‘Meant a lot:’ Unique program creates bond between Franklin football players, 96-year-old woman

FRANKLIN -- Giving it all on the field led the Franklin High School football team to level three of the playoffs. Even though their season has come to an end, their giving hasn’t.

“We’ve been friends for our entire high school career,” said Zach Martens, Franklin High School senior. “We’ve always played the same position, so we know each other pretty well.”

Teamwork between Martens and Jake Wimmer helped the Franklin Sabers go deep into the high school playoffs in 2018.

Jake Wimmer

“It was definitely fun, exciting, but sad that it’s over because we didn’t make it to where we wanted to go,” said Wimmer, Franklin High School senior.

Their season and their high school careers ended after level three of the playoffs to Muskego High School, who won the state championship.

Martens and Wimmer, however, are still teaming up.

Zach Martens

“Our football season’s over, but we still come here,” said Martens.

"Here" is Mildred Pruszka's house, a few miles from Franklin High School. The two share sodas and spend at least an hour every Saturday with the 96-year-old Mildred.

“I keep them busy,” Pruszka said.

“A lot of yard work. Like in the back, there’s a bunch of overgrown trees that we all cut down, took out,” Wimmer said.

Louis Brown

“I think it’s nice to step outside the comfort zone of the sports realm and let them experience something. It’s a little bit outside their comfort zone, which is good,” said Louis Brown, Franklin High School football coach.

Coach Brown came up with the idea.

“We call it ‘YOST’ -- 'Young and Old Stick Together.' It’s something that I kind of did when I was in high school quite a few years ago,” said Brown. “I’ve always had it in the back of my mind. You know, Franklin kids are pretty lucky to live in Franklin and get all the stuff that they get done for them, so I think it’s important.”

To set it in motion, Brown reached out to Diane May, the manager of UNISON’s Southwest Neighborhood Outreach program.

“We can certainly use the help, because the seniors need, older adults need services,” said May. “It’s a win-win situation, because there is a great need out there for older adults who live in their own homes, and providing services for them. This is one way of getting help for them.”

The win-win extends to the young men.

“I mean, she just shows us how to keep living. Ninety-six, that’s a long time. I’m 17. I can’t even imagine that, but every time we come here, she always has a joke for us and she’s always saying she’s 'cracking the whip on you guys,'" said Martens.

“Because I have to,” Pruszka said.

Quickly, the relationship grew.

“Mildred came to a game earlier this year,” said Brown.

“That was interesting,” Pruszka said.

“She was all over the idea the first time we brought it up, like, ‘hey, you want to go to a game?’ She was like, ‘oh yeah, I’ll go. I’ll go to one.’ Got her a Sabers cap and when I saw her on the sidelines in the stands, I was smiling the whole time,” said Martens.

While the season came up a little short, the team has gained a new fan -- and friend.

“Naturally, I’d have to be with a cap and a shirt,” Pruszka said.

And the players are still winning.

“They are generous and kind and I imagine they would continue that way,” Pruszka said.

“It’s not like I’m just doing work for an hour, not talking to anybody. Like, I talk to Zach, talk to Mildred. It’s a fun bond, I guess, with the three of us,” said Wimmer.

“This year kind of meant a lot to me,” Martens said. “Getting to know Mildred, especially, kind of really deepened the relationship and it was and awesome feeling the entire time.”

Martens and Wimmer will continue to help Pruszka thiis winter and possibly beyond. In all, 22 players were part of "YOST." UNISON is hoping this program extends past Franklin High School to other schools in the area.

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