Tony Huml is the Founder and President of Close The Gate Hoops, Co-Founder of Janesville Basketball Association, Founder of Local Vision TV, a former Social Studies Teacher, Forward Janesville’s 2013 Entrepreneur of the Year, and a 2017 Janesville Hall of Fame Inductee.
Where were you born?
Both of my parents, Bob and Mary Huml, are from Lake Geneva, so I was born at Elkhorn Lakeland Hospital in 1970. In 1972, our family home was destroyed by fire when my brother, Dean, turned on the TV and it became so hot that the curtains became engulfed in flames. Shortly after the fire, my Dad‘s work as a Northwestern Mutual Life agent brought us to Janesville.
What are some of your childhood memories?
We grew up in Briarcrest when there were only six houses in that neighborhood. It was a great place to grow up, where you didn’t really lock your door and you could roam around the neighborhood without worry. Everyone knew each other well and there was very little traffic, so we played football in the street, rode bikes everywhere and pretty much had a carefree childhood. I remain close to some of my neighbors from that era of my life.
My parents were and continue to be extremely supportive of any and every endeavor I’ve ever undertaken. I’m blessed with 4 siblings. My sister, Laurie, is the oldest, followed by Bob the third, Chris and Dean. There was never a dull moment at our house, as my spirited brothers enjoyed roughhousing like so many youngsters did in those times.
Luckily, I was the youngest and, for the most part, kept out of the fray. God bless my Mom for putting up with all of us, as Dad was the sole income provider and wasn’t always around for the fireworks! Mom was a full-time homemaker, mother and referee — arguably a much more difficult job than Dad’s. Together they provided us with amazing opportunities that have resulted in wonderful lives for their kids, who have provided 8 grandkids and 1 great-grandchild.
When we weren’t playing football on the street, baseball at the Gabower’s baseball diamond or basketball at my house, my buddies and I would ride bikes around Janesville. We would look for a pick-up basketball game or hang out at one of their houses playing Atari Space Invaders or Intelevision football or basketball.
You may have found us fishing or ice skating at Traxler Park, sledding at Riverside Park (hole #15, I believe), riding our bikes down “rush hill” by Meyers Farm, or pick up football in the “bowl” behind Craig HS. Of course, we frequented the Rock County 4-H Fair, trying to scrape up enough money to get in each day.
Where did you go to school and what were some of your favorite activities?
I went to Harrison Elementary School for Kindergarten where Mrs. Fox was the kindest, yet most firm, teacher I can remember. She once had a fire truck come visit, which prompted lots of excitement and curious kids wanting to know “what this button does.”
For grades 1 through 8, I attended St Mary’s school where I learned the value of the Golden Rule, as well as the importance of black and white expectations. You always knew the rules ahead of time, and if they were broken, you always knew the consequences ahead of time, as well. There was no gray area.
This concept boded well for me as I moved on to Marshall Jr. High for 9th grade, before jumping to Craig High School for 10-12.
Along my school journey, I developed a passion for basketball. I credit a long list of excellent, influential coaches that encouraged me/us and kept me engaged. I quickly learned the value of WE over ME, that the team is more important than any individual.
This concept transferred wonderfully into other facets of my life as I grew older: classroom, workplace, relationships.
My coaches were as follows: Dennis Gallagher – 5th grade; Jim Ryan – 6th grade; Jim Bohlman and Ralph Eckert – 7th and 8th grade; David Martinson – 9th grade; Bob Suter (assisted by Tom Neuenschwander) – 10th through 12th grade. Coaches Suter and Neuenschwander became and remain lifelong friends and mentors.
A circle of life moment developed this year as Coach Suter, assistant on Craig’s Varsity this year, is now coaching my son, Jack. It’s truly a blessing to see them working together!
What happened after high school?
After graduating from Craig in 1988, I was fortunate enough to continue playing basketball in college. After winning the Wisconsin Junior College State Championship as a member of Coach Dave Gibbs U-Rock Unicorns, I was recruited to play at the University of Minnesota-Morris. There we peaked at the right time, my senior year, and advanced to the 3rd round of the NAIA Division 1 National Tournament in Kansas City.
Tell me about your work in Rock County.
Needless to say, the game of basketball provided me great opportunities. It would continue to provide opportunities throughout my lifetime, even to this day.
Upon earning my degree in education and social sciences, I taught high school social studies for 10 years (Monticello HS – 1 year, Craig HS – 2 yrs., Rock River Charter School -7 yrs.).
In 2004, I made a career change into marketing for Bliss Communications, selling advertising for WCLO/WJVL and the Gazettextra.
Then, in 2010, I launched Local Vision TV, an online video news source covering Rock County, as well as providing online marketing for Rock County businesses. Though short lived, this was an incredible learning experience for me on so many levels.
Had the economy been stronger in Rock County and technology just a bit further along, I truly believe LVTV would be thriving today. Video news clips were quite new at the time and many phones/tablets and computers weren’t able to handle the technology necessary to view video without stalling and buffering. Today, video news is a norm. Timing is everything, so they say!
