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Football: Wiederkehr thanks his players for Hall pass

From player to coach to administrator to Hall of Famer. It has been one wild football ride for Hans Wiederkehr.

That ride will continue in a couple of months when Wiederkehr is inducted into the Suffolk Sports Hall of Fame. The Wading River man, who celebrated his 55th birthday Sunday, recalled his reaction when he received a phone call from Section XI executive director Tom Combs and former Bellport High School football coach Joe Cipp, informing him that he was to be one of the 10 inductees in the Hall’s Class of 2018.

“I was really taken back,” Wiederkehr said during an interview at the Hall’s introductory press conference Tuesday in Smithtown. “I felt guilty because there’s so many great people out there and you kind of say, ‘Why me?’ And you kind of reflect and you’re grateful that you affected that many people.”

Wiederkehr has truly lived a football life ever since taking up the sport in junior high school. He was a lineman at Syracuse University before spending a season with the Pittsburgh Steelers as an offensive guard from 1985-86.

Then Wiederkehr made a tremendous impact as a coach. He coached Babylon from 1987-2002, guiding the Panthers to two Long Island Class IV championships, six Suffolk titles and 10 league crowns. They reached the playoffs 12 times.

Wiederkehr left Babylon with a 99-41-2 career record to coach his son Ethan’s 7-year-old PAL team. He coached Ethan all the way up the ladder through Shoreham’s junior high, junior varsity and varsity teams. Wiederkehr was Shoreham’s defensive coordinator when the Wildcats won three Long Island Class IV championships and two Rutgers Trophies from 2014-16.

Ethan currently is a red-shirt freshman offensive lineman for Northwestern.

“I’d like to thank all the kids that played for me,” Wiederkehr told the assembled media Tuesday. “That’s probably the main reason I’m here. I love the kids. I’d do anything for them.”

Wiederkehr is in his 18th year as president of the Suffolk County Football Coaches Association. He is one of the longest tenured administrators of any coaches association in Long Island history, said Chris Vaccaro, the Hall’s executive director.

“He was a championship coach, winning Long Island championships for multiple schools,” Vaccaro said. “He was a very gifted and talented player. He’s done a number of things. It’s a very diverse résumé. At the bottom of it all is his love for amateur athletics and the impact he’s had on student-athletes for generations.”

The induction ceremony will be held May 10 at Watermill Caterers in Smithtown. Also to be inducted are: former NFL player Stephen Bowen, former Middle Country schools track and field coach Robert Burkley, late Suffolk County football official Joe Dooley, former shot put/discus thrower Cheryl Klein-Obelar (Bellport, University of Houston), former Suffolk Sports Hall of Fame executive director Edward Morris, United States Olympic Team handball player Matt Ryan, Middle Country schools track and field coach Harry Schneider, Hofstra University women’s lacrosse coach Shannon Smith and Brentwood High School boys tennis coach Clem Stancik. A special recognition award will be given to the Bay Shore Junior Fire Department racing team.

Over 260 people have been inducted into the Suffolk Sports Hall of Fame since its establishment in 1990, said Vaccaro.

Wiederkehr and his wife, Karen, also have two daughters who played sports for Shoreham. Rachel was an Ohio State lacrosse player and Corinne was an All-American lacrosse player at the University of Mary Washington (Va.).

Wiederkehr said his time coaching during Shoreham’s dynasty with former head coach Matt Millheiser was “wonderful. I could be an assistant coach. I didn’t have the responsibility of head coach, and I have to give Matt a lot of credit because he let me coach. There was never any stepping on toes.”

Being inducted into a hall of fame isn’t anything new to Wiederkehr. He is also an inductee of the East Lyme (Conn.) High School Hall of Fame (2004) and the National Football Foundation Hall of Fame (2009). What makes this upcoming induction special for Wiederkehr is all the former players he has coached contacting him upon hearing the news.

“The best part about it is I heard from a lot of ex-players of mine, and that’s really, really wonderful,” he said. “That’s probably the nicest part of this whole thing is getting feedback from those kids.”

“Out of all the awards that’s gone to my teams, this is a team effort,” he continued, referring to parents, players and other coaches. “I think it’s an everyone award.”

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Photo caption: Hans Wiederkehr speaking during the Suffolk Sports Hall of Fame’s introductory press conference Tuesday in Smithtown. (Credit: Bob Liepa)