Staying loose helps Sobotta to golf hall of fame


            Longtime Arcadia golf coach Mike Sobotta was recently inducted into the Golf Coaches of Wisconsin Hall of Fame. Joining him at the induction were former players (from left) Josh Klimek, Eric Sonsalla, Matt Wozney, Sobotta, Andy Meinerz and Mitch Sobotta.             (Submitted photo)

“If it wasn’t for my father, I wouldn’t be playing, coaching or have gotten inducted into the hall of fame,” Sobotta said.

Anyone who golfed for Mike Sobotta, likely laughed while they were on the course. 

“I guess, when I play myself, I play best when I’m loose,” Sobotta said. “The kids are going to press as much as possible, but you can throw in a couple of jokes once in a while or throw a mask on once in a while.”

That philosophy proved to be a successful one for Sobotta. The coach known at least partly for his humor — whether it be jokes, goofy masks or putting divots on the parts of his head that lack hair — was inducted into the Golf Coaches Association of Wisconsin Hall of Fame on June 22. 

Sobotta became the coach of the Arcadia boys golf program in 1989 when then-Arcadia Athletic Director and his own father-in-law Jim Crowley asked if he would be interested. 

“I said, ‘I can do that. Let’s try it,’” Sobotta said.

It wasn’t long until the new coach turned the program into a powerhouse, though he is reluctant to  to take credit.

The Raiders qualified for the state tournament in 1990, the first of 10 straight appearances. They were the state runner-up in 1991, 1996 and 1999. 

While the boys program went through a 10-year period in which they didn’t advance to the state tournament, Sobotta was still a regular at University Ridge with the girls program he started in 1999. That team qualified for the state tournament in 2003, 2004, 2005, 2008, 2015, 2016 and 2018. They were the state runner-up in 2008. 

Sobotta got the boys program back to the state tournament in 2009 and, in 2010, Sobotta’s Raiders won the state title. 

That title may never have been if not for Sobotta’s ability to keep his team calm.

“I just tried to stay positive. People were telling me that we were not playing very well. I think a lot of time they were pressing,” Sobotta said, noting that the rain that fell all day added to the difficulties as a 14-stroke lead slowly disappeared. “I was hoping it would rain harder and they would cancel the second day. There’s not too much you can say.” 

His team came through, holding on to win the state title by four strokes. 

Golf has proven to be a family game for Sobotta. His son Mitch led his state championship team. His daughter, Meghan, golfed on his first state tournament-qualifying girls team. Meghan later became an All American at University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire and took over as coach of that program, earning Wisconsin Intercollegiate Athletic Conference Coach of the Year honors in 2011. Mitch currently leads the Arcadia boys program.

Mike credits his father, Rollie, for introducing him to the game and keeping him in it, noting a time he quit, but was pulled back in. 

Sobotta had a particularly tough day on the course when he was 12 or 13 and quit the sport for about 10 days. 

 “My dad sat me down and said ‘I see you’re not golfing anymore.’ I said ‘yeah, I suck,’” Sobotta said.  “He said, ‘you can play your whole life’ so I tried to not let my pride get in the way.” 

He returned to the course shortly after and the rest, as they say, is history.

“If it wasn’t for my father, I wouldn’t be playing, coaching or have gotten inducted into the hall of fame,” Sobotta said.

It was his brother, Paul, who helped him realized he enjoyed coaching at a young age. Mike noted that Paul was about six years younger than him so he helped him and enjoyed seeing him improve. 

It wasn’t just family  helping Sobotta along the way. He noted the number of coaches who made the hall of fame in other sports who he was able to rely on. Those coaches included Crowley (wrestling), Bill Lockington (wrestling), Lynn Sonnentag (track and field) and Dick Fredrickson (wrestling and track and field) as well as some others who are not yet inducted into their hall of fames, such as Derek Updike (football), Mike Shuda (wrestling), Louie Ferguson (baseball) and Paul Anderson (girls basketball and baseball).

“It wasn’t the game of golf, but you still have to manage kids in certain ways. You need to manage kids and you need to manage parents, that’s always a challenge,” Sobotta said. “They call it networking, but I was stealing a lot of information from other people.” 

Among the favorite memories Sobotta has, he noted coaching two of his three children, winning the state title and coaching individual state champion Josh Klimek. He also mentioned winning all three sudden-death playoff holes his teams competed in. 

His teams were at their best on the biggest stages as Sobotta tried to keep them loose.

“I don’t know if I’ve ever asked a kid how they’re playing or how they’ve scored,” Sobotta said. “Don’t put stress on the final score, put emphasis on the process of playing well, keeping your attitude and trying to stay positive. You’ll never perfect the game of golf, but you can come kind of close some days.” 

Sobotta also emphasized keeping the game friendly amongst competitors. 

“I think sometimes we put too much emphasis on the final score. Your competition is the golf course, try to make friends as you play,” Sobotta said. “If you see your opponent hit a good shot, you better compliment them.”

Despite his lengthy resume, Sobotta said he was surprised to get the call that he had made the hall of fame. “People were telling me this and that, but you don’t really believe it until it happens.”  

For the success, Sobotta credits those who surrounded  him. He noted AD Bruce Schweisthal allowing his teams to play in competitive out-of-conference tournaments, the WIAA introducing a third division right as began coaching, parents of his athletes and his wife for taking care of their children while he coached. 

He mentioned how local businesses helped fund uniforms and golf balls. He estimated that the Arcadia Credit Union has donated close to $10,000 for uniforms through the years. He said the State Bank of Arcadia would regularly donate golf balls. 

The community was a part of the success, Sobotta said, mentioning how adults at the Arcadia Country Club would greet his athletes when they got off the bus from a road match. 

Sobotta doesn’t see his hall of fame induction as an individual honor. 

“I’m very humbled,” Sobotta said. “It’s not just me, it’s us. We’re a part of a team. Everybody who played for me should pat themselves on the back. Even if that junior varsity kid who was the team’s sixth, seventh or eighth golfer because they pushed a varsity kid to be better.” 

Sobotta retired from coaching the boys team following the 2010 state title, though he now is an assistant for his son. He remains as the coach of the girls team and has no plans to stop, saying he may reevaluate in a few years. 

“They’re paying me for something I really enjoy doing.”

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