Wonder Lake Water Ski Show Team credits family, community for fifth national title
The Wonder Lake Water Ski Show Team once again exhibited its trademark dominance by winning its fifth national championship since 1996 at this year's national meet in Janesville, Wisconsin.
In addition to those five titles (won in 1996, 2000, 2001, 2010 and now 2016) the team has finished in the top five at every national tournament — quite the achievement for a team made up of 95 percent local Wonder Lake residents.
"We had a pretty solid summer of skiing," team spokesman Jarret Graff said. "We came into it in May when we first got onto the water with big intentions of winning a national championship this year. It had been six years since our last one. We had some very new leadership taking over with a lot of motivation and momentum and great leadership abilities that got us to where we wanted to be."
That new leader was Dan Hansen, who had previously been a longtime ski team member and returned to the team as the director after sitting out a couple years.
"He had a great vision for our team, Graff said. "He brought us all back together and really got the most out of our three months of summer that we had to ski."
Hansen put together a unique program theme, titled "Cirque du Wonder Lake," a spin on the popular Cirque du Soleil show. The team performed a one-hour program with 13 different skiing acts, which are then scored by a group of seven judges on four different criteria: difficulty, execution, spectator appeal and flow. The judges assign each criteria in each act a score based on a 25-point scale to come up with the final tallies. It was this year's expansive theme that set the Wonder Lake team apart from the 13 other squads that they bested.
"We had a lot of theatrics going on," Graff said. "We had our announcer, who was the ringleader, leading everybody through the show. We also had a unicycle, fire breathing, baton twirling, stuff like that. There's a lot more that goes into it than just skiing."
The team coordinates the functions of 150 members, of which approximately 70 are skiers. In addition to those 70, there are boat drivers, boat riders, a film crew, and docking and equipment staff, along with the families of the skiers doing whatever they can to help out, such as making costumes and collecting donations.
This season the Wonder Lake team also competed in a season kickoff in June, a regional tournament in July and the final ski show of the year, which was held Sept. 4 at Center Beach in Wonder Lake. But despite the skiing season drawing to a close, the members work year-round to achieve their championship greatness.
"We work on the show all winter long," Graff said. "We have monthly meetings and officer meetings, writing new themes, coming up (with) new acts and the order of acts. We actually practice in some gymnasiums doing our pyramids. It's a year-around deal."
In addition to putting the show together, the team also does a lot on fundraising. The team is not-for-profit, so they use the same creativity that wins them shows to help raise funds.
"Our biggest fundraiser is that we do a haunted hayride at Peterson Park in McHenry," Graff said. "We also raise money from collections, donations that we take at our show, membership fees and then community businesses who sponsor us. But we've been doing the haunted hayride for quite some time."
This year's haunted hayride will be held Oct 8, 14, 15, 21 and 22. It's one of the most anticipated events of the year for the team, which credits the community of Wonder Lake for its success.
"Thank you to our community for allowing us the opportunity to do this," Graff said. "We're a team, but we're a team made up entirely of family."