• Dr. Herpy

Sgt. Weninger teammate of many, friend to all

Published in The Chagrin Valley Times
July 9, 2020
Tony Lange

Athlete, non-athlete; class clown, bookworm; popular, inconspicuous – it did not matter. When someone came knocking for a friendship, his door was always wide open.

A 6-foot-4, 220-pound quarterback and hockey wingman at Kenston, Wolfgang Kyle Weninger was physically imposing and carried a presence that made him the center of attention in most any room he walked into.

He was fun. He had a great sense of humor. He was charismatic. He was boisterous. He was fiercely competitive and loyal. He was selfless. He was privately proud. He was publicly humble. He was a good teammate. He made friends easily.

“He really enjoyed people,” childhood friend and hockey teammate Greg Revak said. “I mean, he enjoyed having some good laughs and having fun. He took his crafts very serious – things he cared about he took very seriously. But he also was a goofball all the time and enjoyed life and wanted to have fun with it. And, so, I think that went along with just anyone who was willing to have a chat or have some fun. He was always down for that.

“And Wolf had a lot of different friends. I mean, he was a guy that anyone wanted to be friends with. It wasn’t just like he stuck to the hockey guys or stuck to the football guys. He really was someone who had friends all over the place with different friend groups and different interests.”

Sgt. Wolfgang Kyle Weninger – known as Kyle to his family and childhood friends and known as Wolf to his military buddies in the Marines – died during an airborne school training accident June 19 at Fort Benning in Georgia. He was 28 years old.

His family and close friends buried him on Tuesday at All Souls Cemetery in Chardon, following a mass of Christian burial at St. Anselm Catholic Church in Chester Township. During that service, Ernie Weninger said, “What we do in life echoes in eternity,” while talking about his son.

In addition to his father, Weninger leaves behind his mother, Michelle Henry, younger brother Drew Weninger, a 2014 Kenston graduate, and half-siblings Milo Henry and McKinley Henry.

Before becoming a Raider in the Marine Forces Special Operations Command, Weninger was a standout high school athlete among his fellow Bombers from the class of 2010. His football and hockey teammates all described him as someone who was a selfless leader, hardest on himself yet supportive of others.

“He’s the most selfless guy I think I ever met,” said Dan Sciortino, one of his football teammates. “He had a natural tendency that, when something wasn’t going right, I think he had a sixth-sense type of thing where he knew that and where he was willing to pull you aside and talk to you and always be there for you, if you were having a rough day or whatever. But I think that’s just what drew our group together.”

Weninger grew up in Auburn Township but didn’t attend Kenston until seventh grade. Up until that time, throughout youth football, Sciortino was the quarterback for the class of 2010 football squad.

When Weninger arrived to take over that position, Sciortino said they never butted heads. After all, Weninger was naturally a tall gunslinger, while Sciortino was 5-foot-7 and more of just a pure athlete who would transition to a slot receiver.

“We kicked it off right from the get-go,” Sciortino said. “You could just tell he was a quarterback through and through. In a lot of ways, we were competing, but it just kind of helped build our relationship so that we became best friends. Some of those summers we spent like every single day together.”

His junior year, Weninger stepped away from the gridiron during a coaching change for the Bombers. Kenston went 2-8 that 2008 season.

When Weninger returned for his senior year, the Bombers went 6-4 with the Chagrin Valley Conference boasting a 14-1 Chagrin Falls team that would finish state runner-up, an 8-3 Aurora team that was coming off a state title campaign and a 9-2 West Geauga program that also made the playoffs.

“Look at our record junior year, and that’ll tell you what it was like to not have him around,” said Kevin DeFranco, who played cornerback. “The biggest difference between our junior year and senior year was Kyle, not just from his skill set but also because of just him as a leader.”

Weninger’s teammates said he was all business on the field and all fun off the field.

Old for his grade, DeFranco said he got his driver’s license the August before his sophomore year, and the first person whom he picked up for a joy ride was Weninger.

“I went straight to get him from the BMV to go downtown to a Tribe game that day,” he said. “So, I grabbed him, and he just blasted Jimi Hendrix’s ‘Freedom’ as loud as the speakers in my 2001 Maxima could go. For me, it was the first time of just being completely on your own. It was a cool thing to share with him.”

DeFranco also said Weninger always treated everybody the same, never had a big head and was super humble.

“That’s what I especially remember about him – he didn’t look at anybody different because they weren’t an athlete or they weren’t whatever,” he said.

One thing that not a lot of people might have known about Weninger was his affinity for art, said Pat Behm, a starting linebacker on the football team.

At Kenston, students could fulfill their high school curriculum by taking additional art classes instead of a foreign language. Behm and Weninger both took that academic route.

“I think he was the student of the year in one of the art classes that we had, which encompassed all of the art students,” Behm said. “So, he’s a big, imposing, physical-statured guy who was a great athlete and a smart kid. But he also had the gentle side where he excelled off the field with that. And I always thought that was kind of cool about him, because you don’t always see those two go hand-in-hand. He was skilled in a lot of different facets.”

