Retired Whitefish Bay Athletic Director John Gustavson always liked Todd Frohwirth's coaching philosophy.
"He liked to say to the kids 'This is your journey, I'm just here to help you along the way,'" said Gustavson on March 27, just a day after the stunning news that the 54-year old Frohwirth had passed away after a battle with cancer.
Gustavson and Bay remember Frohwirth for leading the Blue Dukes girls basketball team to the 2006 WIAA Division 2 state final.
As many people have said this week, Gustavson noted that there was so much more going on than just coaching with Frohwirth.
He was a top-flight reliever for the Baltimore Orioles in the early 1990s and later became a trusted baseball scout for the team. The Orioles held him in such high esteem that they held a moment of silence for him before one of their preseason games Monday, and Orioles Hall of Fame pitcher Jim Palmer tweeted a sincere condolence message.
"Bottom line, he was just a very good man," said Gustavson. "He didn't have to coach high school kids. He could have been a Bob Uecker in the (radio) booth. He was just that funny, but he always thanked me for giving him that (Bay girls) job."
Frohwirth, who wound up coaching high-school basketball at several places in the last decade, including another state runner-up berth with the Mukwonago girls in 2013, came to Gustavson applying for the Blue Dukes' girls job in the early 2000s.
Gustavson, who spent a successful decade-plus coaching the Nicolet girls hoops prior to coming to Bay, liked what he saw in Frohwirth immediately.
"I had just gotten hired myself," said Gustavson, "and this position was the first one that I filled. Todd had never been a high-school head coach (he had served as an assistant at other places), and he had never coached girls before, but I liked his ideas. He was a players' coach. Too often I've seen coaches make it all about themselves, but he liked to let players have the freedom to play to their own strengths. His first year was Katie Wysocky's sophomore year."
The tall, athletic Wysocky would eventually become a Now All-Suburban Player of the Year, an all-stater and an NCAA Division II star at Michigan Tech.
"Well, that first year, Katie wanted to play point guard, so she did," added Gustavson. "Todd didn't spent a lot of time on defense, but he presented the kids with a lot of different ideas. He also had Meghan Warner (another high-level post), and so he wanted her and Katie under the basket contesting every shot and grabbing every rebound"
Gustavson said it took the Blue Dukes a little while to get used to Frohwirth's personality.
"He could be very blunt and he mixed in more than a little bit of sarcasm sometimes. The girls ultimately got used to it," Gustavson said.
The meeting of minds reached its apex in the 2005-06 season in Wysocky and Warner's senior year, when the Blue Dukes compiled a 22-4 record, making it all the way to the state final before Monroe.
But a year later, with all the talent graduated and injuries ravaging the returnees, the Blue Dukes collapsed to a one-win season. Frohwirth moved on after that season.
Other coaches like Greg Capper, Dave Markson and Jon Schneider have come along, and the Blue Dukes have become a steady and sometimes spectacular player on the area hoops scene ever since. Gustavson believed that Frohwirth laid the groundwork for that success.
"He liked to project himself as a little bit of a country bumpkin, that he wasn't very smart, but he was very smart and he knew what he was doing," said Gustavson. "Even when he had problems with parents, he never raised his voice; he handled things in a very even-handed manner. I really do think he started the culture change for girls hoops around here."
Gustavson said he stayed in touch with Frohwirth after they parted ways at Bay. Gustavson followed Frohwirth's odyssey that included the Mukwonago girls, the Marquette boys and most recently the Elkhorn girls, never letting the grass grow under his feet, it seemed.
Frohwirth continued coaching even while battling the cancer. He leaves behind his beloved wife of 30-plus years, Jacque, and son Tyler and daughter Samantha. A service will be held on Thursday, March 30 at St. Mary's Catholic Church in Waukesha. Visitation will run from 3 to 5:45 p.m., with the service at 6 p.m. Memorials in his name can go to the American Cancer Society.
Gustavson likes to point out that though he's a little bit older than Frohwirth, he feels that they were practically neighbors on the north side Milwaukee/Wauwatosa area of 65th and 66th streets where both grew up.
This is a sad moment that Gustavson hopes he doesn't have to start getting used to.
About 18 months ago, the Blue Dukes athletic community lost football coach Jim Tietjen to another battle with cancer.
"Tietjen and Todd were two guys I got to know and respect well," Gustavson said. "It's hard when you lose people like that."