After the closing of Local Vision TV in 2013, I combined my video production skills with my basketball coaching background and began creating instructional DVDs for players and coaches.
Shortly thereafter, I began training kids how to play basketball, much like a piano teacher, on a weekly basis. I would train individuals and small groups.
My basketball videos and training are now under one umbrella called “Close The Gate Hoops,” named after a defensive analogy I use in my teaching.
Due to my current health situation, I’ve had to put the training portion of my business on hold. I hope to one day return to training on the court!
Tell me about some of your community involvement.
While teaching at the Rock River Charter School, I had the pleasure of serving on the Peace Park Development Committee. It was an amazing process to see this project through, from design to build completion. My students and I were part of the physical build, which is something all of us can take pride in every time we visit.
In 2012, I was fortunate to co-found the Janesville Basketball Association (JBA), a community organization focused on building skills and character for boys and girls in 4th-8th grades. Today, the JBA serves more than 200 kids, offering skills sessions, a 12-game in-house league, a 3 on 3 experience, and the opportunity for kids to try out for travel teams. It’s truly rewarding to pull into the Craig or Parker High School parking lots on Saturday mornings and not be able to find a parking spot!
All in all, I’ve tried to give back to the community that has given so much to me and my family.
You are also known as a talented and creative musician. Tell me about that side of Tony Huml.
When my basketball playing career ended in college, I felt a void. After playing competitively since 5th grade, suddenly there was no need to work on my game, no practices after or before school, no weekend games or tournaments.
Then one day, a friend lent me his guitar. I noodled aimlessly for a while until my cousin was patient enough to teach me the main riffs of two songs: “Dust in The Wind” and “Stairway to Heaven.” I was hooked! The hours I would spend shooting or ball handling were now replaced with learning “Sweet Child o’ Mine” and other songs of the day.
Noodling soon turned into writing, which turned into trying to get my songs published and heard on the radio. I’ll never forget the morning I was shaving about 6:30 a.m. Bad Company’s “Feel Like Making Love” was followed by Tony Huml’s “Brown Apple” during Sly in the Morning’s segment on 101.5 FM! It was a bit surreal hearing my song coming out of the clock radio sitting on my sink! That followed with air play on 105.5 Triple M in Madison where my band at the time, Abby Normal, did a live Studio M performance.
Music became my new passion and still runs through my blood today. The band I spent most of my time with, HK (Huml and Kelly, after Dan Kelly, my best friend and guitar writing partner) recorded 3 CDs and is currently working on a 4th.
Like I have through basketball, I’ve met so many amazing people in the local music scene. The talent in our community is truly remarkable.
Can you tell me a bit about your family and personal life?
Just as my parents were so supportive of me and my siblings, my wife, Jen and I, take the same approach with our three kids: Jack 16, Kate 14, Liz 11. We will support any of their endeavors, so long as they are devoting time and energy into said endeavor. At the end of the day, we just want them each to find a passion that motivates them.
While I’ve been blessed with so many wonderful life experiences, like so many of us, I’ve had to face some health adversity. In 2009, I was diagnosed with a rare form of thyroid cancer, for which there is no cure or effective chemotherapy.
With the tremendous support of God, family and friends, I’ve outlived a number of statistics. I attribute this to faith, a positive attitude, and a wife who is as strong as they come.
I knew marrying a registered nurse was a good idea! Jen has been amazing over the past 14 months, as I’ve been pretty much chair-bound for 12 of those months, not able to help with any chores or carting kids around to their various activities.
It’s been quite a challenge for us both. But we vowed to approach this as a team, and our kids have been equally strong and helpful. We keep them up to date on my health situation and encourage them to always ask questions. The team approach (basketball again!) has served us well.
I’ve made enough progress over the last couple months that I’m able to do house work and attend some of the kids’ activities (along with picking up my guitar!). This new-found energy has been an absolute blessing.
We continue to pray for progressive healing and perhaps one day can return to coaching/training on the basketball court.
If you could impart some advice or wisdom for others, what would that be?
If I could impart some wisdom I’ve gained through my health experiences, I would say it has brought me peace to worry only about the things I can control. If I can’t control it, I simply hand it off to God and free my mind from it. I guess compartmentalization can be a gift in some instances, but I try not to become preoccupied with things I can’t control.
Furthermore, Coach Bob Suter always used to say “Things are never as bad as they seem, nor are they as good”. Those words have stuck with me all these years and apply now more than ever.
Lastly, my Dad would always say, “It could always be worse,” or “There’s always someone who has it worse.” In other words, don’t feel sorry for yourself, because we all have our share of adversity.
What is it about Rock County that has kept you here?
I’m proud to have called Rock County home for my entire 47 years. Growing up in Janesville provided me with a fun-filled, safe childhood, offering numerous opportunities in athletics and the arts alike.
As a result, Jen and I chose Janesville to bring up our own kids, who now attend St. John Vianney and Craig HS. They, too, are experiencing a fun-filled, safe childhood.
“It has brought me peace to worry only about the things I can control. If I can’t control it, I simply hand it off to God and free my mind from it.”
~ Tony Huml