Written by Bobby Gerome '21, The Eye
The Wirtz Athlete of the Year Award featured a wealth of quality candidates this year. The Class of 2020 has many incredible student-athletes who are very deserving of the respected award.
This year, the Wirtz Athlete of the Year is Michael Boehm.
Boehm was a star for the hockey and lacrosse teams in his four years at Saint Ignatius. He helped the Ice Cats win three state championships and then to reach the State Semifinal this year before the outbreak of COVID-19. He also carried the Lax Cats to two OHSAA State Championship appearances.
The Wirtz Athlete of the Year Award is the most prestigious award an athlete at Saint Ignatius can earn. The award is named after John Wirtz, a Saint Ignatius legend who, in 28 years, served as athletic director, and coach for the football, basketball, and baseball teams. With the basketball team, Wirtz was an 8-time Senate League champion, a city champion, and a Class A state semifinalist in 1953. Wirtz served as the head baseball coach for three years, and in two of those three years, the team won the city championship. Finally, as head football coach, Wirtz won four city championships along with ten league championships. Wirtz was a true Ignatius man who helped make the Wildcat athletics program one of the most respected programs in the area, and for that, the most worthy athlete every year receives the valued award that honors him.
In order to obtain eligibility for the award, a student-athlete must have played at least two sports at Saint Ignatius, and have made a significant impact on the teams he played on. The athlete must also have been a good teammate, coachable, and a good student off of the field. The athletes that are initially in the running for the award are nominated by their coaches. Once all of the athletes are nominated, the student body votes for the winner of the award.
Boehm excelled at both hockey and lacrosse at Saint Ignatius. As a hockey player, the senior defenseman scored 6 goals and had 18 assists. In his Ignatius career, he finished with 41 goals and 76 points. Also, he was a three-time All-Ohio honoree. He won honorable mention as a sophomore, All-Ohio first team as a junior, and was on the All-Ohio first team along with being the defensive player of the year this past season.
“It's difficult to overstate what Michael meant to our team,” said Head Hockey Coach Pat O’Rourke ‘90. “First of all, he is very gifted athletically. But even more than that, his character and intangibles are off the charts. He leads by example, as well as vocally, every day of his life. He had a positive style of leadership, which I really like - he encouraged the younger kids, didn't berate them. He also had the ability to play both forward and defense, so we could employ him like a Swiss Army knife which was a huge advantage going into every game. Most guys prefer to play forward because you score more goals up there and there's less responsibility, but we probably used Michael at defense 75% of the time because that's what was best for the team. He never complained once. And everybody else knew it. They knew that Michael could have racked up more points at forward and that he was sacrificing for the good of the team. I mean, wow - what leadership. So when we asked other players to do similar things, how could they say no?”
Coach O’Rourke also talked about Michael’s character off of the ice, and how well he carried himself.
“Michael brought consistency every day, without fail - in the classroom, on the ice, in the weight room,” said O’Rourke. “He was relentlessly hard-working, upbeat and positive. And he's not perfect as some people may think - Michael has his struggles, too, just like we all do. But he makes a choice every day to carry himself that way. What a great way to go through life.”
Michael was not only a great player, teammate, and leader on the ice, he was also an outstanding lacrosse player for the Wildcats.
Michael feels blessed to win the award.
“Winning the award means a lot to me. If you look at the history and the past winners of the award, it is evident that this award is something special,” Boehm said. “With that being said, I wouldn’t be anywhere close to winning the award without the help of friends, family, teammates, coaches, classmates, teachers, and faculty the past four years at Ignatius. While I may be receiving the award, those people have pushed me in ways I didn’t think were possible, so they deserve all the credit for the award as well.”
Lacrosse coach Garen Distelhorst ’96 talked about how much Michael meant to the lacrosse program.
