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Updated: Oct 26, 2021

The date: Thursday, September 26, 1963

Location: Marshfield Beell Stadium (Named after former Prussian world heavyweight champion professional wrestler turned local policer officer, Fred Beell, who was killed in the line of duty responding to a burglary at a local brewery in 1933) built in 1941 near Marshfield High School. Neutral site for the two teams.

Game time: 8:00pm Weather: Clear skies. High during the day of 76 degrees, about 64 degrees at game time.

The opponents:

Thorp - Member of the Cloverbelt Conference…3-0-0…victories over Greenwood 40-6, Dor-Abby 46-7 and Colby 39-6. Posted a 7-1-0 record in 1962 for second place in the conference. Loss was a 41-34 defeat to Cornell who was 8-0-0 and named the AP #1 ranked small school team. The Thorp Cardinals were ranked #12 in the final 1962 AP poll.

Auburndale - Playing an independent football schedule in 1963 as they did in 1962.…2-0-1…Defeated Marshfield 30-18 and Edgar 42-6 and tied Stevens Point 12-12. The Apaches were undefeated in 1962, 8-0-0, and were ranked #11 in the AP poll.

This night was the showdown between two top small high school football programs. It would be a battle between two of the top quarterbacks in Wisconsin who were also outstanding all around athletes. Mickey Vandehey of Auburndale had been honored as the second team quarterback on the AP all-state squad as a junior in 1962. Gary Bandor, also a junior in 1962, earned honorable mention.

Thorp, located fifty miles northwest of Marshfield and 42 miles northeast of Eau Claire was a small community of about 1,470 residents and the high school had around 200 students. Bandor was their star. Gary Bandor, standing 5”10 and weighing around 165-pounds earned All-Northwest First Team honors from the Eau Claire Leader newspaper as a junior. Gary passed for 695 yards on 68 of 103 attempts for an incredible 24 touchdowns. On the ground he carried 145 times for 1,105 yards and 10 more scores. Thorp didn’t kick extra points so they ran and passed with Bandor throwing seven extra points after and running for eight more in 1962. In his first three games of 1963 Bandor had thrown 39 times, completed 25 passes for 333 yards and six touchdowns while on the ground he had picked up 262 yards on 17 carries and scored 6 touchdowns.

Now the battle began at 8:00 pm. The largest crowd to ever view a game at Beell Stadium crowded in to enjoy what was supposed to be a close fight. It wasn’t. Vandehey, harassed all game long by the quick Thorp defense tossed three interceptions, the first was taken in for Thorp's first touchdown early in the first quarter. The teams traded punts before Vandehey fumbled and Thorp recovered. Thorp gained two first downs then Bandor tossed a 41-yard bomb that was the team’s second touchdown. Bandor then connected for the extra point. Auburndale was unable to mount a strong attack as Vandehey was bothered by his injuries. Bandor connected on a 40-yard pass but failed to score just as the first half ended with the Cards leading 13-0.

All hope for Auburndale was lost as Bandor opened the second half with an electrifying 79-yard run into the opponents end zone. A Card halfback scored the extra point making the score 20-0. The third quarter remained scoreless but early in the fourth Thorp mounted a solid drive. With the ball on the five-yard line Bandor swept right to run but stopped short of the line of scrimmage as the Apache defenders moved to cover him. He then flicked the ball to a receiver alone in the end zone for the score. Another run made things 27-0 in favor of Thorp.

Two series later, with his team leading 27-0 late in the fourth quarter, Gary Bandor exited to a standing ovation. The second string took the ball down the field to score the final time and the 34-0 victory was complete.

With his work that night finished he had passed for 230 yards and two touchdowns on 13 of 24 passes. On the ground he had run 11 times for 108 yards and a touchdown. When he needed to punt, Bandor averaged just a shade over 40-yards.

