Mike Novak's 29 years at Brown Deer have come full circle
Community, school on the rise
In his prepared statements following the announcement that he was donating $100,000 to the school rebuilding project, former Brown Deer basketball star and NBA player Steve Novak said he was "destined to be a Falcon because that's who his dad was (see separate story)."
That much is very true. Mike Novak has worked 29 years at Brown Deer, teaching, coaching basketball along with a little track (his name is on the 1987 WIAA state Division 2 championship girls track trophy), all the way up to his present day occupation of athletic director.
He's watched the district grow and prosper and he's observed it as its facilities have aged and the enrollment has declined. And as he's approaching retirement (he won't say when that is as he has to help put another basketball-playing daughter, Maggie, through college soon), he's seen the village and school district that has been his home for most of his adult life have a renaissance.
To say he is heartened by the results of Brown Deer's $22 million referendum project has wrought is like saying he would love to see a state basketball championship come to the school.
Because the improved classrooms, the new commons, the new art rooms and, of course, the vast new, beautiful multipurpose field house has given a new bounce to the step of this former high school power forward who played prep ball alongside the legendary Mickey Crowe.
"To have a place like this really helps give an identity to the school," Mike said. "It's always been known as a bedroom community (for Milwaukee). People have spoken about Northridge (the now defunct shopping mall) as part of us, but that's really in Milwaukee, too.
"But to have a field house of this caliber is amazing. I've been fielding phone calls from an Oklahoma coach talking about a tournament here next winter. This just lets everybody know that this is a caring community, that we look out for our kids. This gives us the chance to host large-scale events. Gives us some large-scale opportunities, because this place is a gem."
He was immensely proud of his son's generous donation and of the obvious pride the 6-10 Steve showed in his family, school and community.
"That's what's special about Steve," Mike said. "We're proud of all our children. We feel they're all gifted and blessed, but he's a deep thinker and well studied. You could look at the points of emphasis he made. He knew a lot of things had to fall into place to make him who he is and to get as far in life as he has. He feels blessed.
"And he does have a lot of pride. He knows it's all about what we do with our lives that counts. That what we do now has an impact on future generations. He knows it helps keep the tree growing straight."
That includes embracing some long-held family dreams. Steve, in his prepared remarks, talked about Mike's dreams of the "Nova-Dome" at Brown Deer. That dream had a basis in reality, Mike said.
"I took a graduate course at (UW) La Crosse in athletic facility planning," he said, "and I sort of based my ideas (for Brown Deer) on the UNI-Dome at Northern Iowa (University). That's where that all came from. As for right now (the new field house), all you have to do is use a little imagination and try to see a Dome with a flat roof (laughs)."
Well kept secret
Mike noted that it took some effort to keep Steve's donation and impact on the project a secret from him, but even then, the elder Novak could just laugh as he recounted in his head all the clues that he missed.
"I was blown away by this all," he said. "It was funny. I was talking to Steve about a month ago and noted that his (NBA) game with Chicago was on the 11th and that our dedication was on the 10th. I thought it would be great if he could come up and see the place (with Mike not knowing that was how it was arranged all along).
"Everyone was very good and sneaky about it (laughs). I remember that day even talking to Dr. Kerr (Superintendent Deb) about Steve coming up and she even played along with it, saying how great that was."
But still, Mike had one last chance to ascertain what was going on the day of the event. He was at an athletic director's meeting from about noon to 2:30 p.m. The workmen were finishing up the sign that said "The Brown Deer Novak Family Field House" and they got a tarp up over the lettering just before Mike got back from his meeting.
"Just in time," he laughed. "The funny thing was, was that they hadn't covered it up right away so there still would have been a chance for me to see it (but I still missed it)."
But this family doesn't miss many things of consequence. Mike then came back to Steve's patience with the endless round of autographs and photos that he was subjected to after the ceremonies were finished.
Mike said that went back to when Steve was small, and Mike and Steve waited at the Brewers Clubhouse entrance after a game with one other small boy. It was long after the game was over, and finally a pitcher (who won't be named) came out, gruffly assessed the situation, looked at both boys and said "Only one autograph" and then went to the other boy as opposed to Steve and signed his ball.
After that, the guy just kept walking leaving Steve and Mike empty-handed.
"Steve used that as a lesson," Mike said. "I grew up with Bart Starr (the Packers Hall of Fame quarterback) who always made time and lined up the kids in front of his car and signed until everyone was done.
"Steve wants to be a good role model. He wants to be just like that. He realizes who he is and doesn't take it for granted."
Just as his father never did in anything he's ever done in the past 29 years.
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