With school records that go back to 1914 the city of Fond du Lac had only one high school, Goodrich, and one football team. Until 1967 the teams had only been a middle of the road to a lower tier program. In fact, they had only won one Fox Valley River Conference title and had only one runner up team. The period of 1914-1967 shows that the Cardinals had won only five games or more in a single season (57 years) six times. Not a big, proud program. Beginning in 1964 things began to change, all be it, slowly. Jim Johnson who had been an assistant for four seasons took over as the head coach. Things started slowly, going 0-8-0 in his first season 1964. He followed that with a 3-6-0 season the next year and then a 3-4-1 record in 1966. When he started, he brought on Dave Bartolluti as an assistant. George Trtan was the JV coach and in 1965 he moved up to the varsity staff while also staying the JV head coach. 1965 also saw the addition of Wayne Steffenhagen to the varsity staff. He is credited with starting a solid weight program and when he left Fond du Lac after the 1970 season to take over as the head coach at Schofield D.C. Everest, he took the knowledge and experience with him. He later became a WFCA Hall of Fame coach for his work there. His teams would go on to win four state titles.
1967 was the turning point in the Johnson era. Over the next eight seasons Fond du Lac went 59-6-1. They won the conference title four times and finished as the runner up the other four years. In that period as well as placing #1 in the UPI final football polls in 1969 and 1974 they placed in the #2 spot in the 1969 AP poll and #1 in 1974. School pride developed and fans came out to see their team march to victory. The program developed two high school All-American’s in tailback Jim Bond in 1968 and running back/linebacker Pete Johnson in 1973. Johnson, the coach’s son, was a three-time first team All-Stater. Johnson’s other son, Phil (1974) was one of at least nine other players that his dad coached to All-State honors.
Meanwhile, across town, Bob Hyland was just starting at St. Mary’s Springs in 1971. With a program that never had won more than six games in one season (Once) and usually 2-4 wins, it was a tough go in his first three seasons, posting a 4-20-2 record. Springs had been an all-girls school until the late 1940’s with the football program starting in 1948. The teams were usually the door mats of the Fox Valley Catholic (Later changed to Christian) Conference. Things got better in 1974 as the team went 6-3. Johnson retired from coaching at Goodrich at the end of 1974. The Fond du Lac program began to regress a bit beginning in 1975 but Springs caught the attention of the city.
The 1975 Ledgers went 10-1 and lost to Milwaukee Marquette in the WISAA state finals. They were named to the #2 spot in for the middle size schools in both the AP and UPI final polls that year, which were posted prior to the WISAA playoffs. This was the team’s first of four consecutive Fox Valley Christian Conference titles. The Ledgers posted 10-1, 10-2 and 10-2 records in 1976-78. The school lost in the WISAA finals each season, just as in 1975. The city of Fond du Lac was excited each season for the Ledgers as the city’s public school was dropping back to its middle of the road, pre-Johnson era.
1981 brought another regular season undefeated team but in the WISAA semi-finals they lost to Marshfield Columbus to end with a10-1 record. The rumbling in the town was that Springs, particularly Bob Hyland could not win “The Big One” Fans were not even happy with an 8-2 record in 1982. . In Hyland’s first 12 seasons the Ledgers had won five conference championships. Then, 1983 rolled around and the St. Mary’s football squad had targets on their backs. The Fox Valley Christian Conference had the Ledgers, tied with Green Bay Premontre and De Pere Pennings, listed in a coach’s poll as the odds-on favorite to win the FVCC. 1983 would be Bob Hyland’s lucky 13th season at Springs.
1983 Fond du Lac St. Mary’s Springs WISSA State Champions
Springs was one of the smallest schools in the FVCC (And today they are the smallest school in the Flyway Conference) and they have had to matchup against many schools that had much bigger players. As the above picture shows they may have had a small school population but not a small amount of varsity players available. That was the case when the team opened the 1983 season against Weyauwega-Fremont. One of the things that set the Ledgers apart from other schools was that they had speed. They used their speed to overwhelm W-F, 30-0 in that season opener. Tackle Mark Feyen, 6’0, 220 was the team’s biggest and only one of five players that weighed over 200-pounds. W-F had 12. Feyen used his blocking ability for several years opening holes for Blaine Toshner. In 1982 Toshner earned second team All-State rushing 178 times for 1051 yards and scored 122 points. Much of the attention went to Blaine but he had lots of help. Others on the line who opened holes for Toshner and the other backs were Chris Meyer (Guard), John Schommer (Guard), Joe Hughes (Tackle), Kevin Grunwald (Tackle) along with tight end Mike Tessner. All were seniors except for Grunwald who was a junior. John Klinzing shared the backfield rushing chores with Toshner while Tom Lenz handled the quarterback spot. Senior Joe Schneider held down the wide-out spot with juniors Chris Krumm and Steve Lamb sharing the slot back/messenger positions.
The defense was led by Toshner at the defensive back spot along with Steve Lamb, Kyle Krueger and Mike Tessmer at the other defensive back positions, Tony Berenz and John Welsch were the defensive ends followed by Chuck Kramer and Mike Tenley at the interior linemen. Pete Blatz held down the nose guard spot. Then there were the linebackers, Eric Gross and Dean Tighe in the 5-2 defense.
Springs followed up the win over Weyauwega-Fremont with two conference foes, Fox Valley Lutheran, and Manitowoc Roncalli before lining up against the always tough, undefeated Menominee Michigan Maroons. It was a close one, but Hyland and his team pulled the win out with a hard running ground attack and great defense.
Checking out the Ledgers schedule you will see that in 13 games the defense only allowed 54 points with seven shutouts. Theyn also scored 30+ points seven times. The team would move on more glory that season.