While doing research for another blog I ran across a story in the Eau Claire Leader-Telegram newspaper about Ladysmith high school and the Heart of the North Conference. The story was about Ladysmith winning the 1961 conference title, it’s first undisputed title since 1949. This isn’t a history of a conference north of Eau Claire, but there is a bit of background on the Heart of the North to put things in perspective. So, here goes, the non-history, history (Because all my blogs are historical).
In the late 1920’s, after years of schools and newspapers not having set schedules and many teams not in conferences the WIAA put pressure on schools to form conferences. If you haven’t read previous blogs, then in the “old” days there were few teams with set schedules. It was often week to week that teams would try and match up against other opponents. Sometimes a team would have a “set” opponent as of the upcoming Wednesday or Thursday and then that opponent would drop out and the first team would have to scramble to find someone else for Saturday (Most games were played back on Saturday, occasionally on Sunday, until the advent of outdoor lights. It was the 1930’s and 1940’s when “Friday Night Lites” became fashionable). The WIAA outlawed the “match games” to set up a potential state champion, even if it was a mythical title. Seeing the story in the paper drew me to the early Ladysmith football program but I also wanted to know more about the Heart of the North Conference. I couldn’t find a definite date when the conference began but I went back in newspaper archives and first found a mention in a 1926 EC L-T story that listed Barron, Bloomer, Cameron, Cumberland, Ladysmith, Rice Lake and Spooner as members. A February 1930 story about basketball lists the previously mentioned seven teams as well as Chetek, Clayton, New Auburn, Shell Lake and Turtle Lake. That made the basketball conference a total of 12 teams. But a November 1930 story listed the football teams as what I would call “the six” …Barron, Bloomer, Cumberland, Ladysmith, Riced Lake and Spooner. It stayed that way until early in the 1940’s when Hayward joined the conference.
The 1940 Ladysmith team won the conference title with a 5-0-0 posting. The highlight of the season was the final conference game as over 500 Lumberjack fans drove 40 miles to see their team beat Rice Lake 28-0. 1941 saw Ladysmith drop to an overall 0-9-1 record. For much of the rest of the 1940’s they were pretty much a middle of the road team. Toward the end of the decade the 1948 team went 5-1-2 and finished second in the Heart of the North. They were getting ready for the next season. The 1949 Ladysmith team went 9-0-0 as coach John “Blackie” O’Brian directed a steady but not a high scoring squad as they scored 166 points and allowed only 45 points. 20 of the points the defense allowed occurred in the season finale a 38-20 victory over non-conference foe Cornell. The 38 points the Lumberjacks scored was a season high.
The 1949 Ladysmith team…yearbook
By the 1950’s the conference expanded to eight teams as Chetek was added and the 1958 squad went 6-2-0 overall and finished, 5-2 in the conference. It was Roger Harring’s first season as head coach as junior back Bob Davis led the team in rushing and scoring. Davis picked up over 800-yards on the ground and scored 17 touchdowns. Ladysmith again went 6-2 in 1959 but this time they finished second in the conference race. Bob Davis, now a senior, carried the ball for 939 yards on 113 carries for 15 touchdowns and two extra points. He was named to the AP All-State third team and honorable mention on the UPI squad.
The decade changed and Ladysmith dropped to 3-5-0 in 1960 but the team was young and in 1961 they rose to the top of the Heart of the North. Coach Harring’s molded his Lumberjacks into a dominate team as they went 8-0-0 overall and of course, 7-0-0 in the conference. There were many team leaders including Larry Anderson a speedster who carried the ball 98 times for 1,058 yards, a 10.8 average and 11 touchdowns with six extra points. He earned All-Northwest honors from the Eau Claire Leader-Telegram. Anderson was part of a one-two-three rushing attack. Halfback Tom Howard scored nine touchdowns and four extra point for a total of 56 while fullback Allan Hanson scored eight times with four extra points. Both gained over 450 yards rushing. Junior end Tom Mestelle was the leading receiver hauling in passes from junior quarterback Dennis Bay. The outstanding lineman was junior center Mike Petrick who was the leading tackler as a linebacker on defense. Guards Daryl Jordan and Ted Collins were also dominate in blocking for the running backs.
1961 Ladysmith team…Yearbook
Roger Harring…1962 Ladysmith yearbook.
1961 was the start of several great years for the Lumberjacks as they again showed who was toughest in the Heart of the North. The eight wins in 1961 rolled over to another undefeated season in 1962, a second 8-0-0 record and a 16-game win streak. Senior end/flanker, Tom Mestelle, 5’11, 165 was the leader that season as he hauled in 30 passes for 801 yards and 14 scores while taking 18 end-around rushes for 158 yards and six more touchdowns as well as scoring six extra points for a total of 126 points on the year.
1962 Ladysmith team…yearbook
The offense was balanced with Dennis Bay’s throwing and the running of fullback Allan Hanson, the team’s second leading scorer. Bay was 59-91-4-1,252-16 passing, and Hanson was 77-719-9 on the ground. Center/linebacker Mike Petrick, a three-year starter was again the leading blocker and tackler.
Tom Mestelle, 1962…Eau Claire Leader-Telegram
Tom Mestelle was named to both the UPI and AP All-State first teams. He attended La Crosse State (Now UW-La Crosse) in 1963 where he played both offensive and defensive end. He transferred to Eau-Claire State (Now UW-Eau Claire) and then at Mount Senario College as well and worked part time in the private industry while earning a teaching degree. He would later coach at Ashland and Superior. He was inducted into the WFCA Coaches Hall of Fame in 2007.
Roger Harring started at Ladysmith in 1958 and stayed until 1962 going 31-9-0 before moving to become the head coach at Wisconsin Rapids Lincoln where he coached football, wrestling and track (As he did at Ladysmith). He left in 1969 to take the head football position at UW-La Crosse where he stayed for 29 seasons, winning or tying for fourteen conference titles. He is also in the WFCA Hall of Fame as a college coach.
More on Ladysmith in the next blog.