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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."

Continuing to look at the controversial state title of 1917. Here is what appears to be the best timeline for events that can be put together:


Several teams played on Saturday, November 24th and the winners expected to play again on Thanksgiving if a match could be made.


The next day, November 25th, the Milwaukee Sentinel proposed the Marshfield and Watertown match and it was not accepted until Tuesday night, November 27th.


The headline in the November 26th La Crosse Tribune read: "Marinette Turns Back on La Crosse Refusing to Play Title Contest". The paper went on to claim that by refusing to play, Marinette could not be considered a credible title contender and the same went for Eau Claire, Marshfield or Chippewa Falls, all who had turned La Crosse down for a Thanksgiving Day game. Being unable to schedule any Wisconsin schools, La Crosse scheduled a game with Owatonna (MN) to be played there. That would be about a 120 mile trip away to a city that's about 5 miles west of Rochester. In the column next to the Marinette/La Crosse article was one about Rochester scheduled to play St Cloud for the Minnesota state title. There were several digs about the Rochester scores against the Winona schools.


The next day, Tuesday November 27th, the Green Bay Press Gazette stated in "Cal's Comment", a semi-daily sports column, that Marinette was being lambasted by La Crosse for not playing them. Marinette doesn't feel La Crosse is now a team to play instead of others that were undefeated. Because they couldn't find a suitable Thanksgiving opponent the team has now disbanded. Cal asked why Waukesha and Watertown wouldn't play Marinette. Meanwhile, the La Crosse Tribune continued their attack on Marinette and printed a copy of Watertown's season record along with their own. In a side story the school announced that the season was closed as their star back had chicken pox. But the paper claimed that there were but two schools in the race for the title, Watertown and La Crosse.


Wednesday, November 28th rolled around and the Milwaukee Sentinel announced that the title game had been set. The Green Bay Press Gazette made no mention in their evening paper as they focused on the West vs East matchup in that city with a full-page story. The Wisconsin State Journal in Madison also reported the title game. But it was in the La Crosse paper that there was a brief story of the Wisconsin matchup as they also reported the season schedule of Rochester and again questioned their qualifications for the Minesota title. Since I had been unable to track all of Rochester's games before, I now had the complete record and sent it on to Kevin Askeland of MaxPreps.


Thanksgiving Day, November 29th brought Watertown to meet Marshfield and to be fair and at the request of a local reader the La Crosse Tribune printed the Marshfield schedule. They again took another dig at Marinette: "We are nothing but fair; we are willing to admit that Marinette has a grand team, one of the best in the state of Wisconsin. But a 'quitter' can never be conceded a championship of any kind." Watertown and Marshfield played to a scoreless tie before only 400 fans and the title was now still in play. Marshfield had the ball five times on the Watertown one yard line and failed to score on all five occasions.


On Saturday, December 1st, Marinette who had supposedly shut down for the season now took notice that neither team playing for the title on Thanksgiving had won so now they threw down the gauntlet and challenged any team, through a message to the Milwaukee Sentinel asking them to set up a game with any team they thought would qualify as a suitable foe. At the same time the Press Gazette proposed that Green Bay host the game for Marinette.


It took until Sunday, December 2nd for the La Crosse Tribune to continue their attack on Rochester and Marinette and continue their praise for the local high school.


Monday came and the Press Gazette reported that the Sentinel had named Marinette, Marshfield, Watertown and Waukesha for a 'title series'. The semi-finals would be played on Saturday, December 8th. The Milwaukee Sentinel wanted to pit Marshfield against Marinette and Waukesha against Watertown. It also made mention of La Crosse agreeing to play Marinette, contrary to earlier reports, in Marinette but that the game had been cancelled due to heavy rains. The football field being down in sort of a valley had nearly two feet of water and mud on it so they couldn't play there and they couldn't agree on a different site. Cal from the Gazette wrote that day:


"La Crosse High, for some unknown reason, making an awful wail about state championship football honors. It is hard to figure where the Westerners can be considered in the running. They have only played one Wisconsin team; Tomah and this aggregation can be rated along in the 'minor league' class.
'Chesty' Dahlgren, who gets up very capable little sports column in the La Crosse paper, from a high school point of view, raves continually about La Crosse's eleven. He can't seem to see anything but his home team, and when some other sports writers are inclined to hammer out some copy on different lines, he gets peeved and comes back with personalities."

Cal's Comment continued to point out the cancelled Marinette game with La Crosse, the fact that La Crosse cancelled a game with Green Bay West and the fact they didn't put out a challenge for Thanksgiving Day until a few days before the holiday.


On Tuesday the Press Gazette reported that Marshfield had retired for the season and neither Watertown or Waukesha thought Marinette an equal foe. But on Wednesday the Gazette said Marshfield had reconsidered and was willing to meet Waukesha. The Tribune now considered the season over as J.E. Dahlgren wrote that the top teams were, in order: Waukesha, Watertown, Marshfield, La Crosse and Marinette.




