The 1976 football season rolled around quickly after summer baseball, and it would be a very good year for the Truckers. They opened the season where they left off by beating Oconto in the opener 70-0. Mike Jirschele was spectacular as he rushed 11 times for 147 yards, running 43-yards for one touchdown, passing 16 and 27-yards for two more as well as kicking eight extra points and tossing for a 2-point conversion. Running the wishbone offense, he didn’t need to pass often as he completed two of three passes for the 43 -yards that were part of his two touchdown passes. The team rolled up 436-yards while allowing only 82.
Mike Jirschele…Clintonville 1977 Yearbook
The win over Oconto was followed by a 30-0 win over Oconto Falls. Jirschele was held to his lowest rushing total, 37yards in 14 carries, but he still scored two touchdowns, kicked two extra points and he booted a 27-yard field goal. Jirschele suffered a sprained ankle and sat out the third game, a 49-0 pasting of Pulaski. Jerry O’Connor led the team with 170 yards on only nine carries as he and his teammates took up the slack of their missing star quarterback.
The Truckers were on a roll as they beat Seymour 23-8 in game four. Jirschele was back but the team was more than just a one-man show and others were stepping up. In this game he kicked a Bay-Conference record 47-yard field goal, but the ankle would still nag Mike for the rest of the year. Game five was a closer win, a 14-6 victory over West De Pere and again, Jirschele suffered an injury to his left ankle and missed some of the game. Coach Chet Jurkovar hadn’t planned on using Mike to return kicks and it was on a punt return that he turned the ankle.
The next week against Bay Port Jirschele was still bobbled by his two injured ankles but his team won 23-3. Game seven rolled around and it seemed that all was well with the ankles as Clintonville dropped Ashwaubenon 27-0 as Mike had as super evening as he scored three times, passed for a fourth, kicked one extra point and then picked up a botched snap and ran it in for a two-point conversion. He rushed 179 yards on 16 carries and completed six of 10 passes for 66 yards. Coach Jurkovac (A WFCA HOF coach who spent 24-years at Clintonville) reported that he was almost 100% and that his team was good without Mike but a lot better with him in the lineup.
Clintonville was ranked #1 in the middle-sized school press polls, and they played game eight against De Pere to a close 21-16 win. The 16-points scored by the Redbirds were almost equal to the 17 points the Truckers had given up in the previous seven victories. They were also outgained 226 yards to 189 but they were able to pull out the win. The sore ankles were back but Jirschele was the difference with a 31-yard field goal as the Truckers were able to eke out a 10-8 win over Marinette. The win propelled the school into the first ever WIAA playoffs and they would face Wisconsin Dells in the Class A division. Mike seldom ran the ball, but he did pass the ball nine times for 49 yards in the game. The win provided by the defense that sacked the Marines quarterback five times and recovered two fumbles.
Two undefeated teams met for the opening round of the playoffs, but it was the Truckers and Mike Jirschele who won over the Orioles of Wisconsin Dells, 19-0. However, even though the team won the injuries were piling up. Not only were the ankles still bothering Jirschele, but others were hurting. Prior to the title game Mike was again named to the All-Bay Conference team at the quarterback and defensive back spots. Menomonee Falls with over 1,500 students was matched by the WIAA to face Clintonville, a school with just over 800 students. As mentioned in a blog written back on December 18, 2020, the decisions by the WIAA to match up several teams in the initial playoffs to be a head scratcher. Read that blog…1976: A LOOK AT THE START OF THE WIAA FOOTBALL PLAYOFFS (wihifootball.com) for more details.