Weninger always encompassed that team perspective of, “never above you; never below you; always beside you,” Behm said.

In everything he knew about Weninger, Behm said it made him happy to know that his high school teammate was pursuing his dream as a Marine Raider and that it was a perfect fit for him to be a part of something bigger than himself, which is often what it takes to be a successful athlete.

“You hate to see somebody who’s so driven and has committed their life to the military for it to happen the way it did,” Behm said. “It kind of makes you sit back and put life into perspective.

“I think maybe I was having a bad workday for some silly reason when I found out, and I kind of just sat back and just reflected. When you put it all into perspective, you can’t sweat the small things, because, at the end of the day, it could always be worse. And with Wolf, it was just tough that it happened too soon. It just happened too soon.”

While Weninger fit in right away on the gridiron when he arrived at Kenston in seventh grade, he was an even better friend off the field, said Jim Tomcufcik, who was a starting running back in the class of 2010.

“Off the field, he was just a great person to know and hang out with but also a great teammate,” Tomcufcik said. “He definitely stood out and didn’t need an introduction. He came right into football that fall, was a part of the team and was a leader and just became a really good friend of all of ours.

“The one thing that I just remember about him is that he really cares about other people. And it’s everyone. It wasn’t just his friends. He really cared about people overall.”

Tomcufcik said one of the most memorable games on the gridiron with Weninger was the Bombers’ 28-14 victory against Division I Nordonia in week three of their senior campaign.

Kenston trailed, 14-0, at intermission of that game, before Weninger went off to score four unanswered touchdowns in the second half.

“I just remember our offense kept grinding down the field,” Tomcufcik said. “And Kyle was running the ball a lot that game, especially for quarterback. I think he rushed in four touchdowns that game. He was a big factor in that victory. He just brought that level of competitiveness as a dual-threat quarterback, and we just trusted him.”

In addition to Sciortino, Behm, DeFranco and Tomcufcik, Weninger’s other senior football teammates included Patrick Cozzens, Bryan Pike, Austin Whitely, Brendan Gilday, Matthew Reeder, Kyle Schmidt, Joe Gambatese, Drew Ross, Kevin Moss, Frank Simcic and Noah Staudenbaur.

On the ice, Weninger’s senior teammates were Greg Revak, Colton Deeter, Scott Donnellon, AJ Mangan and Chris White. Behind sophomore goalie Doug Revak surrendering just 1.53 goals per game, that senior group put together an unparalleled 31-3 campaign under former head coach Jim Revak.

On a line all four years of varsity hockey, and even before that in youth hockey, the elder Revak brother, Deeter and Weninger combined for 105 goals and 141 assists that season.

“Wolf did something that I had never seen before, my dad had never seen before and we have never seen since,” Revak said. “He scored on the exact same five-on-three penalty kill – when he had two guys in the box – two short-handed goals. It still amazes me.

Revak, who went on to play at the University of Akron, where he is now an assistant coach, said he always tells all of his players about that shift.

“It really did happen,” Revak said. “He’d always keep his hands right by his hips. So, he’d have a ridiculously long reach, and he’s 6-foot-4, but you couldn’t always notice on the ice all the time. And then, as soon as he knew he had you and had that passing lane covered, he’d extend and pick pucks off. It was amazing.”

Weninger continued to play hockey while he was in the military, including with his girlfriend, Shannon Riggins, a companion who shared his interest on the ice.

But, just like all the football guys, Revak said he valued his friendship with Weninger outside of sports.

“Just as his natural self, he’s a goofball, let’s have fun, big, boisterous, obviously, he doesn’t hide when he comes into rooms,” Revak said. “And then you’ve got the deep side of Wolf you’ll hear about from his close friends. He’s a very deep thinker, thoughtful individual.

“So, I think that’s a side you that you really don’t see in very many people and I truly valued about Wolf.”

While Revak knew Weninger before he came to Kenston, he remembers the first day of school in seventh grade, when the new kid in town was down in the lunchroom already making friends with other kids without any introductions needed.

People just naturally gravitated toward Weninger, Revak said.

“You could have those goofball moments or just a deep conversation with him where it’s like, ‘Wow, what a great human being in general,’” Revak said. “You gravitate towards those types of people, because you could have those conversations with him. That’s something about Wolf I really cherished.

“And he made friendships really fast, because he was willing to be vulnerable and have a soft side and still be a doer. He always went out to accomplish things in life that are simply stunning to the rest of us.”

During Weninger’s church service on Tuesday, his dad, Ernie Weninger, quoted American novelist and poet Gertrude Stein when he said, “Some days it rains on the good; some days it rains on the bad; and some days, it just rains.”

His dad went on and said, “It’s been raining in our hearts now for the three weeks, today, since Kyle died. Having said that, I would suggest to you that there are going to be plenty of days for tears and for grieving. There will be all the days you want.

“But today is not going to be that day. Not today. Today we reminisce and rejoice in his life, who he was, what he was and what he became. The great temptation as I stand before you today is to make him out to be more in death than he was in life. But I don’t need to do that. Kyle’s life spoke for itself.”

Weninger was a teammate of many, friend to all.

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