By Kevin Eickman
By most measures, the just completed Milford fall sports season would be considered a success. With boys soccer and field hockey qualifying for the playoffs and football just missing out by virtue of a tie-breaker. Both cross country teams had winning years as well, with volleyball coming within a single game of .500 for the first time in the programs history. There are a great many reasons to be optimistic when it comes to Buccaneers athletics.
Milford’s first year Athletic Director Ryan Winkleblech, states that the just completed seasons were challenging yet rewarding. When asked about this year’s fall sports teams, Winkleblech explained that is was quite a whirlwind. “There was a great deal of stress when I first began in the position along with a lot of information I had to absorb on the fly,” Winkleblech said. “The fact that I came in twelve days after the fall sports calendar was underway was a real challenge, luckily the coaches really had things under control.” The key job for Winkleblech initially was to make sure all the paperwork was in order “verifying the eligibility of the athletes and making sure that all the physicals were in place took a great deal of time,” Winkleblech said. “There were a lot of late nights, but eventually I was able to catch up.”
Being an A.D. is something Winkleblech had always thought about doing and he was happy when the opportunity presented itself. “I have been teaching for 15 years, I really thought that the time was right for me to pursue the administrative path,” said Winkleblech. “When I stopped coaching a few years back, I really wanted to make sure that I would be okay, not being on the sideline. Being a coach was a great passion for me.”
While no longer coaching varsity athletics, Winkleblech does a little coaching at the family level these days. “My children play sports and I have been able to be very active in that regard, helping out at that level. It is an outlet where I can still get the teaching interaction with players that is so much fun,” Winkleblech stated.
Even though there were several challenges, there have also been some rewarding moments as well. “The feedback that I have gotten from the various coaches has been very important, they have really been appreciative of the effort that I have put in to this point,” Winkleblech stated. The success of the teams this season was also pleasing for him to witness. “To watch the effort that everyone puts in to sports and the success they all had this season was fantastic to see,” stated Winkleblech. “It takes a lot of effort on everyone’s part to be successful.”
While winning is nice, the real end game for Winkleblech is the education that is achieved through athletics. “When you watch how the students handle adversity, when you see how they mature as a result of athletics, that’s the real reward,” Winkleblech stated. “I know first hand what athletics can do for a student, if it wasn’t for football I probably wouldn’t be in this position today. I didn’t have the greatest life at home growing up, so the teams I was on became my families, my support system.”
One of the topics of conversation he takes seriously is the ongoing concern regarding injuries. It is is an area that Winkleblech believes Milford has attacked and will continue to attack, aggressively. “The safety and well being of our student athletes is our number one priority. We are going to do everything we can to ensure their safety,” Winkleblech said. “We have established baseline testing for all our players and we will be implementing new technology as it becomes feasible.”
Looking to the future, Winkleblech is hoping that the Milford athletic community grows together. He wants to make sure all sports in Milford are on the same page, becoming a cohesive athletic family. “Middle school, JV, Varsity, we want them all to feel like part of one family, pulling for each other and making each other better,” Winkleblech stated. “I want that kid playing soccer in middle school, not to think of himself as a middle school player, but as a Milford player. Part of the Milford family. I believe that we as a community have it in us to accomplish this.”
Winkleblech received his Bachelors degree and played his football at Clarion University, while obtaining his Master’s at Wesley College.