Celebrating John Wismer

Family celebrates legacy of John Wismer by supporting coaches, athletes

Hamilton-Wentworth District School Board teacher and football coach John Wismer taught his students and players, by example, the values of hard work, integrity, good character, and commitment over a 33-year career.

When he died of cancer in 2002, his children Stacy, Scott and Jay, along with their mother Betty, immediately established the Wismer Foundation to celebrate school athletics in his name.

The Wismer Foundation supports: a yearly award of $500 each to two Nora Frances Secondary School students (formerly Barton Secondary School) who have been accepted into college or university and who excelled in athletics and academics; a coaching excellence award for a staff member or volunteer coach in both HWDSB and the Catholic board, which donates $1,500 towards the purchase of capital equipment for the school; and the Kids Count Sports Matter Fund, an annual grant for athletic equipment.

“I think he would be thrilled to know we did something that helps students who really need it,” said Stacy Wismer-Frisina. “My dad was always for the underdog.”

The Wismers are also proud to show gratitude to dedicated coaches like their father.
“They do it for the love of the game. Hamilton is a great hotbed of sports and there are outstanding coaches here. We want them to know we appreciate the time they take away from their families,” said Scott.

John Wismer was an offensive linesmen at the University of Toronto, where he studied physical education. He was known for his tenacity and strength on the field, despite his small size. He briefly flirted with a CFL career, but ultimately chose teaching.

He started in 1956 at Central High School, but arrived at Barton in 1961, the year it opened, and taught there the rest of his career. He became head of physical education and coached football for 22 years, winning six city championships by the time he retired in 1989.

He was tough and no-nonsense, but fair, and often a father figure, say his children. He was fiercely proud of the success of his students, some of whom went on to careers in the CFL or scholarships to university. Many became lifelong friends.

Integrity, showing respect, and giving maximum effort were required by their father, say his children.

“I only had one real hero and that was my dad,” said Scott. “I told him that a couple of days before he died. I wanted to be just like him, and I still do.”

John showed up to every sporting event his kids were involved in and Barton’s Friday night football games were a family affair.
Stacy wishes her father could have lived to see that her two of her children – among his eight grandchildren – became teachers and coaches. “My dad would be thrilled by that.”

Annette Tonogai earned the Wismer Award for High School Coaching Excellence this spring, after two previous nominations. The award has special significance because Tonogai arrived at Barton secondary in 1990, the year after John retired.

“He was so respected at the school. He inspired students to do their best at all times,” she said. “It’s humbling to receive an award named after him and it’s a great honour to be named among the past recipients.”

She arrived at Westdale in 2000 and served as head of the physical education department until three years ago, when she became a student success teacher.

For 30 years, Tonogai has coached volleyball, tennis, water polo and badminton, with more than 20 junior and senior water polo championships, along with two tennis championships and eight OFSAA athletes.

“One of the reasons I want to give back is because of all of the teachers who gave their time to me,” she said. “There are such important life lessons to be learned through sports. They teach us that we can overcome obstacles and achieve anything.”
Rachel Kudrenski received a Wismer Award for Academic and Athletic Excellence when she graduated from Nora Francis Henderson in 2018. She played field hockey, volleyball, water polo, hockey, track and field, frisbee, and softball, along with coaching volleyball.

Kudrenski graduated as an Ontario Scholar and now studies photography at Mohawk College.

“When I won the award, I was so grateful that my time volunteering as a coach and on the athletic council was recognized. It meant a lot to be appreciated like that,” Kudrenski said.

For the Wismers, it’s about keeping alive their father’s legacy by recognizing the contributions of others.

“Dad was the one and only in our eyes, but we know there are many others doing exactly what he did: giving countless hours, being important mentors to young people, and making a lifelong impact,” said Jay.

“For him, it was always about doing what was right, not what was easy. There were no shortcuts to success or winning.”