“Michael has meant more to our program than you can imagine. He has been the catalyst of the offense since day 1 of his freshman year and during his time he's developed into one of the finest leaders I've coached,” said Distelhorst. “Michael has brought national attention to Saint Ignatius lacrosse and along the way handled every single situation with class and dignity. He is one of a kind and I'm proud to have coached him.”
Boehm was the third player in school history to be a two-time All-American lacrosse player. He made the All-Ohio first team in 2018 and 2019, and made the All-Midwest team three times. In 2019, Boehm was the All-Midwest player of the year, the 2019 All-Region player of the year, and the Adam S. Hamilton award winner. Along with that, Boehm was a finalist for the Male High School Athlete of the Year award at the 2019 Greater Cleveland Sports Awards.
As a junior, Michael scored 71 goals, tallied 47 assists, and notched 118 points, all school records. In his time at Saint Ignatius, Boehm scored 181 goals, 119 assists, and tallied 300. Even without playing a senior season, Boehm still holds all season and career offensive records for the Wildcats. He was selected to play in the 2020 Adrenaline All-American Game and the 2019 Under Armour All-American Underclass Tournament. Michael will play his next four years of lacrosse at the University of Michigan, committing to the Wolverines before playing a minute as a Wildcat.
“Michael’s talent and skill on the lacrosse field speaks for itself,” said Coach Wynocker ‘91. “Even without having a senior season, Michael will go down as the most accomplished, and in most people’s eyes, the best lacrosse player ever to play at Saint Ignatius. But what is most impressive about Michael is the stuff that people outside of our program don’t get to see. He works harder than anyone all year round, for example he had the highest weight room attendance by a lot. He leads by example, as he works hard in every drill in practice and is often the last to leave after getting in extra work after practice. He brought a whole new level of intensity to captains’ practices, which elevated the whole program as the underclassman got to see and learn from him what it takes to be a great player. He is a great leader, teammate, and friend to players of all grades and abilities in our program. He was elected captain as a junior, which is extremely rare, and again as a senior.”
Coach Distelhorst added more about Michael earning this award, and how much of a hard worker he is.
“Michael is obviously a gifted athlete and a tremendous student, but what makes him so deserving of this award and makes him a true Ignatius man is how hard he works,” said the assistant coach. “Being talented is not enough for Michael. He works as hard as any athlete I've been around and has maximized his ability.”
Boehm has plenty of great memories from playing lacrosse and hockey.
“It is so hard to pick out singular memories from either sport. Whether it is winning big games or state championships, there are too many great memories from both sports to pick out my favorites,” Boehm said. “I believe the thing I’ll take away and remember the longest is the friendships I’ve made from playing hockey and lacrosse. I know it’s cliche, but these friendships will last a lifetime, and the fun times in the locker room, bus, hotel, etc. will always stick with me.”
The field of athletes nominated for the award this year was one of the most talented groups ever. Coach O’Rourke added on to how Michael stood out.
“Well, I do have to say that this Wirtz Award field is one of the most crowded, most accomplished I've ever seen,” said the veteran coach. “I truly think there were 5-10 other guys who in any other year might have come away with the prize. They just had the misfortune to run up against a generational talent and a genuinely super kid. But this Class of 2020 was loaded and that's part of what makes the whole pandemic (relatively speaking of course) so disappointing - we likely missed out on a ton of great performances by some of these incredible athletes. I think it's fair to say that a few state titles might have been left on the field, too…”
As mentioned earlier, an athlete must be an Ignatius man on and off the field. When asked about his favorite memory with Boehm, and how much he impressed him off the ice, Coach O’Rourke said it best.
“Well, I've known Michael literally since he was in a stroller and I coached his older brother, Joey, so this one will be tough. I guess I would say how nice he is to special-needs students. I have seen that numerous times and I'm always impressed. Michael is kind to everyone, doesn't judge, and just meets them on their own terms. Boy, will we miss him. We wish him the best of luck at Michigan and can't wait to see what he accomplishes as he makes his way in this world. I am not afraid to say that I love this young man. Godspeed.”