NFL star donates to WMS football team
By Greg Seubert
Thanks to NFL player and Wisconsin native J.J. Watt, Waupaca Middle School’s football team will have a new look for the 2016 season.
The Houston Texans defensive end’s foundation, the J.J. Watt Foundation, donated nearly $17,000 to Waupaca Middle School’s football program after one of its coaches, Rocky Mondello, applied for a grant.
The foundation has provided more than $1.5 million to middle schools in Wisconsin and Texas since Watt joined the NFL five years ago.
“It’s a lot of money, close to $17,000,” Mondello said. “I talked with the other three coaches in the program (Jeremy Martens, Nate Harms and Rick Simonson) and what our needs were. This is what we came up with.”
Mondello used the $16,471,10 grant to purchase 70 home jerseys, 70 away jerseys, 70 game pants with belts, 35 sets of shoulder pads, 35 integrated practice pants and six footballs from Eastbay, a Wausau-based sporting goods business.
“When I was walking around with the uniforms when they first came in, it was kind of like Christmas,” Mondello said. “The eighth-graders are disappointed that they won’t be able to wear them next year, but the seventh-graders have already bought into looking a little better and maybe playing a little better.”
The seventh- and eighth-grade teams played games in purple and white uniforms last year, but now have navy blue and white uniforms. It’s part of the school’s transition from the Panthers to the Comets, which took effect starting with the 2015-16 school year.
“I had to talk about the status of our program now and why we were requesting the funds,” Mondello said. “Basically, it was because we were changing from Panthers to Comets. The other big criteria is how these are going to be used. Who’s all going to be using them and the times we’re going to be using them?
“They’re pretty adamant about other programs not being able to use the equipment,” he said. “I ordered six footballs and those footballs can’t be used in a phy ed class or anything like that. They’re strictly for the football program. I had to write up a one- to two-page paper on where our program started and how it’s progressed. We’ve had the same uniforms for 10 to 12 years.”
Besides coaching the seventh-grade football team with Martens, Mondello also coaches boys’ and girls’ basketball at the middle school and junior varsity baseball at Waupaca High School.
“A lot of the schools in our conference – Berlin, Winneconne, Omro – were awarded the grant and they’d show up in new uniforms,” he said. “It makes a big difference. A lot of schools have been asked to find different resources and this is a very helpful resource for a lot of schools in the area.”
The shoulder pads cost $180 each, while the jerseys with pants are about $150. Eastbay also donated the cost of placing the foundation’s logo on each jersey.
“We get our helmets reconditioned every year,” Mondello said. “That was a big purchase awhile ago. Those are a very hard thing to purchase, as they’re $300 to $400. That’s an expensive part of the program, so I’m glad we didn’t have to go that route.”
The school might apply for another grant from the foundation down the road for its other athletic programs, according to Mondello.
“We have cross country, track, boys’ and girls’ basketball, volleyball and wrestling,” he said. “A school can do it multiple times. We’ve heard of a couple schools do one sport, realize it went well and turn around and ask for (funding for) another sport.”
Middle schools in New London, Berlin and Shiocton also recently received grants from the foundation this year, while schools in Weyauwega-Fremont, Almond-Bancroft, Clintonville and Plainfield received funding last year.
“I haven’t heard of a school yet that has been turned down that has applied,” Mondello said. “I really think that if you’re in the criteria of what they’re asking for, you’re going to get something.”
The Texans drafted Watt in the first round of the 2011 NFL draft after he played college football at the University of Wisconsin. Originally from Pewaukee, Watt has been named the league’s defensive player of the year in three of the last four seasons.
“It’s nice to have a Wisconsin local make it big,” Mondello said. “J.J. Watt is the defensive player of the year a couple years in a row now and is a good role model for kids.”