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COACHING GREATS…Some coaches you may have or haven’t heard of

An Early Milwaukee City Conference Coach

In 1928 Bernie Heselton left his teaching and coaching position at Duluth (MN) HS and moved to Milwaukee to become the head coach at Milwaukee East (Riverside) and in doing so he made a name for the football program and himself. The school had previously been somewhat successful but never as strong as during his ten-year stay at East. The 1915 team had posted an 8-1-0 record, losing only to the Alumni, but despite the loss the state press felt that they were the top team over a 6-0-1 La Crosse. Conference titles were rare, but they still competed well in the city. Then Coach Bernie showed up.

Lisle Blackbourn came to Milwaukee Washington in 1925 to become one of the greatest City Conference coaches. Bernie Heselton arrived on the scene in 1929 and for the next 10 years the two schools battled for control of the city. It should be noted that it took Blackbourn until 1937 (12 seasons) to coach his first conference champion team while it took Heselton only three seasons to cop his first title. In the first two seasons Easy only posted a 5-11-1 record but then Heselton turned on the afterburners and in the next six seasons the team won 33 games, lost only one and tied three times as they had a 32-game win streak. His teams earned six conference championships in his 10-seasons, and he posted an overall 58-16-6 record. His Tigers beat Washington four times, lost one time and tied once. Because there were 8-10 teams in the conference as the city grew and more schools opened all teams played a rotating schedule, usually of 6-7 conference opponents and 1 or 2 non-conference foes.

WFCA Hall of Fame photo

Now, I admit I didn’t know about Heselton until I began to search some of the available school yearbooks at the Milwaukee Historical Society. When I got home, I did a GOOGLE search of the coach and came away impressed. Lawrence University came calling and he moved on to the collage scene where he then spent the next 27-years at the Appleton based University. His Lawrence teams would win six Midwest Conference championships and they finished in second place three times. Overall, he posted a 11-78-5 record. Late in his coaching career at Lawrence he also took the reins as the school’s Athletic Director, a position he held from 1961-1970. After he retired, he was honored in many ways. In 1981 he was named to the Wisconsin Athletic Hall of Fame, The Wisconsin Football Coaches Association Hall of Fame in 1982 and he was part of the inaugural class of the Lawrence University Athletic Hall of Fame in 1994. As a tribute to the rivalry between Ripon College and Lawrence University the Doehling-Heselton Trophy, awarded each year to the winner of the Ripon-Lawrence annual football game was created in 1994. Sadly, Bernie died in early 1981 and never learned of these awards. But awards weren’t what he was about. It was about the students and players with whom he came into contact. Just like my next profile.

A Jefferson Leader

Like Bernie Heselton, I had never heard of Carl J. Hager of Jefferson but digging through school yearbooks I learned a lot. Hager graduated from Jefferson High School and then moved on to attend the then named Stout Institute (Now UW-Stout). A star athlete at Jefferson as a high schooler, he returned to the school and served as the football and basketball coach and also acted as the school’s athletic director. And if that wasn’t enough, he taught what was then called manual arts (Now known better as shop). He was a master carpenter and specialized in desks, bookshelves and cabinets. The school doesn’t have copies available of the yearbooks for when Hager was a student so I couldn’t check his playing career. However, I was able to look at just about everyone beginning in 1920 his first year he returned to the school. And what a return it was.

1921 Jefferson High School Yearbook

His first football team tied in the season opener to Stoughton and then won the next seven. Finishing 7-0-1 in 1919 on the field his first basketball squad was not successful, posting a 3-9 record. He had moderate success coaching both sports. His 1922 team was only 5-7-0. Yes, that’s not an error. They played 12-games in one season before the advent of the playoff system in 1969 (By the WISSA). They were the first Wisconsin school to play 12-games in a season. That year they played Waterloo, Fort Atkinson, Cambridge, Lake Mills and Whitewater Normal HS twice each.

Speaking of Whitewater, did you know that a Normal school meant that it was a school that taught teachers? Most had kindergarten through, usually, sixth grade. Whitewater was different. Their teaching school had grades from K-5 to 12th grade. They had their own high school football team. It was never very good. The Whitewater College High School played Jefferson once as did the Whitewater Public School. I thought it was strange that Whitewater College had a high school in a town of about 3,500 people. By the way, the old Wisconsin High School was located in Madison on the UW campus which closed in 1964. Whitewater’s HS closed in the early 1950’s. Why the high school wasn’t in a larger city like Milwaukee nobody knows.

