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1976 was a pivotal season in Wisconsin high school football. As you may know, the WIAA started the football playoff system for the public schools. The private school’s playoffs began in 1969. The most powerful conference in the state may have been the Wisconsin Valley as year in and year out they produced some of the best teams in the late 1960s and 1970s, namely Antigo and Schofield DC Everest. Because they seemed to dominate the WVC it is not to say that the rest of the conference were slouches.

From 1966-1976 the Red Robins won 88 games and lost only 9, a .907 percent win record. The 1968, 1969, 1972, 1973 and the 1975 teams all went 9-0-0, finishing #2 in the 1969 AP poll while finishing #1 in both polls for 1972, 1973 and 1975. But these were polls for mythical championships.

1976 would prove to be a major highlight in the school’s program and coach Gordy’s career now that the WIAA had instituted a post-season playoff system. The day before the season opener the Wausau Daily Herald reported that the Red Robins were expected to win the conference after they had posted a 9-0 record in 1975. They had won or shared the last four conference titles, going 38-1 on that span. In the previous 14 seasons under Schofield and posted a 96-14-2 record and now they were rated #1 in the state as they began the year. Returning for his senior season was quarterback Dan Thorpe who had directed the Red Robbins to a 17-1 record and had been first team all-conference as a defensive back as a junior. Another key returnee was 6’3 and 225 pound offensive/defensive end Dean Seis. Overall, they didn’t look that tough on paper but the Antigo Red Robins were THE team to beat in the Valley.

Picked as the #2 team in the Valley, D.C. Everest was the season opening foe for Antigo and it was a hard-fought defensive battle but the team dispelled any doubt as to what they were about. They were the same hard running team as junior fullback Pat Bradley took up the slack as he carried 23 times for 132 yards and scored the only touchdown, a 7-yard run along with a two-point conversion, in the 8-0 win. It was a typical Red Robin game as they gained 188 yards on the ground and only 8 yards passing while allowing only 92 total yards. It would be a typical defensive game as Antigo intercepted a pass and recovered a fumble. They had now won their 15th consecutive game and they were now off to the races, sort of.

You see, this was probably the lowest scoring playoff championship team in history. The Red Robins would go on to score only 189 points in 11 games (A low 17.18 points per game) while allowing only 51 points (A 4.64 per game average), a low for any championship playoff team (11 game schedule or more). For much of the season Antigo was rated #1 in the polls but were eventually overtaken for the top spot by Racine Horlick. While they didn’t overpower teams with their scoring it was their defense that dominated. Offensively the team gained only 2,608 yards on the season, a scant 230.09 yards per game while on defense they allowed only 1,255 yards (114.09-yards per game). In five games they scored in the double digits and allowed only three teams to break the 10-point barrier. It was truly not about the numbers except when it came to defense and wins.

In the first four games the team only scored 8, 34, 8 and 8 points. They allowed 0, 12, 0 and 3 points. Several former players point to the fourth game, an 8-3 win over Marshfield, as maybe their toughest game. Dan Thorpe was hurt in the first half and was taken from the field with a concussion. He was a key person on the team being the starting quarterback and defensive back. Tom Meyer stepped in and helped lead the team to the win. Statistically Antigo out gained Marshfield 227-123 but they had two first half touchdowns called back before Thorpe was hurt. One was a 31-yard run by Thorpe and the other was a 38-yard TD aerial by Tom Meyer who had replaced the hurt Thorpe as the quarterback spot. Marshfield kicked a field goal with 7:40 left in the second period to take a 3-0 lead over the #1 ranked Red Robins. In the fourth quarter they drove 73-yards, mainly on the back of 5'6, 154-pound Bill Igl who carried the ball 11of the drives 17 plays. Bradley scored from six yards out and Meyer converted the extra point run for the lead and the victory. The win showed everybody that this was a determined team, one that came together under Coach Schofield’s direction. The team had confidence in themselves and the program, traits taught by their head coach who was not big or tall in stature but one who was able to get his players attention to follow his lead. Just like their coach the team wasn’t big but if they could overcome injuries and mistakes, they could beat anyone. These would be life lessons.

