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1926 Waukesha

In 1922 the WIAA issued a directive that no school could schedule a “championship” game. That directive didn’t stop teams from playing “post season” games that newspapers would declare as a title matchup. That would end after the 1926 season. In my research for my book, The Great Teams, I found that many teams scheduled additional late season battles, after their regular season ended, usually on Thanksgiving Day. The press would declare a winning team to be the unofficial, mythical state champion. That occurred in 1926 when the press awarded the title to 8-0-0 Marinette who beat Superior 24-0. This wasn’t a true title game, a matchup of unbeatens. Superior would end with a 3-3-3 record but was considered the top team in the northwest.

So why wasn't Waukesha considered as the champion or co-champion? I think the likely reason was publicity, or the lack of it. I recently made a trip to the Wisconsin State Historical Society to look up in information in the Milwaukee Journal and the Milwaukee Sentinel about the 1926 Waukesha team. These two very large newspapers boasted thousands of readers but like some of the other papers around the state they didn't cover much in the way of high school sports. There was no mention of the team. In fact, the two papers, with few exceptions only covered the Milwaukee City Conference and then only small game stories. In fact, I found two, three line stories about Shorewood vs Chicago Latin, Kenosha vs Beloit, Octono vs Oconto Falls, a basketball schedule for Oconto and a basketball schedule for Chippewa Falls but that was about it for high school sports coverage. So, outside of the Waukesha newspaper and the other members of the Suburban Conference, no one knew of the team's success.

In 1926, teams now scheduled, for the most part, Thanksgiving Day opponents before the season began. It was often a rivalry game. That year there were games between the likes of Waukesha and West Allis and a battle between Madison East and Madison West. But some schools held out for a big season ending game like La Crosse against Kenosha or the aforementioned Marinette vs. Superior. So, a true title game couldn’t be played between Waukesha and Marinette unless they set it up for before Waukesha’s Thanksgiving matchup with West Allis. The WIAA, no matter how it looked or was stated, wouldn’t have sanctioned an early December game. Between Waukesha’s November 8 game against Cudahy and the November 24 Thanksgiving game vs. West Allis they had a long stretch of inactivity. Surely Marinette could have met Waukesha sometime in that open timeframe and not played Superior for a poor excuse of a title game.

Due to losing eight starters from the 1925 team not much was expected of the 1926 Waukesha’s squad despite coming off an undefeated year. Based on the lead story in the Waukesha Daily Freeman previewing the Saturday opener, a non-conference game, against the Wauwatosa Aggies (the nickname of the Milwaukee County School of Agriculture and Domestic Economy, located in Wauwatosa) it was supposed to be a tossup. But, maybe coach Lee Saubert was hiding the team's true talents and suckering opponents into not taking the “Red and White’s” too strongly. Then again, he only had three returning starters from the undefeated, untied and unscored upon 1925 team. Saubert had toyed with moving tackle Ray Braeger to a backfield spot but then changed his mind during the five weeks of preseason drills. This was Sauberts seventh season at Waukesha. He was an accomplished basketball coach as well and a beloved physical education instructor. He knew his players well and they were ready. The Cardinals, as was the Waukesha nickname at that time, came out on fire and blew the Aggies away, 61-0. Not all of the formal first names of the players are known but I was able to get most of them or their nicknames from the yearbook. The roster usually looked like this as the team was lucky to avoid serious injuries throughout the season:

Right End Johnny Weaver Center Harold Tonn

Left End Al Dillingofski Quarterback Herb Thiel

Left Tackle Ray Breager Fullback Clifford Goerke (Capt.)

Right Tackle Harold Able Halfback Bill McFarlane

Left Guard Warden Halfback “Cow-boy” Kuntz

Right Guard “Slim” Bassett

Other lettermen and main substitutes were: Guard Bill Pancratz, fullback Dawson Mann and halfbacks Frank Ruckert and Wayne Hallgareth.

Wherever he played, team captain Clifford Goerke was the main star. He plunged into the line as a fullback, hauled in passes as a halfback, returned kicks and did the teams kicking. His father was a blacksmith as well as the first postmaster of Storyville, later changed to Blodgetts Corners and then changed to Goerke’s Corner which was along the old Watertown Plank Road in what is the west side of Brookfield and where 'The Corners of Brookfield' are now located. In the opener that took place on September 25 at Frame Park in Waukesha, he scored three times and kicked seven extra points. Kuntz also had a big day scoring three touchdowns while Thiel had two of his own. However, the big story in the Monday Freeman (the paper didn’t have a Sunday edition) wasn’t the football game but the world heavyweight boxing victory by Gene Tunney over Jack Dempsey. Tunney’s face was all over the paper. The smaller story of the win was just right for coach Saubert who was trying to keep his team unknown to other teams so they wouldn’t be prepared for his players.