The next day newspapers throughout Wisconsin headlined his efforts in an AP press release. Mickey Vandehey had suffered a slight ankle injury against Stevens Point but then suffered a badly bruised knee the second time he carried the ball against the Cards. The Thorp Cardinal defense was relentless in pressuring Vandehey who was only 8 of 22 for 83 yards and suffered three interceptions and gained less than 30 yards on the ground. Hobbled the rest of the football season Vandehey would help the team to a final 5-2-1 record but he never regained his junior season form.

And so, the 1963 season for Thorp and Gary Bandor went on. The next week Thorp moved into the #1 spot in the AP weekly poll and stayed there. Thorp’s next game was the school’s homecoming and they crushed Owen-Withee 53-7. Bandor was again brilliant as he was 11 of 19 passing for 174 yards and two touchdowns and rushed 10 times for 93 yards and three scores. The following week vs Loyal, Bandor was again a star as he completed eight of nine passes for 212 yards and three touchdowns. He was passing more now and his line was holding strong so he didn’t need to run like he had as a junior or earlier in 1963, but he still had legs. Against Loyal he only ran four times for 36 yards in the 41-0 win as the Cards retained their top spot in the AP poll. Next up was Gilman, a 34-0 victory. Bando was 17 of 28 for 234 yards, four touchdowns and three extra points while running 11 times for 55 yards and a touchdown and an extra point run. Cornell had “fallen” to a 6-1 record in 1963 after being named the AP #1 small school in 1962. They now faced Barbor and his Thorp teammates and the game was another season highlight battle in the state. The showdown didn’t disappoint fans as the Cardinals made a comeback 38-25 win. Down 25-12 in the third period Bandor led the attack and ended up with four of eight passes for 159 yards and two touchdowns. He was compelled to use his legs more in this game as he carried 16 times for 119 yards and four touchdowns. In the critical fourth quarter Thorp was backed up on his own 15-yard line and Gary punted the ball 70 yards to Cornell’s own 15. He was that good.

The victory over Cornell clinched the Cloverbelt Conference title, the spot as #1 in the AP Small School press poll and many honors for Bandor. He would again be named to the Eau Claire Leader All-Northwest first team and he moved up in the AP All-State football squad to the third team. His official final stats, a little different from reported newspaper accounts for 1963 were 83 of 138 passes with only three interceptions as he gained 1,342 yards and tossed 22 touchdowns. On the ground he gained 574 yards on 89 carries and scored 16 times. His game stats show 79 of 127 for 1,342 yards and 21 touchdown passes. Rushing, his totals were 673 yards on 69 carries and 15 touchdowns. Whatever the totals were, he averaged over 200-yards total offense each game and was the team’s leading scorer. Officially in his career, his football passing stats were listed as 180 of 286 attempts for 3,412 yards and 50 touchdowns. On the ground he rushed 380 times for 2,605 yards and 34 touchdowns. Outstanding totals for only 32 games. In his four seasons on the football team, he directed the team to a 23-9-0 record. After his final game his jersey was given to the school and his number, 11, was retired and it would be placed in the school athletics display case.

Bandor was a star in other sports. In basketball he used his quickness and his good moves that he displayed on the football field to score 1,505 career points as he led Thorp to a 71-18 career record. The team finished 21-3 in both the1962-63 and 1963-64 seasons and as a senior Gary put up 535 points for a 22.3 points per game average. He was all conference three times in basketball as well as earning All-Northwest and special mention on the AP All-State basketball teams. In the 1964 UPI All-State basketball review he was named to the fourth team. Bandor was such a good basketball player that in a 1980 story in the Marshfield News-herald it was stated that he even practiced with the varsity on a regular basis as a fourth-grader.

Gary was also a good baseball player and played varsity for four years. In track he shown brightly. As a senior he competed in the pole vault and in the broad jump. At the state meet he set a state record for the broad jump for Class B as he jumped 22 feet, 9 and ¾ inches.