The Initial Spark


When I was researching my book, I found a list of possible early state football champions for Wisconsin online. I somehow came across it and I made a copy which jumpstarted my research. On that list were several schools that should not have really been considered the champion for their year but for the most part it was accurate. On the list for 1917 was the Marinette team so I went to the state historical society to look at the microfilm of the town's newspaper, the Marinette Beacon. That and the 1918 school yearbook were my basis for the story found in my book. But like the 1913 state title controversy, 1917 had its own problems.


On December 20, 2021 my fellow historian Kevin Askeland from MaxPreps.com, based in California published an article concerning the 1917 high school football champions. I mentioned in my January 5th post that Marinette was #45 on the list. Up at #33 was Rochester (MN), the only team of the top 50 to not have a complete schedule of scores. Since my youngest daughter lives in Rochester, I thought that on my next visit there I would go to the library, the county historical society, the high schools and the school district offices looking for the high school 1918 yearbook. No luck. Nobody had a copy so I was off to the Rochester library microfilm files. I found mostly brief stories on the team and only six of eight possible game scores. I was at a dead end, or so I thought.


One of the brief mentions on the Rochester team in the paper was a game with Farmington but no score or game report was noted. Back home I started searching for the Farmington score and I also looked at the Winona newspaper to verify the scores of the Rochester vs Winona High School and Winona Normal games. There was a mention of those two teams playing La Crosse High School so, out of curiosity, I looked up the La Crosse team. They had a great record in 1914-1916 and played Edgerton for the state title in 1916 so I looked closer at their 1917 season. In doing so I found the Rochester season record. Why would they print the season record of a team that was so far away? Rochester was about to play St. Cloud Tech for the Minnesota state title and the La Crosse Tribune newspaper wanted to argue that their hometown team should be in the mix for the Wisconsin title.


Rochester played the Winona Normal College in their season opener and won 7-0. In their sixth game they beat Winona High School 41-0. Meanwhile La Crosse High School defeated Winona Normal 114-0 and Winona High School 90-0. La Crosse Normal beat Winona Normal 101-0. Big scores by the Wisconsin schools and the newspaper didn't think that Rochester could measure up to La Crosse High School. There are reasons for the low Rochester scores compared to those by the La Crosse teams but I won't get into that just yet.


The Contenders


Here is where I began to go down the rabbit hole. While checking the La Crosse newspaper I ran across more information than what I had initially found when doing my research on the 1917 Marinette squad. Back then I had used the school yearbook and the local newspaper but now I reviewed the La Crosse Tribune, the Green Bay Press Gazette, the Wisconsin State Journal and the Waukesha Freeman with a little help from the Marshfield News and the yearbooks from Madison, Marshfield, Watertown and Waukesha.


Many schools were in the mix by mid-season for the Wisconsin state title. Marshfield, Watertown, Madison, Waukesha, Marinette, Green Bay West, Grand Rapids, Fort Atkinson and St John's all looked like contenders.


La Crosse only played against one Wisconsin high school team in 1917, that being Tomah in the season opener. In the second game they lost to Prairie du Chien Campion College and then to Winona St Mary's College. They regrouped and destroyed Winona Normal 114-0 and then followed up with their 90-0 win over Winona High School. Because they hadn't played many Wisconsin foes, the press outside of La Crosse didn't feel they should be in the running for the state title. So the local newspaper hounded other schools with challenges for a game, particularly 5-0-0 Marinette, the last two weeks of November but to no avail. Marinette had cancelled an earlier game because heavy rains made their field unplayable. With a 3-2-0 record, La Crosse moved their scheduled game with St Paul Central (MN), a team they had played in 1915 and 1916 in past November games, to the Sunday before Thanksgiving. La Crosse Normal won the Wisconsin College School title and wanted to play the high school to cap off the season in early December. However, the high school's star back came down with chicken pox right after his team trounced St Paul Central and the game was cancelled. Yet, because they now had a 4-2-0 record the Tribune continued to bad mouth other Wisconsin schools.


In their sixth game of the season Green Bay West was declared out of the running after they lost to Marinette 16-0. And when I say 'declared out of the running' I mean that the major in-state newspapers were pushing for undefeated teams to match up. Green Bay West had tied Oshkosh Normal in their second game 0-0 so they now had a 4-1-1 record. They would finish the season 7-1-1, beating their next three opponents, Wausau, Oshkosh and Green Bay East.


