'He showed love': Players, coaches remember the life of high school football legend Tom Taraska

’He showed love’: Players, coaches remember the life of high school football legend Tom Taraska

HARTLAND, Wis. (CBS 58) -- One of the most successful coaches in the history of Wisconsin high school football has died. The Waukesha County Medical Examiner's Office and Arrowhead High School officials confirmed Tom Taraska died Sunday in a car crash.

Taraska coached from 1982-2010. During his time at Arrowhead, Taraska won four state championships while finishing as the state runner-up five times. 

That legacy of October and November success wasn't lost on Ryan Mangan, the activities director at Arrowhead, as the football team practiced Monday before its first-round playoff game against Mukwonago.

"Football playoffs, this was Tom Taraska time," Mangan said.

Coaches and former players said Monday that in order to reach that level of success, Taraska was a perfectionist.

"Attention to detail on everything, right?" Mangan said. "Tom was always attention to detail on everything."

Jim LaVoi played quarterback for Taraska at Arrowhead from 1986-88 before becoming an assistant coach at the school in 1993, the year Taraska led Arrowhead to its first state championship. LaVoi said, to this day, he still enforces some of the same rules Taraska implemented.

Tom Taraska led Arrowhead to the WIAA Division I State Championship game in 1993, 1994, 1996, 2000, 2002, 2003, 2006, 2007 and 2008 Arrowhead High School

"There's a helmet laying on the ground, it drives me nuts because that was not allowed," LaVoi said. "A football laying around? That's not allowed."

Taraska was inducted into the Wisconsin Football Coaches Association Hall of Fame in 2004. Arrowhead inducted him into the school's hall of fame in 2013. He amassed a record of 265-96 over the course of his career.

Beyond the on-field success, however, was what former players described as a commitment to making the program a pillar of the community.

"He always said to me, 'Jimbo, let's make Friday night the best thing in this community,'" LaVoi said.

Bob Menefee, who started the Lake Country Chiefs youth football program in 1991, said Taraska's support was instrumental in getting the organization off the ground.

"Can we use the game facilities? Yes. Can we use the practice area? Yes. Can we use the blocking sled? Oh, you bet," Menefee said. "We got some night games. Can we play under the lights? He said, 'we'll turn the lights on for you.'"

In return, the community showed its appreciation for its coach. The Warhawks play at Taraska Stadium. The most recent gesture of gratitude was the construction of a new video scoreboard with the facility's name arched over the top in large red letters. 

Mangan said the new scoreboard was just installed last week.

"He drove out here to see it [Sunday]," LaVoi said. "Told him it was up, and he drove out here to see it, cut and dry."

The Waukesha County Sheriff's Department confirmed a 71-year-old man died after the car he was driving hit a tree along Rybeck Road, just east of Woodfield Court, around 4:40 Sunday afternoon.

By Monday evening, a memorial was growing at the crash site. An Arrowhead football helmet was affixed to the tree -- not on the ground -- while a number of mementos were left at the base of the tree. That included a hat with a message written on the bill by the family of Tyler Donovan, who played for Arrowhead before becoming the Wisconsin Badgers' starting quarterback in 2007.

Throughout the day Monday, a memorial grew at the site of the single-car crash where Tom Taraska died.

Donovan's mother, Brenda, said the family moved to Hartland specifically for Tyler to play in the Arrowhead football program.

"We met Coach Taraska in person soon after that, and we knew we were in the right spot," she said.

More than the championships, the relationships were what people discussed in interviews Monday as they reflected on Taraska's legacy.

"Love for Arrowhead," LaVoi said, when asked what lesson from Taraska will stick with him the most.

"I do hope that he knew how important he was in everyone's lives," current Arrowhead head coach Matt Harris said. "And I do believe- I believe that he does."

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