The game was a nip and tuck affair, but it boiled down to injuries. Against the Dells the Truckers lost fullback/middle linebacker Dave Ruch who watched from the sidelines on crutches. Hobbled with bad ankles, Mike Jirschele was forced to move to the spot linebacker position. Backup quarterback Randy Schmoll stepped in to cover the defensive back spot but due to a lack of experience he was burned on a second quarter 43-yard touchdown pass play. Defensive end Duane Knaack, the team’s top pass rusher may have been able to get to the Menomonee Falls quarterback before he was able to toss the key touchdown pass. Two more running backs for the Truckers were hurt in the game. The game was a defensive battle with Clintonville taking a 7-6 lead on a fourth quarter run by Jirschele. Falls was able to mount a drive and they scored a fourth quarter touchdown to take the lead, 12-7. A drive by Clintonville was stopped as on two consecutive runs Jirschele was unable to pick up the needed yardage to get a first down. Ans so the 1976 football season ended with the 12-7 loss but honors for Mike’s overall play was pilling up. With over 40 college offers just to play college football he was named to the AP second team All-State at the quarterback spot. The UPI named him to their first team as they presented 22 offensive and 22 defensive players on their first team squads. For his career Mike carried the ball 341 times for 2,411yards. He passed 235 times for 108 completions, 13 interceptions, 1,628 yards and 20 touchdowns plus six 2-point conversions. He scored 35 overall touchdowns, kicked 59 extra points, ran for two 2-point conversions, seven field goals and 292 points. On defense he intercepted 12 passes in his career. All very good numbers in an era before today’s high-powered offenses.
NOTE: Coach Chet Jurkovar would mold the Truckers around a number of players from the 1976 team and they would win the Division 2 football title in 1978, a 21-6 win over Oregon.
Mike made it known that if he played college football, he hoped it would be with a school in the southern part of the states so he could also play baseball. His reputation as a baseball player was growing after the 1976 summer play with older teammates and opponents. He knew major league scouts were interested in him but now, he needed to concentrate on the upcoming basketball season.
And what a season it was for Mike and his teammates. In Madison at the state title games Jirschele scored 29 points in the semi-final game against Ladysmith and then 31 more in the championship game, a 91-74 win over Prairie du Chen. Clintonville went 22-3in the 1976-77 season. Not many athletes get to play in three state title games in a years’ time, but Mike Jirschele did. Quite an accomplishment. But there was more to come. Mike was named to the first team AP All-State team and then a few weeks later he was named by the UPI first team as well as the co-player of the year along with Racine St. Catherine’s Harvey Knuckles.
A few days later on April 12 it was announced that Mike had turned down the offer tom play in the First Shrine All-Star football game to be held in Oshkosh on July 22. With his high school playing of baseball and then being on three summer league teams the 10-days of football practice for the All-Star game and the game itself wouldn’t work out. So, he continued to play baseball until August when on the 4th it was announced that he had been drafted by the Texas Rangers and signed with them after some negotiations from the Rangers original offer. Mike had finally decided to attend the University of Wisconsin to play football (The school still had a baseball program then) but baseball had always been his best sport.
Mike spent 12 years in the minors from 1977-1990. (He was out for the 1986 season) including six seasons at Triple-A before he retired as a player, having never made it to the majors. While his dad, Don, was still coaching the BABA A’s team, Mike began a career as a baseball coach at the Minor League level in 1992. He stayed there until 2014 when he moved up as the bench coach for the Kansas City Royals. While coaching in the minors he won his 1,000th game in 2011. He spent several seasons with the Royals, also as the third base coach but moved back to manage in the minors. This past April 8, 2023, he won his 1,000th game as the coach of the Omaha Chasers, the Royals Tripple-A affiliate.
But the story of the Jirschele family isn’t over. Baseball runs in the family. Miles and his wife Sheri have three children, one boy named Justin who manages the Chicago White Sox Tripple-A team, the Charlotte Knights. Their other son, Jeremy is now the head baseball coach at UW-Stevens Point after a very good college career at UW-Oshkosh. Sheri is the daughter of Mikes former basketball coach, Carl Bruggink who is in the Wisconsin Basketball Hall of Fame and who spent 41 seasons coaching at Clintonville. His teams won 549 games and when he retired, he was listed as the *8th winningest Wisconsin high school coach. He’s now #12. One of Mike’s sisters, Marge, married Dave Arneson, who played at Madison and lettered in 1983 & 1984. Their son Sam started in 2014 as the Badgers tight end after a high school career at Merrill where he played quarterback, linebacker and tight end. He won various honors. Projected as a mid-round draft pick, Sam decided to give up the thought of playing pro ball.
Many athletes have had sons or daughters who have followed in their footsteps but few combinations of a father and son being truly football stars is rare. In my research I can only think of one other father/son duo who come close that of what Don and Mike Jirschele accomplished and that is Arnie Hanson (1933 Eau Claire Memorial) and his son Dick (1961, also from Memorial).
So, there you have it. The Jirschele’s are quite a Family of Stars.