ELM GROVE –– The parents of the 12 boys who played on the St. Mary Visitation eighth-grade volleyball team really appreciated their coaches, Mike and Margaret Thew.

After all, it’s not every couple who would coach the eighth-grade boys volleyball team and their own daughter Madeline’s eighth-grade volleyball team and their son Luke’s fifth-grade volleyball team – in the same season.

And it’s not every couple who would coach that team to the parish’s first boys’ invitation in three years to the annual big-deal, eighth-grade area Catholic school tournament, the Seton Volleyball Championships.

And it’s not every couple who would coach that team to win the highly coveted first place Seton banner.

But the Thews did. For 20 years, they have together coached dozens of teams, taking a passion for the game and using it to help boys and girls build character and self-confidence.

“It really wasn’t all about winning and losing with them. It was all about bringing out of the best of the kids,” said Kathy Lauer, whose son Robbie played on the team. “The whole thing was just really positive – there was no getting down on anyone. Because of that, the kids played to their greatest potential.”

“I just went out there and had fun, and we were successful,” Robbie said.

The Thews stressed being a better person more than winning or losing, he said, which took pressure off players when they made mistakes.

Mike and Margaret Thew

Age: Mike, 47, and Margaret 45

Parish: St. Mary Visitation Parish, Elm Grove

Occupation: Mike works from home as a product manager with Russell Investments, Seattle, Wash., and Margaret is a nurse practitioner with the Medical College of Wisconsin and the Blood Center of Wisconsin.

Favorite hobby: Running, sports and watching basketball.

Favorite church hymn: Mike: "Silent Night;" Margaret: "Buid Each Other Up," which their choir director wrote based on 1 Thes 5:11

Favorite song: Mike: U2's "Beautiful Day;" Margaret: Irael "IZ" Kamakawiwo'ole version of "Somewhere over the rainbow"

Favorite quotation: Mike: "Don't compound the problem––move on." Margaret: "If first you don't succeed, try again."

“Sports are about having fun – they don’t pay the bills,” Robbie added.

“They are really good about creating confidence,” said Robbie’s dad, Rob Lauer. “They really complement each other well. You don’t usually have that.”

Margaret nurtures, he elaborated, while Mike motivates.

Margaret knew this team had talent.

“This is the strongest team I’ve ever had that could not win games,” she recalled.

It was the fourth year she and her husband, Mike, had coached the boys.

The Thews say it wasn’t the coaching that led the 12-member eighth-grade boys’ team to win the top prize in the Seton Championship last fall.

“It wasn’t. They worked together at the right time when they needed to. We were just the cheerleaders,” Margaret said.

At the Seton, St. Mary Visitation beat four teams they had lost to earlier in the fall, and a couple they hadn’t beaten over their four-year volleyball run at St. Mary.

Parish athletic director Paul Eberle described the couple as “extraordinary examples” to players on how to conduct themselves with respect, fair play and discipline. The couple coached his son, John, who played on the eighth grade volleyball team, with as much “talent and love” as the strongest players on the team.

“We were very blessed to have them give that time and effort,” Eberle said. Eberle and Mike Thew also share joint basketball practices for the parish’s two fifth grade boys basketball teams they each coach.

“To me, it really starts with their wonderful spirit of service,” Eberle said.

This year, practices for the three volleyball teams totaled six hours a day for two days a week. Too many hours to count went toward games and tournaments for each team.

Margaret said “a very proud moment for the team and me” happened when a referee overheard their eighth grade girls’ team pre-game prayer – a tradition since the team formed in fifth grade. The ref shared that it had been many years since she had heard a team pray before a game.

Margaret made a point of relaying the achievements of their 10-member eighth-grade girls’ team. They played as a “B” level team, and finished the season in second place. That success led to an invitation to play in the Seton’s girls “A” division.

“You get to know all the kids and the families,” Mike said.

He enjoys seeing the players develop self-confidence and improve their skills. It’s not just about wins and losses, Mike said, but “the sense of community and developing a love of the game.”

“It’s fun. I think that’s why we keep doing it,” Margaret said. “And it keeps us young.”

Margaret grew up as the 12th of the 14 Stiyer children at St. Catherine Parish and School in Milwaukee’s Sherman Park neighborhood. She was the only girl among the youngest six children and she played a lot of sports growing up, including volleyball at Pius XI High School.

Mike, the youngest of three children, ran cross country and track at New Berlin West. The two met through mutual friends. Baptized Lutheran, Mike will be received into the Catholic Church on Holy Saturday following months of preparation through the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults (RCIA).

The Thew family includes Britney, 25, of St. Paul, Minn.; Daniel, 21, who is studying environmental science at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee; Madeline, 13, and Luke, 10.

Their commitment to coaching began in 1993, when they lived in Wauwatosa and were new to Christ King School when Britney began first grade.

A bulletin announcement said the parish needed a boys’ volleyball coach for the fifth-and sixth-grade team and the couple was interested in meeting parish families.

“They were more than willing to accept us,” Margaret recalled.

They coached the fifth/sixth-grade team for two years, then coached a fifth-grade team and stuck with that group through their eighth-grade season.

“And now those kids are all married and have babies of their own,” she said.

By then, Britney was in fifth grade, and they coached her team every year, and when their oldest son reached fifth grade, they coached his teams. When their former grade school players started playing CYO ball, they coached some of those teams as well.

Margaret said she was “paying it forward” by helping out a friend who had helped her out. CYO involved large teams, with as many as 26 players on one. They enjoyed the mix of teens from public and private high schools of all abilities who came from Christ King, St. Bernard and St. Pius.

They took a break from volleyball coaching for a few years when Daniel played for Marquette University High School. Mike, however, coached soccer during this hiatus.

In 2007, they moved to Elm Grove and joined St. Mary Visitation Parish for the 2008-09 school year when Madeline was entering fourth grade. Again, they wanted to get familiar with people in the school and parish, and they were asked to coach a boys’ team.

“It’s a way of giving back,” said Mike, who also serves on the parish technology committee, the athletic board and its basketball committee.

Margaret has served as field day coordinator and is a member of the advancement committee. As a committee member, she welcomes new families, coordinated the school open house and promotes various marketing efforts.

The couple noted that their oldest daughter hopes to find a St. Paul Parish that needs a coach, and they hope other former players also seek opportunities to coach.