Gary attended the University of Wisconsin for two years after high school and then was drafted into the Army. He had won the starting flanker/wingback spot on the varsity his sophomore year and he had his scholarship waiting for him when he returned to Madison. He unfortunately didn’t return. After spending a year in Vietnam and about three months away from being discharged in 1968 Gary was stationed at Ft. Sill, Oklahoma. He and three other soldiers were involved in a jeep accident and sadly he died. Gone was the athlete who showed great agility and speed on the sports fields. He had excited all who watched him play.

Sometime in the years after his death the school display case was being cleaned and the football jersey that had been officially retired went missing. It left a hole in the school’s awards display case. Gone was the red jersey with white number 11. Then around the summer of 2015 the white with red numbering jersey that Gary Bandor had given a girlfriend was donated to the school. It had been on display at the Mesquite Bar and Grill in Thorp for many years but the owners thought that the school should have it.

In a way, part of the memory of Gary Bandor had been lost when the red jersey went missing but now he has come home to the school he loved. And the fans are grateful.

Football Jersey Returns Home - Thorp Courier 7/8/2015

Updated: Oct 26, 2021

This is the start of a series of blogs on some of Wisconsin’s greatest all-round prep stars. Over the years 1,000s of students have played several sports during their time in high school and some in different seasons in the school year. Even in this day of specialization, some players still excel in more than one sport. Here are a few who have really been the best of the best:

In 1912 two former Wisconsin high school football players were part of the great United States Olympic team. A team that was led by the greatest all-round athlete in the first half of the 20th century, Jim Thorpe. Thorpe won the gold medals for capturing the decathlon and the pentathlon. The King of Sweden called him the greatest athlete in the world. Jim Thorpe is a member of the NFL Hall of Fame and the College Football Hall of Fame. Thorpe also played professional baseball. Those two Wisconsin stars that were Olympic teammates of Thorpe, Arlie Mucks of Oshkosh and Ralph Fletcher of Delafield St. John’s were great multi-sport stars in high school.

Arlie Mucks was a man among boys in high school as he was an all-state football player at the tackle position, a center on the basketball team, a solid hitting and fielding first baseman as well as a state champion discus and shot putter. He was considered the first American high schooler (He had just graduated from Oshkosh just weeks before the Olympic games) to compete on the international stage. He placed 6th in the discus event. He would go on to play football at the University of Wisconsin. Listed at 6’4.5 and weighing 250 pounds he was huge for his era.

Ralph Fletcher had graduated from St. John’s in 1910 but his athletic feats at the school were outstanding. He lettered 17 times in six sports…football, basketball, baseball, track, fencing and crew (rowing). Named as the school’s top football player in the school’s first 45 years (1884-1927) Fletcher competed in the Olympic sword competition. Fletcher first attended the University of Chicago and then moved to the University of Mississippi where he quarterbacked the football team to a 6-3-1 record in 1913. Graduating in 1914 he returned to St. John’s where he stayed until his death in 1952 acting as the school’s athletic director. He was the football coach from 1914-27 (14 seasons and a 65-25-8 record and directing the 1914 mythical state championship), basketball coach from 1914-28 (14 seasons and a 126-46 record), baseball coach from 1915-28 (14 seasons and a 142-52 record). He also coached track in 1920. Like Mucks, there seemed to be nothing Fletcher couldn’t do and do well in any sport. They are mentioned to indicate how far back many great multi-sport stars go.

This past June, Tom Oates, sports columnist for the Wisconsin State Journal profiled some of the top multi-sport Wisconsin athletes. Specifically, he profiled the nine players who earned first team AP all-state honors in both football and basketball in the same year. Those listed with dual honors were:

  • Pat Richter of Madison West in 1958 and 1959

  • Rick Brown of Dodgeville in 1963 and 1964

  • Dan Moeser of Stoughton in 1963 and 1964

  • Jerry Tagge of Green Bay West in 1967 and 1968

  • Kurt Spychalla of Schofield D.C. Everest in 1968 and 1969

  • Bob Falk of Madison West in 1971 and 1972

  • Tim Stracka of Madison West in 1977 and 1978

  • Donald Hayes of Madison East in 1993 and 1994

  • Jonte Flowers of Madison LaFollette in 2002 and 2003

There have been 13 athletes who made first team AP all-state in one sport and second team in the other. They are:

  • Pat Harrington of Green Bay East in 1964 and 1965…2nd team in football and 1st team in basketball.

