A year after parade tragedy, survivor ready to play college baseball again
When Waukesha South (Wisconsin) High School student Erick Tiegs was run over by an SUV during the Waukesha Christmas parade on Nov. 21, 2021, his injuries were so massive he had to relearn how to walk.
Now, a bit more than a year later, he overcame his mobility issues and has achieved the goal he set before the tragedy where six people were killed and more than 60 were injured: to play college baseball.
His mother, Jessi, announced this achievement Dec. 6 on the Waukesha Strong Community public Facebook page: ‘There was a time we thought he may never play baseball again and that his dream to play in college was doomed,’ she said.
Tiegs, of Waukesha, was a junior at the time and a star player on South’s baseball team where he was a pitcher and also played in the outfield. He carried nearly a 4.0 grade point average.
But when the SUV ran over him while Tiegs was playing the trombone in the Waukesha South marching band, Tiegs remembers lying in the middle of the road, feeling like he was being shoved from behind and seeing the ambulance. His younger brother, Tyson, also in the marching band was terrified. With shaking hands he texted his mother: ‘Erick got hit by a car.’
It seemed that Tiegs’ dreams would be put on hold, if not impossible. Junior year is the prime year to show baseball skills to college recruiters. The plan, before the parade, was for him to play his junior season at South and then to join his traveling league that summer. College scouts would be able to see him, and if all went as planned, he would have college offers to ponder.
But his injuries included a skull fracture, a C4 fracture in his neck, a right shoulder blade fracture, four broken ribs, a collapsed lung, a left femur fracture that required surgery and a major concussion, his mother said. Tiegs said he has a rod in his left leg from his knee to his hip due to the broken femur.
He was in ICU for three days and then in the regular hospital for six days, and was in a wheelchair for a month where his family had to help him with nearly everything.
‘I did not think he would be ready’
Because of all the injuries Tiegs had, some people, including his parents, thought that walking by February may be a more realistic goal than trying to play baseball a month or so later.
His mother was especially concerned about his right shoulder blade, on his pitching arm, and his left femur, which is his plant leg when he throws.
‘I did not think he would be ready by April,’ she said.
Early in his physical therapy, Tiegs, however, had a much different plan.
‘I made it my goal to play in the spring (of 2022),’ he said. He said he would be ‘heartbroken’ if he could not play with his team again. ‘My best friends were on the team, some since I was 8 years old. We played in middle and high school together,’ he said.
He pitched for Waukesha South’s opening game on April 6.
Tiegs said he was still limping when he pitched his first game. He said he knew that his pitching was not as fast as it could be, but it was there, and he worked hard to improve that.
But he was on the mound, playing with his teammate, Tyler Pudleiner, who was also injured as part of the marching band; Pudleiner played catcher.
‘We watched him through rough pitching,’ said his mother. ‘But then, he started clicking and by July, he was fantastic.’
It was okay, said Tiegs of the rough games of pitching. ‘I knew I was getting better,’ he added.
His father Donnie added that he pitched and got the win in the last four out of his five games in the summer traveling league.
‘When it first happened, we were hoping he would play again, but we did not think he would play as fast as he did,’ Donnie said. ‘It was determination. He was fighting through it.’
It paid off as Tiegs got noticed by Beloit College and Luther College in Iowa, both with scholarship offers. This month, he committed to playing at Beloit College.
‘Just moving on’
While he was recovering from his injuries, Tiegs kept his college goals intact. He worked to maintain his grade point average, which his father said now sits at a 3.97 and is taking two AP college prep classes.
‘He is preparing for college life,’ Donnie said. He said he wants to major in astrophysics in college, and when he visited Beloit College, he knew it was the place for him. He mentioned the low ratio between students and the professor as one of the reasons, and that he liked their baseball facilities. He also received a $ 40,000-a-year presidential scholarship for his academics and another $5,000 a year through scholarships at Beloit.
‘I am interested in how space works and what we don’t know and the unknown,’ Tiegs said. His father said that recovering from the injuries sustained from the Waukesha parade helped him realize more of the team aspect of baseball.
‘He had a lot of support,’ said his father, mentioning how the school accommodated a class schedule when he needed time to recover and how the community rallied behind him.
‘Waukesha has been there every step of the way,’ he said. ‘We can’t thank you enough.’
Tiegs said he remembers both the victims and survivors of the tragedy. He said that the Waukesha South baseball team wore No. 23 on their helmets, the number Jackson Sparks wore when he played baseball for the Waukesha Blazers, one of the groups who marched in the parade. Jackson, age 8, died two days later in the hospital from injuries from the parade attack.
He said that No. 23 is special to him as he wore that number in his younger playing days, and he even wore his old jersey in support of the Sparks Family.
Other than that, his biggest goal is getting on with his life. While Darrell Brooks Jr. was sentenced to six consecutive life sentences for each of the victims who died, he also was sentenced 17½ years for each of the 61 counts of first-degree recklessly endangering safety for the victims he injured.
‘It does not affect me,’ he said of the tragedy.
His parents attended the trial for closure, but added that Tiegs felt he did not need to: ‘He knew he was guilty,’his mother said.
‘He does not want to waste his time on that guy,’ explained his mother. ‘Why dwell on it? He is more vocal on the baseball diamond.’
Through it all, Tiegs stressed the importance of having determination.
‘It is important to keep pushing through and working,’ he said. ‘There is always the light at the end of the tunnel.’