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‘He’s always been there for us:’ Beloved high school hockey manager helps team for 2 decades

MADISON -- There's no doubt that players and coaches have the biggest effect when it comes to whether a team is successful. One member of a high school hockey team has proven you don't have to be involved in the action to have a role in helping a team win.

Once again this year, the best high school hockey teams converged on the Alliant Energy Center in Madison. For the Fond du Lac St. Mary's Springs Academy team, it was a new experience.

"For our program, it's our first trip WIAA-wise," said Tim Ahern, St. Mary's Springs hockey coach.

While getting to the state tournament is a major accomplishment for the players and coaches, it was a dream come true for another member of the team.

Chris "Whitey" McEssay

"For 21 years, I came to the rink every day for these boys and we got down here and I'm very proud of them," said Chris "Whitey" McEssay, St. Mary's Springs hockey manager.

"He's always talked about coming here and it was a dream come true for him and for us to come down here," said Ahern.

McEssay, better known as "Whitey," has been the manager for the boys hockey team for more than two decades, and an inspiration for the players and coaches.

"We got here because we work hard and I came to practice every day and I helped this team out," said Whitey.

Chris "Whitey" McEssay

Tim Ahern

"I don't even think we would have gotten here. He's been wanting to come here for the past, well, we haven't been here in 30 years so, ever since he's been here, he's always wanted to come here and it's just awesome that we could make it down here, but too bad we couldn't come home with the trophy," said Ahern. "It teaches you purpose in life and to give back and it goes beyond wins and losses."

Whitey's dedication to his job as manager has also had a positive influence on the team.

"He walks nearly two miles every day to practice just so he can fill water bottles and pick our pucks up," Ahern said. "He's just always there for us. Always cheering us on. Always doing what we need off the ice; getting the pucks for us if they go off. He's just always there. He's a great supporter. He loves the game of hockey and we love him. He's always been there for us for the past 20-some years. They love him. They know the respect he has for them. They have high utmost respect for him. It's a neat situation."

Whitey says the team helps him as much as he helps them.

"Two-way street. We work together and have fun," said Whitey. "This is like, it's like a hockey family. They've been there for me from day one. Four years ago, I went into a diabetic coma and these hockey people were always there to help me out."

Although the St. Mary's Springs' team didn't win a state title this season, Whitey says he's ready for another run to state next year.

"I'm coming back for my 22nd year to keep on helping these boys for this program," Whitey said. "My health keeps going, and my health is fine. I like doing this. I like coming to practice every day with these boys."