They are four sisters — four volatile sisters who love each other, fight with each other, compete with each other and always have each other’s backs.
As student-athletes at Catholic Central High School in Burlington the better part of this decade, the four Klein sisters have been cornering the market with varsity athletic letters. Laura graduated in 2016 with eight. Twins Elizabeth and Emma will graduate Friday with a combined 31. And Julia, a freshman, will have three by the end of this school year.
Each is different in her own way. Their common denominator is that they each want to win in the worst way.
“Anytime we play a game, it gets super intense and normally ends up in a screaming match,” Emma said. “We have never finished a game of Monopoly because someone starts to lose and ends up flipping the board. The game got banned from our house due to the late-night screaming matches.”
It’s difficult to imagine that with these three girls. They are polite, respectful and sweet-natured when you meet them. Each of them are honor students with ambitious career goals. Catholic Central athletic director Tom Aldrich considers the Klein sisters “to be outstanding individuals to begin with and that’s what it takes to juggle all the things they’re doing.”
But when it comes to succeeding during competition with each other, it’s not uncommon for the volume to be turned up to an ear-piercing level.
“Growing up, we turned everything into a competition,” Elizabeth said. “As of right now, we actually have Trivial Pursuit banned from our house because we all started screaming at each other too much. Our competitive drive even destroyed boards or cards.
“One of our most-used sayings is, ‘If you ain’t cheating, you ain’t trying.’ “
The other part of this dynamic is that they can get on each other’s cases, but no one else can. Mess with a Klein sister during competition at your own peril.
“They were playing club soccer and a girl took Emma out and it resulted in a broken collarbone,” said their mother, the former Kathryn Gebhardt, who graduated from Catholic Central in 1984. “Steam was coming out of Elizabeth’s ears. She was like, ‘Look out, I’m coming to get you.’ Do not mess with her sister.
“It’s amazing how they can be so competitive at home, but when they’re on a team, they play so well together.”
All three sisters are competing concurrently in soccer and track and each played basketball during the winter. Last fall, Elizabeth and Julia each played volleyball while Emma ran cross country.
And they having been doing more than just earning letters. Elizabeth started on a volleyball team that won the WIAA Division 4 championship last November. All three were instrumental in the Lady Toppers’ basketball team improving to 15-9 last season after going 7-17 the previous year.
Julia broke a 22-year school record in the triple jump this spring. Each have been scoring points in droves for a young soccer program that is 5-3-2.
The list of accomplishments go on and on. The foundation has been their parents, Robert and Kathryn, who inspired them to compete and then gave them every opportunity to do so.
“The best thing my parents ever did for us is make us play every sport there was,” Elizabeth said. “As of right now, I only play four sports, but when we were little, they had us playing softball, gymnastics, golf and swimming. By doing that, we were able to find what we were best at. They also never gave us the chance to quit or skip practices.”
Robert and Kathryn did far more than that.
“Especially during middle school, it was hard for my parents to get us to practice or games due to the fact that we were all in different places, but they made it work,” Emma said. “We never missed a game or a practice due to not having a ride.
“After games or meets when I didn’t believe I played particularly well, my dad would work with me on what I thought went wrong or how I could improve on a certain aspect of my game.”
Also setting the tone was older sister Laura, who is running track for the University of Dubuque (Iowa). She inspired her younger sisters. Sometimes, she antagonized them. And she was an ultimate role model.
“As of now, we’re best friends, but growing up, she hated me,” Elizabeth said of Laura. “By her beating me up and beating me in everything made me want to beat her twice as much. So that gave me my biggest drive to win.”
Added Emma, “As a freshman, she would be one of the only girls to go to early-morning workouts in the summer to lift weights and get shots up. Even after working out in the morning, she would go for a run to stay in shape. On the basketball court, she wasn’t the tallest, but she was leading the conference in rebounding because she was determined to get the ball.”
And now that legacy is being passed on to Julia, who will carry on by herself for the next three years at Catholic Central. Emma is moving on to Edgewood College in Madison to pursue biology. Elizabeth will enroll at UW-Whitewater and major in human resources.
“It will take some getting used to,” Julia said. “ I have looked up to them for many years. They always make sure I’m at the gym, even when I don’t want to be. I know I will miss their leadership next year.”
But she will certainly still be hearing their voices.
“They are always there for me when I’m having a bad day,” she said. “And they are the first ones to tell me if I did something good.
“It’s amazing having your older sisters push you. They helped make me the athlete I am today.”