Mark Kryka has seen a lot of change at Verona Area High School since coming to the district as a physical education teacher in 1983.
Kryka became the school’s athletic director in 1989, after Bob Kleinfeld resigned, and has been in the position every since.
But as Kryka turns 62 this summer and his contract expires, he doesn’t have the energy to put in the long work weeks anymore. The father of two daughters who have young families (Mollie and Keltie), Kryka said he would like to spend more time with his grandkids.
“My wife has been retired for six years; it’s time that I join her and we start enjoying life a little bit,” he said.
The winters are the longest and most time-consuming just because of the number of nights he worked, he said.
“I usually get to the office at 8 a.m. in the winter and will go home for an hour after school and come back until 9 or 9:30 three or four nights a week,” he said. “A wrestling tournament may be another 12 hours on a Saturday.”
Kryka was named state athletic director of the year in 2015-16 and was one of nine ADs to win the National Distinguished Service award in 2013. He has been nominated for the last two years for the National Federation Citation award, which will be selected this summer. That award is presented next year in Maryland.
Kryka, who said he applied to the vacant AD position in Verona on a whim, noted that the district’s enrollment has nearly tripled since he started, to about 1,600 or 1,700, making the job more difficult than it used to be.
“Luckily, I was able to grow with the school,” Kryka said. “It’s tough to be an athletic director in a larger school, which I think incoming athletic director Joel (Zimba) is finding out.”
Change in plans
Kryka was a three-sport athlete in Antigo, playing football, wrestling and baseball and hoped for a professional career.
That looked like a possibility when was drafted by the Los Angeles Dodgers in 1976.
“I was planning to go to college to play football and baseball, but when I got drafted, that was my lifelong dream, so I decided to try that out for a few years,” he said.
His minor league career was short lived. Kryka tore his rotator cuff in 1977. He signed with the Minnesota Twins in 1978 and was released during spring training in 1979.
Out of baseball, Kryka returned to Wisconsin where he attended UW-La Crosse to get his teaching degree. It was there he met his wife, Margie.
Kryka said all the state titles the Wildcats, formerly the Indians, have won over the years highlighted his time at Verona.
VAHS has won 15 state titles over his time as AD in boys and girls cross country, boys and girls track, boys and girls swimming, girls soccer, girls basketball, girls golf and hockey.
“It’s just fun to go to state,” he said. “We’ve been fortunate enough to have great coaches and kids.”
Several of those athletes have gone on to compete at the highest level of their respective sports.
Casey FitzRandolph was a kicker on the football team before going on to become and Olympic gold medalist in speed skater. Neil Walker won four medals as an Olympic swimmer. Beata Nelson, a national champion swimmer at UW-Madison is also an Olympic hopeful.
Derek Stanley and Jack Skille played in the NFL and NHL, respectively. Catcher Ben Rortvedt was drafted by the Minnesota Twins and has moved up to Class AA.
He’s enjoyed it all, but he’s looking forward to having more free time.
“We’ll probably travel a little bit; I hope to spend more time together and more time with the grandkids,” he said. “Over the last 30 years, I missed a lot of family things. It’s time I started enjoying some of that stuff.”