The 1976 Antigo Red Robins

Courtesy of the Antigo Daily Journal newspaper

There would be other tough games as everyone in the Valley was gunning for Antigo. The next week the Robins eked out a 6-0 win over Merrill, #2 in the conference at the time. Merrill’s defense was strong even though Antigo out gained them 193-63 yards. The Blue Jay’s just lacked the offensive punch to beat the Robins. Again, it was a determined drive and a six-yard score with 10:32 left in the game that made the difference. The team overcame mistakes, five fumbles to take the win while Merrill had five of their own fumbles, two lost, and threw three interceptions. Dan Thorpe was back, sometimes playing tailback, as he alternated with Tom Meyer. As a team they had 69 offensive plays with Bradley carrying 27 times but for only 87-yards. The next week they played Rhinelander and won 26-12 but it took two second half scores to break the 12-12 halftime tie.

Week seven brought a tough 6-0 win over Wausau West, a team who the week before lost to Wausau East, 19-0 despite tossing six interceptions and losing three of four fumbles. Antigo had beaten Wausau East in the second game of the season, 34-12 but against West they couldn’t find the endzone but one time they outgained the Warriors a crazy 195 yards to only allowing 32. Things were much better the following week as the Robins costed to a 32-0 win over Shawano. Next up was the conference season finale against Stevens Point.

Just a day before the game vs. SPASH word arrived that former star back for Antigo, Joe Pilecky had died in a car crash. Joe had graduated in 1973 and had played on the 1972 and 1973 mythical championship teams. He attended UW-Stevens Point but his career was cut short due to a knee injury. Each game before the team would go out onto the field Gordy would say a prayer and this time his voice seemed to breakup. It was a sad but inspiring prayer and they went out and won19-8. It was a tough game for SPASH quarterback Tom Lundquist as he tossed two of his season and conference record 20 interceptions. John Payant and Tom Meyer had the picks while Dan Thorpe had a 25-yard touchdown run and added two two-point conversions and a 30-yard field goal. Next up was the playoffs.

As mentioned before, Antigo had dropped to #2 in the polls but they were set to play the #5 ranked team, Milwaukee Madison. Racine Park had jumped to the #1 spot in the polls and they faced #3 South Milwaukee. The game against Madison, played in Oshkosh, was a surprise to Coach Schofield. First, his team scored a season high 36 points in the 36-16 win but they also fumbled 11-times, losing three, two of which were recovered by Madison and turned two into touchdowns. Before 4,000 fans Bill Igl carried 23-times for 108 yards scoring three times while Thorpe gained 58 yards on eight carries with one touchdown plus a two-point conversion. He was two for two passing for 60-yards and two touchdowns. As a team they rolled up a season high 345 total yards and allowed only 103.

The following weekend was the first WIAA Class AA (Later changed to Division 1) Championship game, again played in Oshkosh against #1 Racine Horlick. Both were 10-0. In the previous 10 years Antigo averaged just over 30 points a game and rolled up 300 yards+ per game. With those stats Schofield had been able to substitute freely but this season he wasn’t able to do so, playing the starters all the way. Those players were relied on most of the time and they did the job and did it well. Horlick in 1976 averaged 30+ points and 300+ yards per game going into the title game but Antigo shut them down. Antigo intercepted two passes and recovered a fumble as they gained 194 total yards and held the Rebels to 42 yards rushing and 44 yards passing. Again, the Red Robins won the game of turnovers, intercepting two balls and recovering a fumble. Dave Strobel was the “monster man” in the 52-Monster defense. His job was to key on Horlick’s star back, Zenith Driver who, after gaining over 750 yards and eight touchdowns coming into the title game. Driver only gained 18 yards in 11 carries. Assistant coach Dennis Schmidtke ran the scout team as usual in preparation of the big game and the team was ready. The coaches seemed to be afraid of Driver but they needn’t have worried.

