Caucasian?” he asked the referee as play was stopped and Weidert was being checked over by Burlington coaches, a trainer and a doctor.

Fletcher was ejected from the game for the comment. It was his second unsportsmanlike conduct penalty of the game, which by Wisconsin Interscholastic Athletic Association rules, is an automatic suspension.

Weidert had been down for a few minutes before the comment, which resulted in Burlington’s coaches advising Fletcher to talk to Weidert’s father after the game.

After the team handshakes Friday night and after he addressed his team, Fletcher apologized for his actions to head coach Steve Tenhagen and the Burlington coaching staff.

Tenhagen called Chris Weidert at approximately 10:30 p.m. that night. The Weiderts were in the emergency room at Aurora Memorial Hospital of Burlington awaiting test results on Jacob Weidert’s CT scan.

Chris Weidert said Tenhagen told him Fletcher made a point to find Tenhagen and apologize for his actions. Tenhagen was one of several people tending to Jacob Weidert immediately after the hit and was aware of the comment.

“He said he felt terrible,” Chris Weidert said about the exchange between Fletcher and Tenhagen. “It bothered him a lot. He made a mistake, who doesn’t?”

“We hope he learns from this. He shouldn’t lose his job over it. I feel a one-game suspension is adequate.”

 

Player forgives coach

On Saturday, Jake Weidert’s 18th birthday, Chris Weidert knew his son was going to be OK, so he reached out to Fletcher with a telephone call.

A five-minute conversation involved a remorseful Fletcher, who expressed sympathy for Jacob Weidert and reiterated that he lost his head and was in the wrong, Chris Weidert said.

Weidert posted this picture on his Facebook page Saturday. He is wearing a neck brace (middle).

Weidert posted this picture on his Facebook page Saturday. He is wearing a neck brace (middle).

“We said we were fine, and Jake was fine,” he continued. “Jake told me to tell Fletcher, ‘It’s OK,’ and that he hopes he learns from this. Brian is genuinely a good person.”

The initial column about the incident posted on MyRacineCounty.com Saturday around 2 a.m. caused a public outcry.

Bill Michaels, who hosts a sports talk radio show on 105.7 FM The Fan, said a link to the story got the most hits on their Website over the weekend, more than 9,000, with a “large mass” of people asking for the coach to be immediately fired.

MyRacineCounty.com, the website operated by Southern Lakes Newspapers – which publishes the Standard Press – had more than 16,000 hits, or visits, on Saturday, and the community was at times enraged with 34 comments posted to the story as of Tuesday night.

“What the coach said was unforgiveable,” said one poster. “He had an opportunity to teach his players how to be classy and caring and instead took the low road. I am happy the young man is going to be OK … Given the racial tension of today, it’s just a shame the coach had to go that way.”

Fletcher apologized for his comment on Monday, issuing a statement through the Racine Unified School District. Here is his full text of his statement:

“I am aware that my actions at Friday night’s football game were out of line and insensitive, and I apologize to those I offended. I regret the negative image my actions have cast on players, coaches, staff and administration at Horlick High School as well as the Racine community. My choice of words was inconsistent with the morals and values I strive to emulate and teach my Horlick football team and myself. I wish the young man from Burlington my sincerest regards for a full and speedy recovery from his injury.”

The Standard Press left a voice message on Fletcher’s mobile phone Tuesday. A return call wasn’t received by press time.

Racine Horlick Athletic Director Joe Wendt declined comment on this matter.

“We can offer you the apology letter,” he said in a text message. “Everything else is considered a personnel matter and we can not comment.”

Fletcher will be allowed in the press box Friday night in the team’s game at Kenosha Tremper, but he will not be allowed to coach, according to the Racine Journal Times.

Burlington's Jake Weidert was down on the field close to completely motionless for approximately 20 minutes Friday night before being carted into an ambulance. The receiver had just made a catch and lunged toward the end zone when a Horlick defender collided with Weidert in a helmet-to-helmet hit. (Mike Ramczyk/Standard Press)

Burlington’s Jake Weidert was down on the field close to completely motionless for approximately 20 minutes Friday night before being carted into an ambulance. The receiver had just made a catch and lunged toward the end zone when a Horlick defender collided with Weidert in a helmet-to-helmet hit. (Mike Ramczyk/Standard Press)

A happy, healthy ending

Jacob Weidert did not lose feelings in his extremities Friday night as many people feared, Chris Weidert said.

He was talking the entire time.

Though the personal foul penalty was called for an excessive hit, one which appeared to be helmet-to-helmet, video and photos of the hit show the Horlick player narrowly missed hitting Weidert’s helmet and instead pinned him into the ground as his chest hit Weidert’s face mask.

The speed and force caused the Horlick player’s knee to whip around and strike the back of Weidert’s helmet and neck.

Weidert wore a neck brace and said Saturday via a Facebook interview that his neck was sore.

“I’m feeling better, still have a stiff neck though,” he said.

When asked if he will ever play football again, Weidert didn’t hesitate.

“Yeah, can’t wait to get back out there again.”

Chris Weidert said he assumed his son had the wind knocked out of him by the hit. By the time he walked from the stands roughly 50 yards to the opposite side of the field to check on Jacob, trainers told Chris Weidert that his son was moving all of his extremities.

By the time Weidert was placed on a stretcher, Horlick players yelled to him “You will be in my prayers, number 10” and “Great game, number 10.”

Strapped to the stretcher from head to toe with his eyes closed, Jacob Weidert left the field where he had just caught four passes for 55 yards and a touchdown in an ambulance.

“Jake said he had to lay extremely still on the field, and every time he opened his eyes, he was blinded by the bright lights,” Chris Weidert said.

“So that’s the real reason his eyes were closed the whole time on the stretcher. We had a good laugh about it.”