St John's dropped out after starting out 4-0-0. They lost to Shattuck (MN) Military Academy 14-7 in their fifth game. Besides the loss, two Wisconsin high school teams backed out of their matchups with St John's so they found a game against a Chicago public high school to partially fill their schedule. St John's finished 6-1-0 with wins over Oshkosh Normal, The Milwaukee Murry Athletic Club, St Norbert's College, Milton College, Wendell Phillips (IL), and the Racine Professionals (forerunner to the Racine Legion of the NFL). In their six victories they shut out each of their opponents while scoring an average of 67 points per game.


Grand Rapids (now known as Wisconsin Rapids) and Fort Atkinson did not finish strong and were both eliminated from the running. Madison was 5-0-1, having tied Milwaukee South, when they played and lost to the Northern Illinois champion, Rockford, 16-7. With the defeat they were declared out of the title race. They then scheduled and beat Eau Claire 20-0 in a Thanksgiving Day battle to finish 6-1-1 on the season.


On November 18, Marinette played their last regular season game, beating their twin city rival Menominee (MI) and rested with a 5-0-0 record after two other schools backed out of playing them. Having beaten Green Bay West and the top teams in Northern Michigan, Escanaba and Menominee, they were considered the champs of the North, even with only having played five games. They now sat and waited as undefeated Watertown (7-0-0) was to meet a tough 6-1-0 Marshfield on Thanksgiving Day in Marshfield. Marshfield had lost in their second game to Stevens Point Normal 20-6. Watertown had allowed only six points, that in their season opener vs Milwaukee East (Riverside). They had scored 290 points with seven shutouts. Marshfield had outscored their first seven opponents 202-32. Scribes thought this was the best matchup.


But what about 7-0-0 Waukesha? They were considered for the title but they only wanted to play home games. The Waukesha Freeman didn't cover all of their games and there was no season wrap-up in the later editions. Waukesha was undefeated, untied and unscored upon after the first six games, scoring 237 points. I could only find a brief mention about them in the La Crosse newspaper, discounting the team's ability. I had to continue the search. The school yearbook didn't mention the snub or later championship drama. The Saturday before Thanksgiving, Waukesha beat Milwaukee Washington 13-7 (per the yearbook, 13-6 per the newspaper) but they were excluded from the championship game, they contacted schools to play on Thanksgiving and came up with Chicago Lake View (IL). They won 14-0 to end up 8-0-0.


La Crosse's Beef


With the title matchup set due to big help by the Milwaukee Sentinel, Watertown faced Marinette at the county fairgrounds. The La Crosse Tribune criticized the matchup. The paper began to sound like the Oshkosh Northwestern had in years past and the lead squawker was J.E. Dahlgren who wrote a regular feature sports column. The paper seemed to change their tone after being generally fair and honest. In 1914, after La Crosse beat Grand Rapids (93-0) and Sparta (12-7), two teams in contention for the title, things seemed to change. The La Crosse team was good in 1914-1916 and they scored well against two of the Winona schools in 1917 but they weren't as good as the paper claimed. La Crosse was very fortunate to play those Winona teams at the right time.


Rochester (MN) played Winona Normal in the season opener and only won 7-0. One of the brief stories in the Rochester newspaper reported a week before the Normal game that they only had 10 players and the coach was scouring the school for more bodies. Surprising, considering Rochester also won the Minnesota state title in 1916. You would have thought that potential players would flock to the gridiron. The team was able to come up with an 11th starter and a few backups. So, when they went to Winona, they were only recently at full strength. Had they been a solid unit they would likely have beaten Normal by a lot more. Later in the season Rochester played Winona High School and won 41-0. The year before they defeated them 91-0. In that game several Winona players left the game with severe injuries. According to the Winona paper in 1917, several key players were hurt playing Rochester and couldn't play the next week against La Crosse. When the team did play, they seemed to give up after falling behind. La Crosse would also face a beat up Winona Normal team that quickly surrendered the field.


On or about Saturday November 23, Marinette passed on playing La Crosse. Why? Because La Crosse wanted to play a home game and wouldn't travel to a neutral site. Travel in 1917 was difficult especially in late November with bad roads, long train rides, likely facing bad weather and often having difficulty earning enough money to cover expenses. Marinette had no Thanksgiving game but with an undefeated record felt no pressure to move to a neutral site that might have been more profitable for both parties. Since La Crosse turned them down they reached out to other teams, including some from Chicago who asked for more money than Marinette was willing to give for their travel expenses.


Marshfield and Watertown were now set to play each other. Waukesha evidently wanted to play on Thanksgiving, November 29 even with a November 24 game with Milwaukee Washington looming. But they wanted a home game. If Waukesha had played Marinette on Thanksgiving it would have been a great showdown of unbeatens. It may have led to a final showdown of the winners from the two major games. La Crosse had scheduled their November 24th game with St Paul Central so now they proposed another game with Marinette to be played in that western city on Thanksgiving. Marinette turned them down and the newspaper wars really began.