Paul Wirth recovered a Madison fumble and on third and ten Randy Zoern was just able to cross the goal line for the only score of the game. A Robin fumble midway through the fourth quarter gave the Rebels the ball on the Antigo 41-yard line. On fourth and one on the 32, Dean Seis stopped the opposing runner for no gain. Horlick would again have the ball but with 1:41 remaining. Terry Grams would intercept a pass and the defense again came to the rescue. When the game ended fans rushed onto the field to celebrate. The trip home was fun and when the team buses approached the city a parade of emergency vehicles escorted the caravan into town. They proceeded to the school and in the gym Coach Schofield praised his team for their performance. There were a lot of standouts on the team. Dan Thorpe would earn all-conference as quarterback and defensive back, Pat Bradley would be honored at a running back spot on the team, Joe Miller was also named as a defensive back and John Payant was named as a linebacker. Four others received honorable mention on offense and one additional defensive player was named as well. Other key players that were often and mentioned in the newspaper were Dave Strobel, Tom Meyer, Joe Mattek, Mark Kautza, Rolan Buck, Tom Stanke, Pete Solin, Bill Igl, Terry Grams and Dean Seis who had been moved from the offensive end spot to a tackle position. Dan Thorpe was named to the UPI All-State football team on both the offense as a quarterback and on defense as a defensive back and was named by the UPI as the State Player-of-the-Year. He also earned All-State honors as a defensive back on the AP team.

When the 1976 season ended, Antigo had a 25 game winning streak. Antigo was voted as the team to beat again the next year in the Wisconsin Valley Conference. The streak would end though in the 1977 season opener in a 12-6 loss to Stevens Point. The 1977 team would go 6-3 and finish 2nd in the Valley before bouncing back in 1978 to win another state championship. As before, it’s not about the numbers but it’s about the results and how you play the game. For many it was the life lessons on how to play the game of life. You win as a team and you lose as a team even outside the playing field. As Dale Peterson stated, It's what you do with it (your life) that counts". I'm sure Coach Schofield would agree.

I again offer my thanks to some of Coach Schofield's former players for contributing to this and the first part of this story. The 1976 team held a 40th reunion in 2016 and many former players attended. At the reunion Coach said that winning a state title was great but he thought that often, when there were limited teams available to enter the playoffs (1976-1990s) that the chance for a state title diminished the achievements of teams who won their conference. So, even though he won three WIAA titles he was most proud of his Wisconsin Valley Conference title teams.

The Antigo team celebrated a 40 year reunion in 2016. With Coach's passing last year there are still some hopes for a 50th Antigo reunion. Several former 1976 Antigo players and I wholly agree that there should be a special reunion, maybe held in Madison and supported by the WIAA and the WFCA in 2026. Maybe on the Thursday or Friday of the state football championships and those two organizations sponsor, not only gathering of the four state title winners from the first WIAA championships...Antigo, Menomonee Falls, Plymouth and DeSoto...but have a gathering for the runner ups...Racine Horlick, Clintonville, Iowa-Grant and Wild Rose. It would be a great effort to honor those coaches and players who battled for the title. I'll be passing this suggestion on to the WIAA and WFCA in the hopes they can get together on this. Could be a great time for all.

This past November, 2021, I received an e-mail mentioning that the former Antigo coach, Gordy Schofield, had passed away at age 90 on the 18th. It was suggested that I write a story about him. I replied, that as a former player of Schofield’s, I would like to talk to him about the coach. It was also suggested that I talk to some of his friends as well. It took a while for me to get a chance to connect to several and others replied to a questionnaire I had sent out. Afterwards I decided to focus on both the coach and his 1976 championship team. This part is mostly about the coach.

In my book I mentioned several Antigo teams, the 1972 and 1978 squads, but no real detail on coach Schofield and I regret that.

Born in Rice Lake in 1931, Coach Schofield attended Cameron High School and then on to UW-Eau Claire and later to the University of Pittsburgh. After college he took a job as an assistant football coach at Antigo and he never left. Serving as an assistant from 1953-61, Gordy got his big chance to move up to the top coaching spot in 1962 and he remained the head coach for the next 25 years not including a year off in 1965. Antigo opened the Schofield era with a 6-1-0 record in 1962, placing second in the conference to D.C. Everest. He kept things rolling in 1963 as the Red Robins ended D.C. Everest’s 22-game winning streak 34-21, knocking the Evergreens from the top spot in the state poll. Everest was hoping for a final game loss by Antigo to Wisconsin Rapids so they could tie for the conference title but the Red Robbins prevailed with an easy 40-0 win. They finished 7-1-0 overall and gave coach his first of 15 conference championships. Gordy helped Antigo beat Everest in 1958 to end that schools 20-game win streak. In those days, Hall of Fame coach Howie Stiehm was the “top dog” coach in the conference but Coach Schofield was just getting started.

