WILLIAMS BAY – The Lake Geneva Generals semi-pro football franchise is no longer – again.
After almost folding earlier this year, co-owners Derek and Jeni Diehl saddled up for one more season. And what a ride it was. For the first time in 12 years, Derek’s team missedthe playoffs but Derek enjoyed every moment as a starting offensive lineman. Now, after only three full seasons, Walworth County’s first and only semi-pro football team, which played home games at Williams Bay High School, is up for sale.
“We’re calling it a day,” said Jeni late Tuesday night. “It’s the only way I can get Derek to stop playing. Derek puts his heart and soul into Williams Bay High School athletics and the middle school. We’re pretty much done.”
In January, theGenerals were in jeopardy of losing the season before the players stepped up and committed to another summer. However, over the next few months, players began a mass exodus, and the Generals who made the Mid-States playoffs in the team’s first two seasons were nowhere to be found.
Many left for other teams, leaving the Diehls to scramble for new talent. By the team’s last game against the Racine Threat Sept. 14, the writing was on the wall. Only 18 Generals valiantly battled the Threat, one of the area’s best teams, to a 0-0 tie through three quarters before losing, 27-0. The Generals finished the season 2-6 and the Diehls, who have owned the Washington County Patriots, Milwaukee Venom and the Generals in 12 seasons, failed to make the playoffs for the first time.
“If we had a big following from the area, it would’ve been so much easier,” Jeni said.
Jeni and Derek’s vision involved a team that could attract area football talent from Badger, Big Foot and Williams Bay high schools along with kids coming home from UW-Whitewater for the summer that wanted to play football for fun. College football hopefuls were even encouraged to play, as many semi-pro athletes are former collegiate stars and possibly pros.
That dream never really came to fruition. Many players lived in Milwaukee, and practices were routinely held in Milwaukee instead of Williams Bay or Lake Geneva. Derek’s current revitalization of the Bay high school program is demanding more of his time during the summer and fall. Jeni said Derek’s football plate is full.
Derek, an innovative football mind, has turned the Williams Bay Bulldogs, who lost nearly 40 consecutive games in a five-year span, to a full-fledged playoff contender in a mere 13 months. The Bulldogs are 2-2 as of Tuesday.
But semi-pro football, though seemingly fun, costs an arm and a leg, and you can even throw in a head and chest.
Jeni said she and Derek paid more than $10,000 for Generals jerseys, and it’s a $1,000 fee just to be in the Mid-States Football League. When the dream started 12 years, the couple took out a loan tofollow their passion.
Now, the Diehls run Walworth Lanes, a bowling alley in Walworth, and they are trying to teach their own kid in middle school football along with the Bulldogs.
Personally, I tried out for the Generals in 2011, and it was an amazing experience. I didn’t make the team because I’m slow and old, but I can still rifle a ball 60 yards with a tight spiral. Honestly, my knee is almost back to 100 percent and I was ready to try out for the Generals come February. But this certainly changes things.
On the Lake Geneva Generals Facebook page, the players and Derek are sporting the home jerseys, which Jeni said will be available for $6,500 on eBay. Her goal is for the team to stay local and continue, but she acknowledged the new owners can do with the franchise what they want.
If you are interested in taking over the Generals, contact Derek Diehl at 262-224-5354.
It’s a sad day for local football lovers.