The Packers have announced that Mark Ekiss of Wausau East High School in Wausau, Wis., has been named the Green Bay Packers High School Coach of the Week.
Ekiss recently wrapped up his second year as an assistant football coach and will enter his third as a track & field coach this spring at Wausau East. He is the perfect illustration of the type of coach who impacts and inspires student athletes both on and off the field, as well as the community as a whole. Prior to coaching at Wausau East, Ekiss was a track & field coach at Boscobel High School in Boscobel, Wis. It was there that he first met Travis Denner, then a 7th grader, who went on to be active in high school football as well as track & field. Coach Ekiss coached Travis during his freshman and sophomore track seasons before taking a new position at Wausau East, but his bond with Travis remained, especially as Travis became an accomplished track athlete. This past spring, Travis advanced to state, where he competed in the 200 meter- and 4X4-relay.
"Travis was the perfect example of being able to put your mind in the right place and achieve whatever it is you want," said Ekiss. "Throughout last spring…he would constantly send me messages saying, 'Coach Ekiss look where I'm going! You lit the fire my freshman and sophomore year and now I'm near the top of the honor roll, I'm qualifying for sectionals, I made it to state!' Then back in June when I got to see him run in La Crosse it was just so cool. Even though I had coached at East for two years, I was able to see him at the finish line, put my arm around him, give him a hug and just that smile of, 'I invest myself, I saw these dreams come true', it's the reason why I think coaching is so important."
Travis graduated from Boscobel this past May and had begun taking classes at Southwest Technical College in the welding program. Tragically, on Tuesday, Aug. 17, Travis was involved in an automobile accident and passed away. Knowing how much Coach Ekiss meant to Travis, his mother Jennifer reached out to inform him of Travis' passing. Ekiss was invited to speak at Travis' funeral, an honor he humbly accepted. Following the funeral, the Boscobel High School administration left the lights on to the track all night and invited all to come out and celebrate Travis' life through the sport he loved. As a special tribute to Travis, Ekiss organized a 4X4 relay with Travis' brother, along with some former teammates, and used a weighted vest that Travis had trained with during his senior year as the baton to pass from one runner to the next.
"It was just such a unique and cool experience because his parents were there seeing that even though Travis isn't physically here on this earth anymore, he has touched so many lives and his spirit is something that all of us are going to hold in our hearts forever," said Ekiss.
Ekiss graduated from La Crosse Central High School in 2009, where he had participated in cross country, basketball, and track. Following high school, Ekiss graduated from UW-La Crosse in 2014. Ekiss began coaching track at his high school alma mater when his former coach, Niels Anderson, offered him a place on his staff in 2012. Ekiss coached there for three years before moving to Wausau, where he coached one season for Wausau East High School. He then began teaching and coaching track & field and cross country at Boscobel High School in 2015, before returning to Wausau East as a track & field coach in 2018. After seeing the impact he was having as a track & field coach, Ekiss was offered a position as an assistant football coach in 2019.
Ekiss is proud to be able to accept the Coach of the Week Award as to tribute Travis' memory.
"When I saw [the message for the award] it was really bittersweet because you know it's in Travis' honor, and I hate that he's not here. But to know that he is still here, just not physically, was really cool."
In a collaboration between Wausau East and Boscobel High School, the $1,000 donation that is part of the Coach of the Week Award will be put toward a memorial or event honoring Travis. In addition to coaching, Ekiss is also a chemistry teacher at Wausau East High School. Ekiss and his wife Jennifer, have one daughter, Norah, and one son, Rowan.
About the Green Bay Packers High School Coach of the Week Program:
The Green Bay Packers Coach of the Week program supports football outreach efforts by giving high school coaches the recognition they deserve. Nominations can be submitted by 10 a.m. every Monday to Ryan Fencl, Packers football outreach specialist, at firstname.lastname@example.org. All nominations should include the nominee's name, address, school, phone number and reason he/she is deserving of the award. Continuing with last year's format, the Packers are seeking coaches to be nominated regardless of their teams' on-field performance. Rather, the nominee could be honored for how they have turned programs around, how the team has impacted the community, or how the coach impacts the players and their families.