Courtesy of the Antigo Daily Journal newspaper

Howie Stiehm retired in 1972 with a 20-year coaching record at D.C. Everest of 127-30-3, a .806 winning percentage. In 1970 the Evergreens were rated as the #2 team in the UPI and AP polls to #1 Green Bay Premontre while finishing #1 in the final 1971 UPI poll. They Dropped to #2 in the AP poll in 1971, behind Oshkosh who was ranked #2 by the UPI. Everest had also been ranked #2 in the final AP poll of 1966 so there was a lot of competition in the Wisconsin Valley Conference. Over time in his career, Coach Schofield would face off against a number of Hall of Fame coaches besides Stiehm. Among the other HOF coaches, he faced were Len Luedtke (Shawano/Marshfield), Ted Thompson (Assistant at Antigo in 1963, only and head coach at Wisconsin Rapids for only 1976), Ken Biegel (Wisconsin Rapids, replaced Thompson), Jerry Fitzgerald (Stevens Point), Fred Kuhl (Rhinelander) and Wayne Stefenhagen (D.C. Everest).

When Gordy Schofield returned to coaching in 1966, he set off an 11-year streak unmatched in the school's or the conference’s history. While he was away for the 1965 season Dale Peterson directed the team to a 6-2-0 record, good for 2nd place in the conference. It isn’t often that there are two Hall of Fame coaches on the same staff but there were FOUR! Dale Peterson filled one of those spots at Antigo, first as the head freshman coach, then moving up to cover for Coach Schofield in 1965 and then becoming a prized assistant, handling the duties of being the line coach for 20-years until he retired in 1988. When he retired Coach Peterson thought his coaching duties were over so he could watch his son’s play but he returned as the freshman head coach for two more seasons and then was the assistant freshman coach for two more years before finally retiring from teaching. While the players he coached weren’t usually big they were quick and tough. He had been a head coach in Canton, Minnesota before moving to Antigo in 1957 to teach physical education. He had been that department's head for many years when he finally stepped down in 1991. Dale was elected to the WFCA HOF in 1996.

Another assistant, Dennis Schmidtke, started in 1961 as a history teacher until 1966 when he left to earn his Master’s degree and returned inn 1967 to spend the next 22 years as the backfield coach. When he returned from getting that Master’s degree, he became one of the guidance counselors along with Coach Schofield. He retired in 1993 and was elected to the WFCA Hall of Fame for his fine work as an assistant in 2012.

The fourth key member of the coaching staff was Ron Dillahunt who served as the freshman coach starting in 1970 until Schofield retired. He developed a number of the future stars. He followed Gordy as the head coach for the next 11 years, winning Valley titles in 1988 and 1992. He was elected to the WFCA HOF in 2009. He was a teacher and coach for the Red Robins for 38 years.

I mention the assistants for good reason. It was under Gordy’s leadership that he meshed the coaching staff into an efficient and dominating group. He influenced his assistants and they in turn helped influence the players. To the best of my research efforts, the three Antigo assistants are the only three long-term coaches to be on the same staff to be inducted into the Coaches Hall of Fame and it is a tribute to Coach Schofield that he was able to accumulate such a strong staff and keep them for such a long time. His coaching expertise and leadership were keys to Antigo’s success. He had a somewhat restrained and relaxed personality but when he wanted to get your attention he could do so. Teamwork was what he wanted and what he got from all. He didn’t usually praise individuals but he did in 1976 when he spoke before the town in the school gym after the team returned from Oshkosh with the first WIAA Class AA state title. He had a philosophy that “you win as a team and you lose as a team.” He helped mold boys into men.

The players never called Coach Schofield “Gordy” to his face. They were very respectful and it was always Coach or sir. The players were captivated by the coach growing up. They went with their parents to the home games to cheer for the school and listened to his Saturday morning radio show. With the assistants on staff, Peterson, Schmidtke and Dillahunt, most of the players felt they were playing for the best coaches. Schofield was demanding but fair but the players were often exhausted from the grueling workouts. Those practices made the players better on the field and they learned life lessons from the coaches.

