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Back during noon recesses at St. Joseph Elementary School in Racine in the early 1980s, Joel Paar was a student who never concerned himself with picking the most athletic classmates for sporting events.

All he focused on was choosing who was available and then letting sheer desire take care of the rest.

“I would take a lesser team to try and get those guys to play better,” recalls of being a student at St. Joseph.

Nearly 40 years later, that continues to be Paar’s philosophy. And he is already putting that to use as the new coach of the Oak Creek High School football team, which is one of the most prestigious programs in southeast Wisconsin.

The 48-year-old Paar, a 1986 St. Catherine’s High School graduate, was named last Tuesday to replace Mike Bartholomew, who had served as the Knights’ coach since 2007. Bartholomew plans to move to Las Vegas.

Paar, a member of Oak Creek’s faculty since 1992, joined the football staff in 1997, when former coach Joe Koch led the team to the first of two straight appearances in the WIAA Division 1 championship game (the Knights lost both games by a total of nine points). He has served as running backs coach and junior varsity head coach under Bartholomew at Oak Creek for the last seven years.

“I know I’m prepared because of the amount of time and effort I put in,” Paar said. “Being an assistant allowed me to learn from multiple styles of coaches. Working with the lower levels really gets you out there. You’re game-planning, your managing, you’re controlling and you’re doing stuff. That value can’t be overlooked.”

Paar will apply those attributes to Oak Creek’s program, which was hindered by injuries and finished with a 6-4 record. One of the Knights’ losses was by a 64-29 score to Horlick Oct. 29.

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Bartholomew feels his successor is just the right person to breathe new life into the program.

“To me, the most important thing of coaching is the ability to communicate with kids,” Bartholomew said. “And I’ve never met anybody like him. He has just a tremendous ability to communicate with them, to motivate them, yet still be tough with them — but in a positive manner.

“I just think he gets the most out of his players. And I think he can get our numbers back up and he can motivate kids to do what they need do in the offseason.”

Paar once used those coaching skills in Racine. After coaching the Oak Creek baseball program from 1994-99, he took a year off before taking over the baseball program at The Prairie School, which annually was hindered by low numbers.

In 2005, the last season Prairie fielded a baseball program before it merged with Racine Lutheran, Paar miraculously led a team that featured just 11 players a 9-7 record and to within one victory of qualifying for the state tournament.

Paar, who started at tight end under coach Bill Drummond during the 1984 and ‘85 seasons at St. Catherine’s, faces a challenge in steering the Knights into a new direction. But Quinn Stulo, whom Paar said will be his starting quarterback next season, feels it’s only a matter of time before that happens.

“He’s so positive,” Stulo said. “Even when players are down, he is always that person to go to. Before every game, before we would go out to stretch and stuff, he would talk to our team for about five minutes and get us real hyped up and get our spirits high.

“For me to play my senior year for him is a great honor.”

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