By: Jill Wunrow
GREEN BAY, Wis. (GreenBayPhoenix.com) - When Green Bay men's soccer goalie Ryan Wehking (St. Louis, Mo.) was deciding where to play soccer at the collegiate level, the decision was not as clear as most would think. Raised in a family where his father Matt and uncles Mark, Mike and Murray all played soccer at Green Bay, Ryan was not set on being the next Wehking generation to play for the Phoenix.
"Initially I told my dad I did not want to come here just because all the other Wehkings did. I just wanted to do my own thing," said Ryan. "I had offers from other teams that I wasn't really set on and then finally decided to come check out Green Bay."
Ryan visited Green Bay on a Saturday afternoon and loved the campus and camaraderie he witnessed among the players. Ultimately he decided to become the fifth Wehking to don the Phoenix colors. Ryan's decision came just three days before signing day when he and his family were at an auction for his high school, Priory.
"The look on my dad's face was priceless and my uncle Mike stood up and started clapping," Ryan said. "I didn't look at Green Bay because my dad and uncles came here but at the end of the day, that was the deciding factor in making the decision to play at Green Bay."
"I was ecstatic for a couple of reasons, but mainly because I knew the people at Green Bay would take care of him, he would get a good education and I knew first hand UW-Green Bay is a great university," said Matt. "It was a decision he needed to make on his own."
Mark played at Green Bay from 1972-75 and was an All-American selection and captain in 1975 while younger brother Matt was a sophomore on the same team. During Matt's senior year, Murray was a freshman on the same squad. Mike played from 1982-85 and was a First Team All-Conference selection his senior year. In addition, all five Wehkings have had the experience of playing in the NCAA Tournament whether at the Division I or Division II level.
Though Ryan did not break the chain of Wehkings playing soccer at Green Bay, he was the first goalkeeper. Ryan's dad Matt was a midfielder while his uncles were all defenders.
"When I said I wanted to be a goalie I was met with heavy resistance because in our family we were raised to be backs," Ryan said laughing.
"Ryan's decision to be a goalie scared me to death because most of the good goalies I played with were crazy," said Matt laughing. "I said to Ryan, 'you sure you really want to be a goalie?' None of the Wehkings were great at being runners so I guess he was smart early on in deciding to be a goalie so he didn't have to run."
Soccer was introduced to the Wehking family when Matt and his older brother went with their dad, Gene, to his men's basketball league.
"My dad didn't know much about soccer at all," said Matt. "After his basketball league was over, my brother and I would just run around the gym and play hock sock, which was very similar to soccer, with some random guys that invited us to join in."
Though Gene did not know much about the sport his four boys learned to love, he learned quickly. When Matt and his brothers reached sixth grade, there was no soccer coach so Gene agreed to coach his son's team.
Gene is not the only Wehking to coach his son as Matt coached Ryan from the age of four until he was a sophomore in high school.
"Having my dad as a coach was not always a lot of fun because he was a lot harder on me than anyone else," Ryan said. "I do however think it has helped me. No matter what the game, even now I can always hear his voice in the midst of the crowd."
Like a coach and a father, Ryan's dad is always there to pick him up after the not-so-fun times too. For example, Ryan received his first red card in Green Bay's loss at UIC Oct. 1, a game in which is father was in the stands watching.
"I looked right over to him and was almost in tears leaving the field. I felt awful on so many levels," said Ryan after being issued the card. "My dad walked back to the locker room with me, let me calm down a bit and then said, 'you're officially a true Wehking now that you finally got a red card'."
When Ryan's uncle Mark played, he was issued an obvious red card from a referee by the name of Harry Kelderman, the father of current Green Bay head coach Kris Kelderman. A moment the Wehkings and Keldermans still laugh about today.
"Ryan's dad brought that up to me that my dad gave his brother Mark a red card for popping someone right in the face back in the day," Kelderman said laughing. "It was obviously deserved."
Kris Kelderman has a history with the Wehking family as he attended Green Bay games with his father Harry when he was a kid. At the same time Harry was still playing in adult soccer league which included some of the Green Bay players.
"Ryan's dad Matt played on the same team as my dad so I got to know him pretty well," Kris said. "I have a history with the family and they are very loyal to the program and the school here."
When Kelderman was hired at Green Bay, he was without a question thrilled to see the "Wehking" name on the roster, especially in goal.
"One of the first things you do as a head coach when you get a new team is you look at how you are in the goal because of its importance," said Kelderman. "I was confident and comfortable knowing we had a great goalie with experience and quality leadership skills in Ryan."
Ryan may be the only Wehking currently competing for Green Bay, but his dad and uncles are all still in tune with how their alma mater is doing.
"I hear from all of my uncles and talk to my dad after every game," Ryan said. "The best advice my dad has ever given me is that soccer is something I do, it's not who I am."
At the end of the day Ryan is obviously playing for his team, coaches and himself, but he also always remembers he is playing for the Wehkings that came before him, especially his dad.
"It's really special to see that I'm part of something bigger than myself," said the 2009 Horizon League Tournament MVP. "In 2009 all of my uncles and dad were there for alumni night. To hear four Wehkings introduced right in a row gave me the goose bumps, it's something I'll never forget."