After retiring Coach spent his time in the community playing golf, cutting wood, and skiing while working at a local ski hill and he was active in his local Lutheran church. For many years he attended the numerous re-unions for his teams. He was simply loved by his players, the other students and the town of Antigo. In the end, his former players would say the Coach was the type of man they wanted their sons to be. As a guidance counselor he influenced not only his players but the other students. On the field he never said the team “Must” win. He would say “play hard, long, fast, physical, don’t make mistakes and give it your all”. When he retired in 1987 his career record was 199-41-2, a .829 winning percentage. Besides 1976, his teams won two more WIAA titles in 1978 and 1982. Why did he retire with 199 wins? Why not shoot for 200+? He could have easily stayed to hit that number and beyond but to him it was time to retire. It wasn’t about the numbers. It was how you played the game.

Final Note:

My thanks to some of the 1976 stars for contributing to this story. Tom Meyer, who first mentioned Coach Schofield’s passing to me and then the great comments from Dan Thorpe, Dave Strobel, Terry Grams and Dean Seis. Pete Theisen from the 1972 mythical state champion team also added some good insight. The information you all provided added much of this blogs content.

The Thursday December 6 papers included three short stories in the La Crosse Tribune. The first, reading left to right is a story with a Milwaukee Sentinel byline by a person with the last name of Vaughn. It says that both Watertown and Waukesha wanted to play a home game so negotiations between the two had broken off. Marshfield has called it a season so he felt that a playoff now was senseless and the season should close altogether.

As you look to the right a few columns, a story from the Sentinel headlined "Watertown claims State High Title Over All Elevens" with a subheading "But is Willing to play Marinette if Northeastern Team Insists Upon it." It printed a letter from R.A. Buell, principal of Watertown who mentions that Waukesha had refused to play them and Watertown refused to acknowledge Waukesha as the champ and since Marinette wants to play, they seem to be the logical opponent for Watertown.

At the far right was a story from Green Bay announcing that Marinette and Watertown had agreed to play for the title in Green Bay on Saturday, December 8th. They decided on a neutral site as the gate profits would go to the Red Cross. Neither team would take a profit after expenses.

The day before the game, Friday December 7th, The Green Bay Press Gazette was full of information about the next day's game. It published the lineups including weights of the players and messages to the public from the coaches. A huge crowd at City Park, maybe a record for the city was there that day. The mayor asked the citizens to be courteous to all visitors and wished both teams well. The paper showed the game schedule for each team as well as highlighting the officials. It was also announced that the Watertown team was arriving at 7:15pm via the Chicago and Northwestern railroad and Marinette would travel by rail, arriving at 9:40am on Saturday. the paper asked that "Mr. Weatherman" hold off the incoming snow. They should have asked him to hold off the cold as well.

The title game was set. Fans were coming to town. There would be a dance for both teams and visitors at the Elks Club following the game. But few would show up as the weather went from cold to freezing. Friday night the temperature at 6pm was 18 degrees but overnight into mid-morning Saturday it hit 7 below. The gates opened at 1pm and the temperature was 0. To the northwest, Duluth and Superior were 15-20 below at the same time and icebreakers were called out to help shipping.

The Press Gazette gave a near play-by-play account of the game and it appeared that even with a long layoff the teams were sharp. Overall, there were only three penalties between the two teams. Marinette took the opening kickoff and with a fairly crisp passing attack, despite the weather, marched down the field as their quarterback, Medley passed to his left end, Peters for 30 yards and the first score. The extra point kick was missed. After exchanging punts, Marinette drove again and Medley again hit Peters for a 20 yard touchdown. Their right tackle, Nelson made the extra point and Marinette was up 13-0 through the end of the half.

