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Zoe Uihlein '21 Wins Prestigious Honor

USM senior and girls’ hockey team captain was recognized for her leadership, compassion, and hard work both on and off the ice.

Zoe Uihlein ’21 was not sure if she would get an actual, physical prize when she was named the winner of the annual Jeff Sauer Award, which recognizes the community service, volunteerism, good citizenship and academic performance made by a prep hockey player, but the University School of Milwaukee senior said the reward truly does not matter. “Just kind of the honor, I guess. That’s plenty for me. That’s more than enough,” she said.

She explained that she already had something far better than a certificate, plaque, or trophy anyway. She has a great memory of time spent with the namesake of the memorial award, which is far more valuable to her.

Zoe Uihlein skates after the puck during a hockey game.

“My dad is actually the doctor for the Paralympic sled hockey team, so I got the pleasure of meeting coach Sauer, and it was a really awesome experience. He was so kind and engaging to me,” she recalled. “When I was walking around the room, asking some of the athletes for autographs, I went up to him to ask him, and he took a paper plate and gave me a pen and asked for mine instead. That was actually such an amazing moment for me. Because of that, I got really into adaptive sports.”

Sauer made many contributions to the sport, including his tenure as the head coach of the University of Wisconsin-Madison men’s program, during which he guided the Badgers to two national championships. However, as Uihlein explained, he accomplished much more than that. “He was just an amazing person. Not only was he a legendary college coach, he also was the coach for the Paralympics hockey team,” she said. “After he passed away, they decided to make this humanitarian award for people that also showed those humanitarian characteristics and tendencies.”

Her respect for Sauer is what made being in consideration for the award so satisfying, whether she had won or not. “It just meant a lot to be kind of recognized for certain things you do for the community, but even more so to be recognized to have the characteristics that Jeff Sauer had was just the  biggest honor,” Uihlein explained. “It was a crazy feeling. I really did not expect to win the award.”

In order to be eligible, a player needed to be nominated by the coach of their school team. Dan Carey, head coach of the USM co-op, enthusiastically endorsed the Wildcats’ team captain. “As a former NCAA on-ice official, I had the pleasure of knowing coach Sauer and I am keenly aware of the values that he stood for,” he said. “Zoe consistently exemplifies those values, including leadership, teamwork, compassion and community, both on and off the ice.”

Uihlein has contributed more than 100 volunteer hours with the Wisconsin Adaptive Sports Association for both the sled hockey and wheelchair lacrosse teams. “Working with adaptive athletes has been such an amazing experience for me,” she said. “Seeing those athletes work and watching them progress, socially and skillfully, has really broken all my boundaries on stereotypes for disabled athletes and disabled persons in general.”

While she hung up her skates after helping USM reach the state championship game in her senior season and put away her lacrosse gear for the final time in the spring, what seems certain is that she will never stop helping people and making a difference in her community.

Aaron Carlson is sports editor of the Ozaukee County News Graphic. A longer version of this story appeared in the March 4, 2021 issue of the paper.

  • Athletics