By Jim den Hollander
I was saddened last week to hear of the passing of Alex Yacko.
It had been several years since I chatted with the young athlete, but I will always remember him as one of the top clutch guys in local sports and he gave me at least three amazing memories.
That first season of the RWD varsity hockey program was an exciting one with some great hockey players from Reedsburg, Wisconsin Dells and Mauston included on likely the best high school team I have been able to cover.
There were so many solid forwards and defense along with an exceptional goaltender. Yacko wasn’t the best player on that team, but he sure knew when to make his presence felt.
The first season for the RWD hockey program was also the first season for the Monk’s Cheeseburger Classic hockey tournament and again for me, that first one was the best so far.
The championship game pitted the RWD varsity squad against Prairie Ridge, from Illinois. The game was a thriller, even at 2-2 after three periods, they played a long overtime segment before number nine fired one home off the left side. Seconds later Yacko was at the bottom of a pile of RWD players celebrating one of its biggest wins in an awesome season.
A couple months later at the South Wood County Recreation Center in Wisconsin Rapids, RWD punched its ticket to the State Championship tournament with a Sectional Championship win. Yacko stepped up again and scored the first goal in that game, starting up the RWD Machine that rolled to a 4-2 win and again triggered a huge celebration, this time with almost every RWD fan in attendance on the ice after the final buzzer sounded.
One other great memory I have of Alex didn’t come in an arena, but on a ball diamond in Prairie du Chien. One of my favorite pictures from a long stretch working at the community newspaper in Wisconsin Dells doesn’t even have his face in it. It is taken from behind as Yacko touched home plate with the game winning run in the Legion Baseball State Championship game.
As I mentioned earlier, I hadn’t crossed paths with Yacko in five or more years. I believe the last time I saw him he smiled and talked about how great it was to see the BlackHawks win the Stanley Cup. I am glad he had some great memories from that, because he provided me with some of my best sports memories in the past 20 years.
I am not sure if there is hockey or baseball teams in heaven. If there is, one of the teams just got better.