In the middle of the fourth period, Peters intercepted a Watertown pass and returned it 30 yards for his third score while Medley made the extra point. The weather was getting colder and the wind was picking up. Despite the weather, Watertown tried to comeback but couldn't. Near the end, Marinette's quarterback Medley passed to the endzone to Peters between two defenders. The ball slipped off his fingers and fell incomplete to the ground. Marinette's team captain, Wagner complained to the referee that there was interference and the official agreed and awarded the tam their fourth score. I don't know if this was a fluke or a rule of the day but it seems strange to have allowed the score. It ultimately would not affect the outcome as Medley kicked the extra point and the game ended 27-0 for the state champion Marinette squad. Watertown failed to show the expected aggressiveness, though Coach Thomas refused to blame the loss of their star halfback Wegemann who was unable to play. He had ripped a tendon in the Marshfield game and the doctor refused to clear him. Thomas admitted that Marinette was the better that day. J.E. Dahlgren of the La Crosse Tribune even agreed that Marinette was tops.

Final Notes

One of the major complaints by my son when we were putting together my book was often when we posted a team's record the scoring totals didn't match the game by game scores. I mentioned earlier that the Waukesha Freeman and the school yearbook had different opponent scores for the win over Milwaukee Washington so I used the yearbook score. When the La Crosse Tribune printed the schedule for Watertown, they had a few scores different from the Watertown yearbook as well. Same with the Green Bay Press Gazette with their feature about the team before they played for the title. I again decided to use the yearbook as my guide. However, there were two problems with the yearbook. I wrote the team's schedule along with others and wrote the total of 270 points scored on the season. They didn't have calculators back then and the correct total was 290 points. I had often taken the yearbook totals as correct rather than doing the math but my son and I found they were often miscalculated. I also found several mentions of the school's record going into the Marinette game that they were 9-0-1 but the yearbook only had them at 8-0-1. The school reported to the Gazette that they had played and beaten the "College Scrubs" 46-0. After further review it turned out to be the Watertown Northwestern College Seconds, the varsity second string. So, I added that game to their record along with the correct scoring for the season.

I also want to mention the newsman who wrote "Cal's Comments" for the Green Bay Press Gazette. His name was George Whitney Calhoun. His great grandfather, Daniel Whitney, was the first 'Yankee' to settle in Green Bay in 1832. Calhoun was, at various times a telegraph editor, sports columnist and city editor for the Gazette. He was 27 years old in 1917 and as a newsman he had become familiar with many of the high school athletes in town. By all accounts he was a fair writer. Calhoun would only write his column for a few months and then move to other tasks but his work was insightful. In 1919 he teamed with a 20 year old former Green Bay East star, Curly Lambeau, who was home from college (Notre Dame) recuperating from a severe case of tonsillitis. they convinced the owners f the Indian Packing Company to put up $500 for uniforms and in August of 1919 the Green Bay Packers were born. Calhoun would work as publicity director and he passed the hat among the fans to collect anything they would pay as there was no fence to the field at that time. When a fence was added he stood at the gate to ensure all fans paid to get in. He was part of the Packer organization in various capacities, as a fan and a member of the Packer Board of Directors until his death in 1963. He was inducted into the Packer Hall of Fame in 1978.

J.E. 'Jack' Dahlgren was born and raised in La Crosse where he became a reporter for the La Crosse Daily Tribune upon graduating from high school. He resigned in September of 1908 to attend Beloit College. Just a few weeks later he returned home to take a position as a reporter with the La Crosse Leader-Press where he specialized in sports stories. He also did some side reporting on other events and was considered to be a fair and accurate writer. Having played football, basketball and track (as a pole vaulter and high jumper) in high school he seemed to key his attention toward the first two sports. He was also an accomplished billiards player and won many YMCA sponsored tournaments as well as an accomplished hand-ball player and bowler. When the Leader-Post merged with the Tribune in 1917, Jack came on board as a member of the newly combined staff. He left the paper in 1918 after being inducted into the army where he trained at Fort Grant in Rockford, Illinois. There he contracted the 'Spanish' Flu but recovered and was mustered out of the service in January of 1919. He served on the County Board of Supervisors and was serving his second term when he died suddenly from pneumonia (perhaps weakened by his experience with the flu) in late January of 1920 at age 31. He had been sick only a few days prior to his sudden death. In a 1917 story, then at age 28 he mentioned that the 'young scribe from Green Bay (George Whitney Calhoun, age 26 at the time) had a lot to learn about La Crosse football."