This past November, 2021, I received an e-mail mentioning that the former Antigo coach, Gordy Schofield, had passed away at age 90 on the 18th. It was suggested that I write a story about him. I replied, that as a former player of Schofield’s, I would like to talk to him about the coach. It was also suggested that I talk to some of his friends as well. It took a while for me to get a chance to connect to several and others replied to a questionnaire I had sent out. Afterwards I decided to focus on both the coach and his 1976 championship team. This part is mostly about the coach.
In my book I mentioned several Antigo teams, the 1972 and 1978 squads, but no real detail on coach Schofield and I regret that.
Born in Rice Lake in 1931, Coach Schofield attended Cameron High School and then on to UW-Eau Claire and later to the University of Pittsburgh. After college he took a job as an assistant football coach at Antigo and he never left. Serving as an assistant from 1953-61, Gordy got his big chance to move up to the top coaching spot in 1962 and he remained the head coach for the next 25 years not including a year off in 1965. Antigo opened the Schofield era with a 6-1-0 record in 1962, placing second in the conference to D.C. Everest. He kept things rolling in 1963 as the Red Robins ended D.C. Everest’s 22-game winning streak 34-21, knocking the Evergreens from the top spot in the state poll. Everest was hoping for a final game loss by Antigo to Wisconsin Rapids so they could tie for the conference title but the Red Robbins prevailed with an easy 40-0 win. They finished 7-1-0 overall and gave coach his first of 15 conference championships. Gordy helped Antigo beat Everest in 1958 to end that schools 20-game win streak. In those days, Hall of Fame coach Howie Stiehm was the “top dog” coach in the conference but Coach Schofield was just getting started.
Howie Stiehm retired in 1972 with a 20-year coaching record at D.C. Everest of 127-30-3, a .806 winning percentage. In 1970 the Evergreens were rated as the #2 team in the UPI and AP polls to #1 Green Bay Premontre while finishing #1 in the final 1971 UPI poll. They Dropped to #2 in the AP poll in 1971, behind Oshkosh who was ranked #2 by the UPI. Everest had also been ranked #2 in the final AP poll of 1966 so there was a lot of competition in the Wisconsin Valley Conference. Over time in his career, Coach Schofield would face off against a number of Hall of Fame coaches besides Stiehm. Among the other HOF coaches, he faced were Len Luedtke (Shawano/Marshfield), Ted Thompson (Assistant at Antigo in 1963, only and head coach at Wisconsin Rapids for only 1976), Ken Biegel (Wisconsin Rapids, replaced Thompson), Jerry Fitzgerald (Stevens Point), Fred Kuhl (Rhinelander) and Wayne Stefenhagen (D.C. Everest).
When Gordy Schofield returned to coaching in 1966, he set off an 11-year streak unmatched in the school's or the conference’s history. While he was away for the 1965 season Dale Peterson directed the team to a 6-2-0 record, good for 2nd place in the conference. It isn’t often that there are two Hall of Fame coaches on the same staff but there were FOUR! Dale Peterson filled one of those spots at Antigo, first as the head freshman coach, then moving up to cover for Coach Schofield in 1965 and then becoming a prized assistant, handling the duties of being the line coach for 20-years until he retired in 1988. When he retired Coach Peterson thought his coaching duties were over so he could watch his son’s play but he returned as the freshman head coach for two more seasons and then was the assistant freshman coach for two more years before finally retiring from teaching. While the players he coached weren’t usually big they were quick and tough. He had been a head coach in Canton, Minnesota before moving to Antigo in 1957 to teach physical education. He had been that department's head for many years when he finally stepped down in 1991. Dale was elected to the WFCA HOF in 1996.
Another assistant, Dennis Schmidtke, started in 1961 as a history teacher until 1966 when he left to earn his Master’s degree and returned inn 1967 to spend the next 22 years as the backfield coach. When he returned from getting that Master’s degree, he became one of the guidance counselors along with Coach Schofield. He retired in 1993 and was elected to the WFCA Hall of Fame for his fine work as an assistant in 2012.
The fourth key member of the coaching staff was Ron Dillahunt who served as the freshman coach starting in 1970 until Schofield retired. He developed a number of the future stars. He followed Gordy as the head coach for the next 11 years, winning Valley titles in 1988 and 1992. He was elected to the WFCA HOF in 2009. He was a teacher and coach for the Red Robins for 38 years.
I mention the assistants for good reason. It was under Gordy’s leadership that he meshed the coaching staff into an efficient and dominating group. He influenced his assistants and they in turn helped influence the players. To the best of my research efforts, the three Antigo assistants are the only three long-term coaches to be on the same staff to be inducted into the Coaches Hall of Fame and it is a tribute to Coach Schofield that he was able to accumulate such a strong staff and keep them for such a long time. His coaching expertise and leadership were keys to Antigo’s success. He had a somewhat restrained and relaxed personality but when he wanted to get your attention he could do so. Teamwork was what he wanted and what he got from all. He didn’t usually praise individuals but he did in 1976 when he spoke before the town in the school gym after the team returned from Oshkosh with the first WIAA Class AA state title. He had a philosophy that “you win as a team and you lose as a team.” He helped mold boys into men.
The players never called Coach Schofield “Gordy” to his face. They were very respectful and it was always Coach or sir. The players were captivated by the coach growing up. They went with their parents to the home games to cheer for the school and listened to his Saturday morning radio show. With the assistants on staff, Peterson, Schmidtke and Dillahunt, most of the players felt they were playing for the best coaches. Schofield was demanding but fair but the players were often exhausted from the grueling workouts. Those practices made the players better on the field and they learned life lessons from the coaches.
After retiring Coach spent his time in the community playing golf, cutting wood, and skiing while working at a local ski hill and he was active in his local Lutheran church. For many years he attended the numerous re-unions for his teams. He was simply loved by his players, the other students and the town of Antigo. In the end, his former players would say the Coach was the type of man they wanted their sons to be. As a guidance counselor he influenced not only his players but the other students. On the field he never said the team “Must” win. He would say “play hard, long, fast, physical, don’t make mistakes and give it your all”. When he retired in 1987 his career record was 199-41-2, a .829 winning percentage. Besides 1976, his teams won two more WIAA titles in 1978 and 1982. Why did he retire with 199 wins? Why not shoot for 200+? He could have easily stayed to hit that number and beyond but to him it was time to retire. It wasn’t about the numbers. It was how you played the game.
My thanks to some of the 1976 stars for contributing to this story. Tom Meyer, who first mentioned Coach Schofield’s passing to me and then the great comments from Dan Thorpe, Dave Strobel, Terry Grams and Dean Seis. Pete Theisen from the 1972 mythical state champion team also added some good insight. The information you all provided added much of this blogs content.