The following Saturday the Cardinals again played a second non-conference opponent, Marquette High and the Jr. Avalanche (Marquette University was nicknamed the Avalanche then and the high school took on the nickname) was crushed 30-6 (newspapers listed it as 31-6) as captain Goerke hauled in two touchdown passes from Thiel. It should be noted that the final scores in the newspapers differ a bit in several games from the yearbook. I am using the scoring information from the 1927 yearbook A third non-conference game was played next against Beaver Dam and Waukesha trounced them 45-0 (44-0 in the newspaper). This was the only game that Goerke didn’t score at least two touchdowns. He had one score and three extra-point kicks but this time it was the passing combination of Thiel to Braeger. The end caught two touchdown passes and scored two other times on defense. It was now mid-October and the team was about to start their conference play and they were ready.

They opened league play against South Milwaukee who was crushed 39-0 (paper had the score as 33-0). This was the only game that Goerke was limited to a single touchdown. Thiel scored twice and passed for two touchdowns. Shorewood was next up and it was a 68-0 blowout with Goerke scoring three times and kicking eight extra points. Kuntz and Thiel each had two touchdowns. Halloween and homecoming fell on the same day, October 30. Wauwatosa high was the opponent and they fell 72-0. Thiel and Goerke were the scoring stars with four touchdowns and three touchdowns with six extra kicks. The story of the game was not totally about football. It seems that in the festivities prior to the game there was a horse drawn hearse, yes a hearse ridden by someone to Frame Park, Something spooked the horse that ran onto the field and the game had to be stopped while the animal was corralled. The hearse was an omen for Shorewood as they were slaughtered by the Cardinals. By the way, the Cardinals or the “Red and White” are the nicknames used by the local paper and the yearbooks at this time. The team did wear black shirts in a few games and they later became known in the 1930s as the Blackshirts, a nickname still used by Waukesha South high school. The school mascot is a picture of a cardinal wearing a red and white sweater.

The next week, Cudahy went down in flames in a 45-0 loss. Thiel again had a big game as he passed for two touchdowns and scored three times. Goerke plunged for two touchdowns and kicked three extra points. Now, game eight had to wait 17 days as there was a big layoff before the finale on Thanksgiving Day. Many people urged coach Saubert and others at the school to schedule a game in the interim and an open letter in the Freeman asked that Marquette high school be contacted. It was turned down by the coach and the school and so the players had to wait for the Thanksgiving showdown with West Allis. Instead of playing Marquette they should have approached Marinette but there is no indication the coach of the school did so.

Waukesha closed out the season with a 20-0 win before 4,500 fans including 1,500 from West Allis. The game was notable not only for the fine play of the Cardinals but also for several fights by spectators with police. Two West Allis residents were arrested for punching police who were trying to keep the fans off the field. Not a good way to end the season for West Allis but it was a good victory and a great season for Waukesha.

Unfortunately, there wasn’t a season recap in the Waukesha Daily Freeman from which draw additional information but I’ve totaled the scoring for the players the best I can and to no one’s surprise Clifford Goerke led the team with 18 touchdowns and kicked 32 extra points for a total of 140 points. Herb Thiel scored 13 times and threw for eight scores while “Cow-boy” Kurtz scored nine touchdowns. At the season ending banquet held for both the Carroll College and Waukesha football teams a name from the past was the main speaker. It was George F. Downer, the coach of the 1898 Milwaukee South Side High School, a team that was undefeated, untied and unscored upon. Now a sports reporter for the Milwaukee Journal and future publicity director for the University of Wisconsin, Downer praised the Cardinals for their intensity, their grit and overall awesome performance. Fine words from a knowledgeable person. His 1898 team was not only the state champion but is recognized as the second national mythical champion (the 1897 Madison High school was the first national champion. These are the only Wisconsin schools accorded these honors).

Coach Saubert would coach football until 1937 when he would be replaced by a former star, Clifford Goerke.


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