Founded 1901

Royal Purple

Founded 1901

Royal Purple

Founded 1901

Royal Purple

The man behind the cannon

Mike Lesko – Cannon
Karstan Koelblinger
Football moms have fun at the Stout game lighting off the canon

Every time the UW-Whitewater Football team scores during a home game something unique to Whitewater occurs, a revolutionary era-style cannon goes off! This unique tradition can only be done thanks to the unusual talent and exceptional dedication of Mike Lesko, a former student here at Whitewater. 

Back when Lesko attended school at Whitewater different student organizations would take turns sponsoring home games and would put on some sort of show related to their organization. At the time Lesko was in ROTC and was also into Civil War reenactment, specifically reenacting field artillery units. 

Mike Lesko plays a huge role at home football games being the “Canon Guy” (Karstan Koelblinger)

Since there were no reenactment groups in Wisconsin that had field artillery, Lesko decided to make his own. The cannon wasn’t easy to build and Lesko said that he gathered some parts from a metalwork company, some from an Amish wood crafting company, and others were custom-made by Lesko. 

When it came time for his ROTC group to host the football game Lesko was asked to shoot his cannon off during halftime. While there were some complications, notably they couldn’t get the cannon off the field by the time the players were ready to begin playing, the university administration loved the idea and soon Lesko was invited to shoot the cannon at every home game whenever Whitewater scored a touchdown. The year Lesko began shooting his cannon at home games was 1994 and since then has not missed a home game during the regular season. 

When asked if he was dedicated to his role as cannon operator Lesko said “I’m probably beyond dedicated the word would probably be obsessed.”

Warhawks cheer after shooting off the canon to celebrate a UWW touchdown against UW-Stout (Karstan Koelblinger)

However, while Lesko is at all home games during the regular season he is conspicuously absent from Whitewater during the postseason, this is due to the regulations of the NCAA.

Athletic Director Ryan Callahan explained when the Whitewater football team was starting to get to its national prominence some teams complained to the NCAA that Whitewater wasn’t treating the field as a neutral venue. This was a problem since NCAA regulations call for all Division III postseason games to be treated as if they are occurring at neutral venues.

They tried to figure out a way around this but were ultimately unsuccessful, speaking about these efforts Callahan said, “We moved the cannon outside the gate… We moved the cannon on top of the hill and couldn’t do it either. So we can only operate the cannon in the regular season.” 

Outside of this run-in with the NCAA Lesko has been able to perform his cannon-firing duties without any impediment, however, another threat to this tradition lies on the distant horizon. 

Lesko is perfectly capable of firing the cannon for now, but it is hard work, both making the hour-and-a-half-long drive from West Bend where Lesko lives to Whitewater every home game, as well as moving the heavy cannon up and down the hills of the stadium, and Lesko isn’t getting any younger. However even though it will be a tragedy when the originator of this tradition is gone, both Callahan and Joe Carollo, Lesko’s main contact on campus, are confident that the tradition will live on even after Lesko is gone. 

Lesko said he plans to sell his cannon for around $5,000 when he is no longer able to operate it, Callahan said that $5,000 is a sum the school would most likely be willing to pay to keep such a unique tradition alive. One problem would be finding someone with the expertise to fire a cannon. 

“I think we would go to lengths and lengths to find a person that would be able to do it,” Carollo said.

So it seems that this special tradition of Whitewater is here to stay.

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About the Contributors
Blake Erwin, Assistant Campus News Editor
Karstan Koelblinger, Photography Editor

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