Two years ago, I keyed in on some great multi-sport hero’s from the 1960’s, writing about Gary Bandor of Thorp, Mickey Vandehey of Auburndale and Steve Sterr of Lomira. Of course, there were others in this decade and one of them was Dick Hanson of Eau Claire Memorial.
Dick wasn’t the biggest player on the field or the court, but he was proficient. His father, Arnie, had been a star for the “Old Abe’s” in 1933 as they were rated the top football team in the state, going 9-0-0, the last time Memorial went undefeated on the gridiron. Standing 5’9, 165, Dick was a very fleet footed player with a terrific passing arm. Not only an All-American and All-State football player, but he was also a top basketball and baseball star and a top National Junior snow ski jumper. As a junior he passed for 567 yards to lead the Big Rivers Conference in passing, he also ran for 196 yards. The team went 2-3-2 in 1960.
The Eau Claire Leader-Telegram newspaper began in 1958 an area Athlete of the Year and in 1961 Hanson was the first high schooler to earn the honor. Billy Olson, a National Senior ski jumper, won in 1958 and 1959 followed by Joe Torre, a then minor league player (And future MLB star catcher and manager) in 1960. As a junior in the 1960-61 basketball season, Hanson averaged 12.0 points per game and 7.5 assists. Because the basketball season went late, all the way to the state tournament, he had to drop out of the National Championship ski jumping contest after placing second in the U.S. Central Association championships. He was also getting a hard look by MLB baseball scouts as a power hitting left-handed batting shortstop and as a pitcher who won the state title game in 1961 in a 4-0 win over Oshkosh. He even ran track occasionally and helped set a relay record. His football coach, Cy Berg, was named the years Coach of the Year after leading his team to the #1 spot in the U.P.I. football poll as well as coaching the baseball team to three state titles in five seasons.
Dick Hanson…Eau Claire Memorial Hall of Fame plaque
Even coming off the poor 1960 season there was great hope for the team. The 1961 football season started with a 25-6 win over Wisconsin Rapids. It’s remarkable that Rapids scored at all (They did so on a87-yard kickoff return) as they picked up only four first downs and the Red Raiders was held to only four yards total in the game. Hanson started the season on just a less than average performance, passing 12 times with six completions and gained only 62-yards. He ran nine times for 32-yards, but he lost 31-yards on fumbles and sacks. His play against Rapids did not foreshadow what was to come in week two.
Things fell into place against La Crosse Logan for Hanson and the Old Abe’s, a 47-0 route. The effort that he gave is one of the best by any player in state history. He ran 12 times for 135 yards, passed 12 times with nine completions and another 255 yards. He returned a kickoff for a 92-yard touchdown, hauled in two punts for 38 yards and he had an interception that he returned for 29 yards. Besides the kickoff return he scored twice on runs of 54 and 28 yards, passed for three scores of 41, 29 and 68 yards and ended up with 551 total yards. He had three touchdowns called back on 20- and 38-yard passes and a 57-yard punt return and he converted on five of seven extra-point kicks. He came out of the game with eight minutes to go in the third period but did return for the final two minutes of the game. The effort got state-wide attention.
Traveling to Menominee (MI) for game three Dick had another great game through the air as he completed 11 passes in 17 attempts for 267 yards and two touchdowns on completions of 80 and 67 yards. Next was a 26-6 win over La Crosse Central. Week six saw another blowout, this time as Hanson led a powerful offensive attack as his team destroyed Menomonie (WI) with him passing 11 times, 7completeions for 184 yards and three touchdowns. Against Marinette he ripped the Marines apart tossing for 121 yards and a touchdown, ran for 160 yards and two scores while kicking three extra point and hauling in an interception.
Before over 5,000 spectators at Eau Claire’s Carson Park, Hanson was able catalyst in the game as he tossed two first half touchdowns in the 13-7 win over Wausau to win outright the Big Rivers Conference title. The Abes had never won a sole title and had only tied once, that being in 1958 when they shared the honors with Wausau and Menomonie (MI).
In beating Chippewa Falls, Hanson ended on a high note rushing 13 times for 98 yards and two touchdowns, returned a kickoff 77 yards for another and was 6-9-0-138 yards passing. The game was 7-6 at halftime with Falls on top but Dick led a furious second half comeback to keep his team undefeated. As a team it was the tough play of the defense, just as the week before against Wausau, that helped greatly to the win. In the first half Eau Claire had a 91-88 lead in yardage but in the end, they put up a total of 320 yards to the Cardinals 118. Hanson’s second half kickoff return broke their opponents back and set things up for a big momentum swing.