In 1924 Jefferson trimmed their football schedule as they went 6-0-0. Their next undefeated season was in 1939 as they went 7-0-0. Unfortunately, the cupboard was bare as the team went 0-7-0 the next season in 1940. Hager won six Rock Valley League titles in the 23 seasons that he coached football at Jefferson as he ended with an 88-77-4 record. He stopped coaching basketball in the 1940-41 season after 22 seasons. His final coaching season was 1941 as his team went 4-3-0.

At the start of the 1941-42 school year, he was relieved of his teaching duties as he took on the job of assistant principal. He was drafted into the Army after Pearl Harbor. He had been a lieutenant for his brief service in World War I and when he was drafted, he entered as a captain but eventually rose to the rank of colonel. When he returned from the war, he resumed his position of assistant principal and eventually he was promoted to principal. He retained that position until the 1962-63 school year. He passed in 1976 at age 81

Why did I track and mention Carl Hager? Because like Bernie Heselton, Mr. Hager was a teacher. His teams may not have always been the best but through his thoughtful encouragement he groomed his players and students to always be better. Hopefully the community hasn’t forgotten him for all he did.

Rock County

About the same time Bernie Heselton and Carl Hager were born, Herman L. “Honest Jake” Jacobson came into the word in Mt. Horeb. After graduating from Mt. Horeb HS, he attended Whitewater Normal in 1921 followed by attending and graduating from the University of Illinois in 1926. He would later obtain a M.S. degree from the University of Wisconsin in 1932. Between the U of Illinois and UW-Madison he coached football at Cuba City Wisconsin and took the school’s basketball team to the 1923 state tournament. He then went to coach at Monroe for two years. Next, he then spent five years as the football coach at Milbank South Dakota where he posted a 36-4-0 record in five seasons. After getting his final degree he took the head coaching jobs (Football, basketball and track) as well as the athletic director position at Beloit Memorial HS. He was a busy man and yet always concerned about others.

Starting in 1932 Jacobson spent the next 11 seasons as the football coach and posted an overall 66-46-5 career record. His Beloit football teams won two Big Eight Conference titles in 1933 and 1936 while tying for the title in 1938. On the basketball court his teams won the state title in 1933, 1934 and 1937 while placing second in 1935.

Coach Jacobson…Beloit High School Hall of Fame photo

An incident in the 1936 opening round against fellow Big Eight Conference member Kenosha shows his caring for others. Posting a 14-5 overall record, Beloit had split the two regular season games with Kenosha. Behind in that opening playoff round 27-13 at the end of the third quarter, the game had just resummoned with Beloit making a field goal when Fred Bauer, the Kenosha coach, suddenly fell from his chair on the sidelines, dead of a heart attack. After a long delay Jacobson conceded the game. It could have gone on, but he knew that the Kenosha players were unnerved, and his team might have been able to overcome the 12-point lead. But he also didn’t feel like continuing. He knew that if they had won it would have been a hallow victory. His concession drew wide praise. In those days the state tournament teams played additional games after they lost in the opening round and so Beloit went on and won the next game but went down in the third game of the loser’s bracket.

“Jake” retired from coaching in 1944 and his AD spot in 1946. At this time, he was appointed as Beloit’s Director of Recreation and Physical Education, a spot he held until 1966. While the director of the rec department he was appointed as a member of the Rock County Board of Supervisors, a job he held from 1961-82.

Among his many accomplishments Herman served on the WIAA Advisory Council. In the winter of 1945, he proposed a weekly poll of rating basketball teams in Wisconsin, similar to one that had been in use in Illinois to rate their high schools. It took on in the press and became popular. It would lead to the AP and UPI weekly football and basketball weekly polls. He was elected to the state basketball coaches association in 1979 (Although the school credit is listed as Eagle River and not Beloit…not sure why) as a charter member. He was enshrined into the Athletic Hall of Fame at UW-Whitewater in 1966 and was also named to the WFCA Hall of Fame in 1983. He passed in 1984.

Why These Three?

I had never heard of these three men. I ran across them in checking through yearbooks and expanded my search from there. I thought they were interesting, and I hope you find their accounts interesting as well.

Wisconsin Connections:

If you haven’t looked at the national posts by Kevin Askeland of check out his private blogs at High School Sports History | Kevin Askeland | Substack He does great, extensive research into creating past All-American and National Champion teams. Check them out. Wisconsin is mentioned in all of the stories.

Kevin also posted on (His regular job) a story on the nation's Top 50 winningest active coaches. There are a few names besides Wisconsinites you may know: High school football: Top 50 winningest active coaches - MaxPreps

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