Westosha Central senior Bret Duenkel receives support from Waterford players following his school’s Homecoming game Sept. 28 (Photo courtesy of Nancy Switalla)

Duenkel puts on the shoulder pads for Falcons

By Jason Arndt

Throughout his senior year, Bret Duenkel has regularly attended Westosha Central High School football practices, coaches meetings and has been a dedicated member of the program, Falcons coach Tyson Mengel said.

Duenkel, however, has never experienced putting on the shoulder pads and taking field because he has a rare disease that affects his respiratory system and internal organs.

While medical professionals are working on finding an actual name for the rare ailment, he has served as the football team’s manager, where he plays a vital role in the program.

“He is part of our team as anyone else,” Mengel said. “He loves this team and he shows up to coaches meetings and I told him that he needed to experience football as a player.”

Duenkel’s experience happened during Westosha Central’s Sept. 28 Homecoming game against visiting Waterford.

With about 8:25 left of regulation, Duenkel put on his Falcons helmet, and went straight to huddle where junior quarterback Gavin Carlson called a run play for the senior.

“When I got on the field, what was going through my head was that I cannot drop the football,” said Duenkel, who received the handoff from the Westosha Central 44-yard line.

Duenkel, who remained focus on the football, made a dash towards the end zone with his teammates following behind to support him.

The support extended beyond the Falcons, meanwhile, as some Waterford defenders went to Duenkel and congratulated him.

“When I got to the end zone, it was really cool,” he said. “Then my teammates came over, and even Waterford, came over.”

“It was probably one of the best moments of my life,” he said.

According to Waterford coach Andy Bakken, whose team remained undefeated following the Sept. 28 decision, he received a call from Mengel about Duenkel two weeks earlier.

Bakken, after learning of the case, said it was an easy decision to make.

“Can we get him on the field and try to get him in the end zone, and I said ‘Absolutely,” Bakken recalled. “Anything we can do to help.”

For Bakken, he hopes the memory stays with Duenkel beyond graduation, carrying it with wherever he goes.

“I hope that he really enjoys the moment and carries it with him for a very long time,” said Bakken.

For Mengel, seeing Duenkel make it the end zone brought him a sense of joy, noting he has continued to fight in spite of the circumstances.

“I am just proud of him and I love the guy,” he said.

Duenkel, meanwhile, expressed gratitude for the support his classmates have shown in the student section and also to Westosha Central athletic program.

Aside from serving as manager for the football team, he also had a similar role for the softball team last spring, when the coaching staff and players welcomed him aboard.

“I can not say enough about the Central football coaching staff, they are all great people,” Duenkel said.

To Duenkel’s mother, Patti Worzalla, her son has always been a fighter and refuses to let anything stand in his way.

The rare disease, which has other symptoms, has been a challenge for doctors at the Medical College of Wisconsin to solve.


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