When Lee Saubert arrived on the doorsteps of Waukesha high school in 1919, neither he nor others would expect the results he would achieve in all facets of the school’s athletic life. Born in LaFarge, WI in 1893, Lee attended La Crosse Normal School and received a degree in physical education in 1917. He taught at Dunkirk, NY for a year followed by another year at West Salem. During World War I he served in the army as a machine gunner. Following his discharge he taught at West Allis high school. Then, he moved to Waukesha where he spent the next 40 years as a coach and later athletic director for football, basketball, track and tennis. As a football coach he posted a 83-37-9 record in 17 seasons and as the school’s basketball coach for 33 years, winning the WIAA state championship in 1945. Saubert was instrumental in the building of the Haertel field that is used for football and track. When a proposal was made to build a new school gym he pushed forward a successful program to build a field house for multiple sporting events.
In 1924 he helped organize the Suburban League which was the forerunner of the Suburban Conference. Waukesha would finish first in the league 1924-27 and then win three more titles in the 1930s before he stepped down as the football coach in 1937. After several slightly above average seasons, the 1924 team posted a pedestrian 3-3-0 year. Not a great year record wise but Saubert was building for the future. One of the websites I use for research ideas is E-Yearbooks.com. Unlike Newspapers.com they don’t send out notices of a new yearbook edition being added to the site, so I check the web site every few weeks. This past weekend I ran across some newly added yearbooks including some of Waukesha High School's books from 1929 and the 1930s. In the 1929 yearbook there was a story on the school’s recent football successes. The story mentioned the 1925 team that was undefeated, untied and unscored upon. That team scored 220 points and posted seven shutouts. The 1926 squad was undefeated, 8-0-0 as well and scored 370 points and allowed only 18. Unfortunately, the 1926 and 1927 yearbooks weren’t available online so I contacted Waukesha South high school where the school librarian, Mary Beth Hass, was very helpful in sending me pages from the 1925, 1926 and 1927 yearbooks. Newspapers.com doesn’t have the 1920s editions of the Waukesha Daily Freeman so I also went to the city library. I got the scores and a few bits about the team. The paper mainly only gave game stories, but I was able to piece the season together. The yearbooks gave me some of the starters' first names which the papers from that era didn’t provide. But with the added information, beyond just the scores, there was a big question to be answered. Why weren’t the two teams considered statewide as the mythical state champion? I have the answer, I think. But first, a bit of history for those of you readers who don’t know much about Waukesha County in the 1920s.
Back in the mid-1920s Waukesha was out in the country away from Milwaukee. Looking west from Milwaukee into Waukesha County there was little population other than farmers and their families. The drive from Milwaukee to Waukesha took you along pastures and farmhouses unlike todays main route along Blue Mound Road, now loaded with shopping plazas and fast-food restaurants. It was then part of the Watertown Plank Road. The road swung around a bit from where Blue Mound and Barker Road now cross near the current I-94 at exit 297 (Goerke’s Corners) in the far west part of Brookfield. Waukesha was a city of about 15,000 residents. Other members of the Suburban League were from similar size communities. In 1920, Wauwatosa had 5,800 residents but the city would jump to 21,000 by 1930. Shorewood had only 2,000 citizens in 1920 but jumped to 13,400 in 1930. South Milwaukee had about 8,000 people in 1926 while West Allis had around 25,000 and Cudahy had around 9,000. Migration after World War II saw the beginning of cities like New Berlin and Brookfield, still unincorporated farmland in the mid-1920s. Driving to play an opponent was an adventure with no big, wide roads or interstates like today. An away game could take as long as an hour and a half or more instead of today’s 30-45 minutes.
In 1924 coach Saubert had the 3-3-0 average team but he used more than just his starters and a few substitutes which was different from the era for most teams. The substitution rules were restrictive so often a player was only replaced when a teammate was injured. Only five starters returned for the 1925 season but most of the other six starters had plenty of experience because Saubert freely used the substitution rules to his advantage.
Right End Earl Blasing Center Martin Zollnar (Capt.)
Left End Bob Shortell Quarterback Stan Winde
Right Tackle Joe Adashek Fullback Clifford Goerke
Left Tackle Raymond Braeger Halfback “Zip” Hey
Right Guard George Wilber Halfback Tony Natalizio
Left Guard “Slim” Bassett
All but Braeger, Bassett and Goerke were seniors. Some future stars for the next season who gained valuable experience were juniors Harold Able, Harold Tonn, Bill McFarlane and Frank Ruekert plus freshman Al Dillingofski who played tackle in 1925, end in 1926 and fullback in 1927 and 1928.
After five weeks, yes, five weeks of hard practice, new starters were put into place and the team jelled. The team had good speed as Hey and Natalizio were known for their long scoring runs of 30, 40 or 50+ yards. Occasionally, Blasing would carry on end-around plays or even from a halfback spot. Against West Allis he took the ball 90 yards for a score. Winde was a splendid passer and tossed eight or nine touchdowns for the season. Goerke was a line plunger usually plowing between Braeger and Bassett. Braeger was nicknamed “Five yard” Braeger because he could be depended on clearing a big hole for the backs. In the Thanksgiving Day game Goerke scored a touchdown, kicked five extra points and drop-kicked a 45-yard field goal. On the season he scored seven touchdowns, kicked 24 extra points and two field goals for a total of 76 points to lead the team.
This great performance by the Waukesha team will be added to the list of 18 other squads in state history that finished undefeated, untied and unscored upon having played six or more games. This was truly one of The Great Teams and I wish the information had been made known to me prior to my book being published.
Now, to answer the question as to why this team wasn’t considered as a state mythical champion it boiled down to one thing. Publicity.
Outside of the city of Waukesha and other members of the Suburban League, hardly anyone knew about the 1925 and 1926 teams' performances. The 1925 state champion team was Green Bay East with a 9-0-0 record, the same as they posted in 1924. In 1926 Marinette was the champion with a 8-0-0 performance. That team only scored 165 points but gave up just 10 points with six shutouts. 1926 was the last year for season ending matchups not scheduled at the beginning of the year. Waukesha’s traditional season ending game was against West Allis. Marinette had won seven games in 1926 and looked for a worthy opponent and met up with. Superior, the supposed champion of the northwest with a pedestrian 3-2-3 record. Marinette won 24-0.
Beginning at the end of the 1922 season the WIAA banned season ending matchup “championship” games, which were usually scheduled on or around Thanksgiving Day. While that ruling prevented the schools from calling it a championship, that didn’t stop the local newspapers from hyping the 1926 Marinette vs Superior matchup. The Marinette, Superior, Green Bay and Eau Claire newspapers called that game a championship event. I cannot find a single newspapers story outside of Waukesha that printed a mention of the fine seasons the school produced in those years. In a November 19, 1946 edition of the Waukesha Daily Freeman the first mention I can find about the school claiming a mythical state title and that is for the 1926 season and this was in a story about coach Saubert’s basketball coaching prowess. These two teams were really “under the radar” for their time. I hope that in some small measure this blog brings them more attention.
Next up: 1926 Waukesha High School.