  • Bob Koch of Marshfield Columbus in 1965 and 1966…1st team in football and 2nd team in basketball.

  • Dennis Gutzman of Green Bay West in 1966 and 1967…1st team in football and 2nd team in basketball.

  • Gary Loose of Neenah in 1966 and 1967…1st team in football and 2nd team in basketball.

  • Gary Anderson of Madison LaFollette in 1969 and 1970…2nd team in football and 1st team in basketball.

  • Greg Bohlig of Eau Claire Memorial in 1969 and 1970…1st team in football and 2nd team in basketball.

  • William Stewart of Milwaukee Rufus King in 1970 and 1971…1st team in football and 2nd team in basketball.

  • Jeff Lund of Antigo in 1973 and 1974…2nd team in football and 1st team in basketball.

  • Mike Jirschele of Clintonville in 1976 and 1977…2nd team in football and 1st team in basketball. Mike signed a professional baseball contract.

  • Anthony Pieper of Wausaukee in 1992 and 1993…2nd team in football and 1st team in basketball.

  • Jim Secretarski of Hartland Arrowhead in 1993 and 1994…1st team in football and 2nd team in basketball.

  • Jon Krull of Marshall in 2002 and 2003…1st team in football and 2nd team in basketball.

  • Johnny Davis of La Crosse Central in 2019 and 2020…2nd team in football and 1st team in basketball.

A special note should be made about another star, Mickey Vandehey of Auburndale. In 1963 he earned 2nd team honors in football and in 1964 he was named to the 1st team in basketball. He signed a major league baseball contract after graduation. A special profile on Mickey will come in a future blog.

Those listed above are just the tip of the iceberg of all-time greats. Next time, a profile on an early 60’s great, Thorp’s Gary Bandor.

When I last wrote there were problems with the start of the football playoffs by the WIAA in 1976. Undefeated teams were expecting to make the playoffs. Six schools on the final AP Large School poll were undefeated. The Middle School poll had eight undefeated teams while the Small School list also had eight undefeated schools. That totaled 24 teams playing for 16 spots in the AA, A, B and C classes. However, the WIAA, based on the computer ranking, added two game loser Menomonee Falls East into the Class A schedule and now not just eight teams were on the outside looking in but there were nine. Schools knew this could happen going into the season but 24 undefeated teams in a season was a record. Going back to 1945 the most undefeated teams in a season with teams playing at least seven games occurred in 1949 when there were 21 undefeated teams but five made that list with at least one tie. Ties were now a thing of the past so 1976 really stood out.

1977 rolled around and teams looked forward to the playoffs again but some teams were destined to be disappointed. First there was DeSoto, the 1976 Class C champion who ended the 1977 regular season undefeated and possessing a 27-game winning streak. Future Wisconsin High School Coaches Association Hall of Fame member Robert Schulz was not a happy camper when he learned that the WIAA’s $5,000 computer program ranked the Pirates #6 in Class C and out of the playoffs. How could this happen? Well, the WIAA in the off season moved DeSoto from the Northern Division of the Scenic Central Conference to the Southern Division and removed Westby, Royall and Cashton to different conferences. While the three schools were not a sure win, they did have much better records overall in 1977 than the two-win replacement teams, Itasca and Wauzeka. Remember that opponent records were part of the computer’s playoff equation. Beating tougher opponents gave a team more points. Now, with a big win streak, being the previous season’s state champion and possessing a powerful offense and defense, DeSoto was sitting out the rest of the season with their hopes of a second consecutive title dashed.