Hanson would set many school records as he posted 59-99-8-1,218-12 passing, led the team in rushing as he led the team with 610 rushing yards on 88 carries, returned two kickoffs for 168 yards, running back four punts for 54 yards and gaining 61 yards on three interceptions. This totals to 2,111 yards on the season for an average of 263.9 yards per game. Dick scored a team leading 72 points on nine touchdowns and 18 extra points. As a team the Abe’s rolled up 3,098 yards with 1,761 yards on the ground and 1,337 yards passing. All told he set or tied 30 school and Big Rivers Conference records.
Dick Hanson …Eau Claire Memorial Hall of Fame plaque
After football Dick Hanson led the basketball team to the state semi-finals as the Old Abe’s lost to the great Milwaukee Lincoln (26-0) team, 93-80. The 1961 Lincoln squad is considered one of the state's all-time best teams. On his senior season Hanson led the team in scoring and assists.
Under the direction of baseball coach Cy Berg, Hanson again helped lead the school to the 1962 state title. After winning the title in 1957 and 1958, Berg led the team in 1961 and 1962 to the championship. The school, under the direction of James Bollinger would win two more baseball titles in 1964 and 1966.
Dick’s father, Arnie, was a star football, basketball and track star at Memorial, graduating in 1934 at 5’8, 165. Arnie was a 3-year letterwinner in football, 4-year letterwinner as well in track. The 1932 Old Abes football team went 6-1-0 and followed it up going 9-0-0 and the mythical state championship. Known as the “Blond Flash” on the basketball court and the track, Hanson specialized in the 100 and 200-yard dash as well as the broad jump. His 1933-34 basketball team went 17-0 before losing to the eventual champion, Beloit, in the semi-finals. He went on to play in the Canadian Football League in 1937 for the Regina Roughriders but only played the one season. A knee injury ended his playing after leading the team in rushing. Also, a very good baseball player, even though he didn’t play it for the high school team but rather for local summer teams, he was a star pitcher and infielder. Arnie also coached basketball for a while at Eau Claire St. Patrick’s (Now Eau Claire Regis). Dick followed in his dad's footsteps as Arnie was on several Central U.S. Junior Ski Jumping teams. In 1957, Arnie coached the Wisconsin State Babe Ruth Baseball Champion's that Dick, and his brother Jim were a part of.
Dick’s brother, Jim, got the big gene’s as he was 6’1, 210 pounds and played center on the football team and went on to play at Eau Clair State (Now UW-Eau Claire) after accepting a scholarship to play at the University of Indiana.
After graduating in 1962, having been named first team All-State in football by the AP and UPI, after leading his team to the #! State ranking in the UPI poll and earning High School All-America honors as presented by Scholastic Coach Magazine, things didn’t seem to go Dick’s way. Dick had wanted to go to the University of Minnesota, but his grades were not up to par so he decided to attend Parsons College in Fairfield Iowa. He played two seasons there and as a freshman he moved into the starting quarterback spot as the team enjoyed a 9-0-0 season (Yes, in another story that I used for my book it stated that Parsons went 10-0-0. Bad initial information). His stats for the two years there were 74-148-8-1,186-13. There were changes in the coaching after his sophomore season as the team went 5-4-0 and he wasn’t doing well in school, so he dropped out and returned to Eau Claire and went to work in a meat packing plant. His plans were to take a semester off, go back to school at Eau Claire State and become eligible to play for the Blugolds.
At this point, I’ve hit a dead end on what happened after Dick Hanson attempted to come back to Eau Claire other than in 2011 both Dick and his Father Arnie were inducted into the Memorial Athletic Hall of Fame. If you’ve read my other blogs, you know that I like to “tell the rest of the story” on players and coaches. There is no record online with the UW-Eau Claire football records as his ever playing for the school. I did an obituary search and like I said in a precious blog concerning a player from Pewaukee, there are numerous Dick Hanson’s but no matches. In 1960-63 there are so many mentions of men named Dick Hanson playing golf, YMCA basketball, tennis and other sports that it got confusing trying to sort things out. There are several Dick Hansen’s, with an “e”, as well. SO, if you know about the Old Abe’s former star or have contact information, please pass it on.