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Player of the Year: 1945-1965

When I wrote my book I created the list of mythical state championship teams. The list was based on research that allowed me to crown a champion for every year, sometime there was a tie, from 1897-1969/1975. (I say 1969/1975 because those were the years that the playoffs began.) Well, after looking at thousands of sports pages from a huge number of newspapers, scanning yearbooks by the dozen’s and reading a lot of online stories, I think I’ve come up with the best players for each year. Specifically, the best back and the best lineman. From the 1945 through the 1965 season I took the best information available from the AP and UPI all-state teams as well as the yearly Scholastic Coach all-America lists. 1945 was the year that the AP started its all-state team’s and 1951 is the first year for Scholastic Coach magazines All-America lists.

When Cliff Christl, now the historian for the Green Bay Backers but back in 1993 he worked for the Milwaukee Journal, gathered a number of coaches and sports writers from around the state to come up with the TEAM of the CENTURY they were able to delve deep into the past. Now, 28 years later many of those contributors to the voting for the team are gone. But the list is a another guide to honoring those great players. I’m sure a few will disagree with a name or two, just like my mythical champion list but that’s ok. I like a little controversy.

At first the list was just going to be about The Best Player. In these early years an offensive back might play the defensive line or linebacker as well. So I had to split the list into both the best back and the best lineman. There were seasons like 1945 where an end may have been the best lineman being picked over an interior player. That year two ends were standouts on both sides of the ball. Tom Biernermann of Kenosha and Stu Locklin of Appleton were tough blockers and tacklers. Instead, I chose center Robert “Red” Wilson because he was named to the second team All-Century team and the two ends were named to the honorable mention list, but it was a tough decision based on all that I read about the three.

There were years I couldn’t make a” Sophie’s Choice”. I just did my best in picking. The reason for ending the list in 1965 is because the UPI, the AP, the Milwaukee Journal, the WFCA and others started naming a player of the year in 1966. So, here it is. Look it over. I hope you enjoy reading all the great names.


1945 Lisle Blackbourn, Jr. Milwaukee Washington Back

1945 Robert "Red" Wilson Milwaukee Washington Line

1946 Bob Petruska Lake Mills Back

1946 Ken Huxhold Kenosha Line

1947 Roland Strehlow Wausau Back

1947 Bob Kennedy Rhinelander Line

1947 Pat O'Donahue Eau Claire St. Patrick Line

1948 Harland Carl Greenwood Back

1948 Dave Suminski Ashland Line

1949 Harland Carl Greenwood Back

1949 Don Penza Racine St. Catherine's Line

1950 Alan Ameche Kenosha Back

1950 Jim Temp La Crosse Aquinas Line

1951 Willie Brzeski Arcadia Back

1951 Frank Heiss Menasha Line

1952 Lee Hermsen Green Bay West Back

1952 James Yorton Kenosha Line

1953 Ron Le Mieux Green Bay East Back

1953 Dick Maierie Green Bay West Line

1954 John Cornell Algoma Back

1954 Lowell Jenkins Racine Horlick Line

1955 Eddie Hart Kenosha Back

1955 George Blommel Racine St. Catherine's Line

1956 Tom Bonofiglio Kenosha Back

1956 John Gotta Kenosha Line

1957 Jim Bakken Madison West Back

1957 Tom Downham Marinette Line

1958 Don Van Bibber Superior Central Back

1958 Paul Yutka Kenosha St. Joseph's Back

1958 Pat Richter Madison East Line

1959 Carl Silverski Shorewood Back

1959 Lou Holland Union Grove Back

1959 Jerry Thomey Kenosha Line

1960 Rich Reichart Stevens Point Back

1960 Ralph Farmer Madison West Line

1961 Dick Hanson Eau Claire Memorial Back

1961 Larry Brown Stoughton Line

1962 Robert "Rocky" Bleier Appleton Xavier Back

1962 Tom Jankowski Whitefish Bay Back

1962 Tom Omholt Wausau Line

1963 Robert "Rocky" Bleier Appleton Xavier Back

1963 Walter Paluinski Beloit Line

1964 Roger Lienhard Oshkosh Back

1964 Pat Harrington Green Bay East Line

1965 Bob Olson Superior Central Back

1965 Bobby Koch Marshfield Columbus Back

1965 Don Murphy La Crosse Aquinas Line

As I said, many years were tough to decide on a POY. Take 1949 for the top back. There was Jim Feest, a running back from Racine St. Catherine’s, the 8-0-0 state Catholic champion team (Tied for first with 9-0-0 La Crosse Aquinas). Feest’s teammate, quarterback Jim Haluska, was a star in his own right A great passer who directed the Angels attack. Next was Neal Worden from Milwaukee Pulaski. A powerful fullback, Worden led the Milwaukee City Conference in scoring and rushing. Quarterback Jim Strem from state champion Marinette was the top field general of the northeast. So why did I choose Jim Feest? To me he just stood out a bit more than the others but it was close. Remember, I’m picking players for their high school efforts and not for college or professional feats. I should also mention that besides Jim Feest and Jim Haluska, both of whom earned honorable mention to the All-Century team, end Don Penza was named to the second team list. That must have been a truly great squad. 1954 was another tough decision as end Jim Ewing of Beloit, tackle Lowell Jenkins of Racine Horlick and center Dick Teteak of Oshkosh all earned Scholastic Coach Magazine first team All-America honors. I chose Jenkins for his overall play but the choice was hard.

A multi-season POY is Robert “Rocky” Bleier of Appleton Xavier who earned honors in 1962 and 1963. I’m still working on a list of players who played from 1900-1944. It is hard to come up with some names but I should have a partial list soon. Some special notes about my choices. The first year, 1945, had both the back and the lineman of the year. The aforementioned “Red” Wilson and Lisle Blackbourn, Jr. both of Milwaukee Washington. On the list for 1956 are Tom Bonofiglio, an All-America quarterback who is my back of the year and lineman John Gotta, who also was an All-American. The 1953 0-0 season ending tie between Green Bay East and Green Bay West must have been a real battle. Tailback Ron Le Mieux led East to a 6-1-1 season that year and Dick Maierle was a standout on both sides of the line for West, a team that posted a 7-0-1 mark. Both also earned first team All-America honors. Several players who have made the early list (1900-1944) have a relationship to this one. Arnie Hanson was the POY as a back for Eau Claire in 1933, playing as a halfback. In 1961 his son Dick earned High School All-America honors as the quarterback for Eau Claire Memorial. Two players that were surprisingly not related, in 1932 Eddie Jankowski was my choice as POY as a back while he played for Milwaukee Riverside. In 1962, fullback Tom Jankowski tied for the POY spot as a back with Rocky Bleier. The two schools are just a few miles apart and Eddie coached football at Whitefish Bay but multiple newspaper stories from the time indicated they were actually unrelated.

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