As Dan Lindstrum of the Wisconsin State Journal put things into perspective in his November 5, 1977 story, the playoffs were full of problems and under attack from all over. Other members of the press from towns that didn’t even have a nearby team with a capable record to be considered for the playoffs recognized the problems. Besides DeSoto in Class C, there were problems in Class AA. Madison West was acknowledged throughout the state as the top school in the biggest class. They had defeated Madison East 22-14 earlier in the season as they stormed through the tough Big Eight Conference schedule. Now, in the first round they were matched up with East again. Yes, two schools from the same conference, one with a single loss, were pitted against each other in the first round of the four-team Class AA playoffs. West would win 22-6 and set up a title game with Stevens Point. The Madison West Regents would win that game 19-14 and take home the trophy. However, how could two teams from the same conference make the playoffs? Was the computer crazy? Surely another school should have been matched against Madison West in the first round. East was a good team but unlike today where it isn’t unusual for two teams in the same conference, in a field of 32, to play each other, even in the first round, this shouldn’t have happened when there were only four teams in the class.

Poynette had a similar situation as DeSoto. They were moved out of the Capitol Conference and placed in the weaker Dual County Conference. Poynette scored 314 points and only gave up 53 on the season. Yes, they had a 9-0 record but the problem was, like DeSoto, their conference opponents didn’t win enough games. Only Dual County Conference teams Rio, Westfield and Pardeeville had winning records so the bonus points they would have gotten from the six winning teams in the Capitol Conference were lost. DeSoto coach Schulz, Poynette coach Larry Thurston and Prairie du Chien coach Paul Bedbow all commented in Lindstrom’s article about the playoffs and Bedbow was very especially vocal about how the WIAA in 1976 had dropped Plymouth down from Class A to Class B and deprived a 10-0 Prairie du Chien team from even participating in the playoffs in their own class. The WIAA’s associate director, Matt Otte, even admitted that there were problems but no solutions were immediately offered.

The WIAA was taking baby steps with the introduction of the playoff system. The WISAA also started small with only one class/division in 1969, with four schools participating. But the WISAA was a newer outfit and they were looking ahead even then to adding more schools to the playoff picture. In 1976 they added a second division to their playoffs and this brought in four additional schools. They stayed with this format until 1989 when a third division was added and a total of 12 schools would enjoy post-season play. You also have to remember that there were only about 32 WISAA members in 1969 and about 45 in 1989 while the WIAA had as many as eight times the 1989 WISAA number of schools playing football.

In 1978 and 1979 a fifth division was added and now 20 teams were part of the playoffs. Division 5 which was the smallest division was given eight playoff spots and that made it 24 teams in the title hunt. But in 1981 the field was expanded to six divisions and eight teams in each, 48 overall teams, were incorporated into the system, allowing conference champions and some runners-up to participate. Eventually in 1996 the field was expanded to 192 schools, 32 in each division. In 2000, the WIAA allowed the WISAA teams to join the association as WISAA disbanded and this allowed even more schools to fight for a playoff spot. A seventh division was added in 2002 adding another 32 schools in search of a gold trophy. And, finally, in 2018, a separate 8-player championship was added to the schedule with eight schools participating in the run for the title. It should be noted that today many Wisconsin schools have a co-op program or have opted to play 8-player football because of low school numbers.

In comparison to the WIAA, Indiana started playoffs in 1973 with three divisions and eight schools in each division and included all high schools in their association, be it public schools or private ones. In 1983 they moved to four divisions with 32 teams in each. The state added a fifth division in 1985 and in 2013 they moved to six divisions with 32 teams in each. Illinois started fast in 1974 with 5 divisions and added a sixth in 1980 and in 2001 they added a seventh and eighth division, and that state has always had 32 teams in each division. That state organization has also included the private schools as well as the public in their playoff program. As you can see, the WIAA’s progress in prep football expansion was sort of in the middle of Indiana and Illinois but still moved Forward, just like the state moto.

It is interesting that DeSoto has participated 36 times in the playoffs, more than any other school. More about them in a future blog.

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