In 1934, Milwaukee Rufus King High School opened its doors and produced its first varsity football team in 1937. The school was named after a former resident of Milwaukee who was a Civil War general, the first superintendent of Milwaukee schools, newspaper editor for the Milwaukee Sentinel as well a diplomat. It was a fledgling program, and they didn’t play any other Milwaukee Public Schools their first year. Instead, they played a variety of schools and did quite well, going 3-1-3 under the head coach, George A. Wolf. I honestly don’t have any background on Wolf other than sparce info from the school yearbooks. Oh, if you might be thinking that the name sounds familiar, there was a George Woolf who was the main jockey of the great racing horse, Seabiscuit.
Rufus King from the 1941 school yearbook
Rufus King from the 1941 school yearbook
Wolf tutored the new classes each year as more students were added to the school. The freemen became sophomores and then juniors. They played an informal schedule each season between 1934 and 1936 against any school that had a JV, a Seconds or “B” squads. The players learned well. King was growing under the school’s principal, Ralph G. Chamberlin to whom the school’s first yearbook was decanted. Again, I can’t find additional info on Mr. Chamberlin except to surmise that he may have been related…a son of, possibly…to G. A Chamberlin who was, for many years, a teacher and football coach at Milwaukee East (Riverside) High School. G.A. was also a main cog in the WIAA as he served on that organizations Board of Control for 32-years.
It was Ralph Chamberlin who helped make sure that the school had a football stadium and not just a practice field. It was a glorious one that has now been relegated to holding track meets, football practices and some daytime JV games. In its heyday the stadium would host 10,000-12,000 fans for the school’s football games. The stadium was nicknamed “The Bowl of Victory”.
The 1937 season started with a 13-7 loss to Whitefish Bay but the next week the “Generals” trounced Menomonee Falls 20-0. They tied Milwaukee Marquette 13-13 and then followed up with a 14-14 tie of Sheboygan. Nearby Messmer was dispatched 27-0 and then they traveled to Port Washington and played to a 7-7 tie. The season finale was against Milwaukee Country Day (A school that later merged with Milwaukee University School, now located in Mequon. Country Day was located at the time in Whitefish Bay near today’s Dominican High School) in a 27-7 victory. Country Day was directed by Hall of Fame coach Kenneth Laard who won 195 games in his 40-years as a head coach. He also started coaching at Country Day after five seasons at Appleton and two at Bloomer in 1937.
George A. Wolf, 1948
1938 rolled around and the team went 5-2-0 with wins over Sheboygan, Shorewood and Marquette. They lost to a fine Oshkosh team and then they played the first Milwaukee City Conference teams. Boy’s Tech went down 26-0 and there was a close win over Custer, 6-0. The final game was against Milwaukee Country Day and their opponent was ready for them as the Generals lost a heartbreaker, 13-0. The season was a success for King and coach Wolf as he and his men looked forward to their introduction to the City Conference in 1939.
They played their first two games of the 1939 season against non-conference opponents and then there was the start of the conference schedule. In their first official conference game they defeated Milwaukee East. Next up was the battle for the conference title, even though it was only mid-season. The Washington” Puregolders” were the team to beat. I’ll leave it to you to read the details in my previous blog, “PLAYING THROUGH THE DEPRESSION…PART 2. The game was a battle and while King lost, they would end up in second place in the conference
Milwaukee was growing now as the city’s population swelled to about 625,000 souls as Word War II was about to grip the whole earth. George Wolf would coach until 1946. His 6-1-1 team of 1943 would place second in the conference. He would post seven winning seasons in his 10 years at King, and he left with a shining 45-24-7 varsity record. Wolf stayed on a few years working in the athletic department and coaching gymnastics. With the city’s growth a need for new high schools was pressing the city fathers. In 1937 when Rufus King played their first varsity football game there were nine other Milwaukee high schools: Washington, Lincoln, Bay View, Tech, East, Custer, South, North and West. Two more were not far behind in opening…Pulaski and Juneau.
As schools were added the landscape of Milwaukee began to change. There were clusters of people with different nationalities and race around the city. The south side was heavy with Poles and Germans. Closer to the downtown area there were many Italians and other European ethnic groups. On the near north side there were clusters of African Americans, many who moved north just before or during the war looking for a better life. There were few Hispanic and Asian-Americans at the time. But the landscape of people and faces were none the less changing. Post-World War II brought movement to the north lakeshore communities and the western suburbs. Coaching personalities in Milwaukee also changed. Gone, besides George Wolf, was Lisle Blackbourn from Washington. New coaches began to take other- city schools to new heights. Robert Neubauer took over at King and had moderate success, going 26-18-3 from 1947-52.
There was a downside to the Neubauer era. On November 20, 1949, tragedy occurred when starting quarterback Frederic “Fred/Fritz” Barthel died following the season ending 24-14 win over Custer. Very late in the game Barthel received a massive concussion and collapsed. He was rushed to Lakeview Hospital (Now Closed) as he suffered an internal hemorrhage. Surgery couldn’t relieve the pressure and he expired the next day, never waking up. Milwaukee Sentinel Sports Editor, Lloyd Larson eulogized Fred in the November 24 edition. That same day the Milwaukee Journal broke tradition when they named a 12-man squad, instead of 11-men, to the All-City 1st team. including Barthel as an addition to the squad. Much loved and honored by his fellow students, and fans. The King/Custer game was a day game, but Fred had volunteered to work the city championship to be held at Marquette Stadium between Pulaski and Bay View. He had turned down any payment, he was working for the fun of it. Kids around his home near Lindbergh Park on north 16th St. in Milwaukee (Now renamed Berrien Park) would flock to see Barthel when he walked by to ask him what was new in the sports world. Fritz’s picture was displayed in the school and the 1950 team vowed to win the Custer game in his memory. Alas, it was not to be as the Generals lost in the fourth quarter 14-6.
November 24, 1949, Milwaukee Journal
Neubauer’s final season, 1952, was his best as King and Washington tied for second in the city and the newest coaching star, Jim Richardson of Boy’s Tec who led the school to the city title. King and Washington went 7-0-1 as the two teams tied in the season’s final game 13-13 before 11,000 fans. Interestingly, Tech played a very close game against a middle of the road Pulaski team, only winning 14-13. King beat Pulaski 15-0 and Washington beat them 14-0. The coaching landscape continued to change as John Powers of Washington stepped down at the season’s end as head coach. He had been there during the glory years with Lisle Blackbourn as his trusted assistant for 11-seasons and then, when Blackbourn moved on Powers became the head coach for the next seven, winning two city titles. Tech had opened its doors 35-years before and had come close to winning the city title several times, but they fell short and finished in second place.
Stepping in to replace Neubauer would be a coach with little experience but surely learned his trade as a player, a collegian and as a pro. Walter “Wally” Dwyer played football at Milwaukee Washington for Lisle Blackbourn as a halfback and was the team captain in 1939.
I need to make a special note here. When I made my all-1930’s team as noted in my blog: PLAYING THROUGH THE DEPRESSION…PART 2 I accidently left Wally off the Honorable Mention list. That gave Washington, with fullback Pat Harder as the top player that season but they also had a fine halfback in Dwyer.
Following graduation Dreyer attended UW-Madison and played on the freshman team. He then was in the Marines reserves and the Corp transferred him to the University of Michigan for military training and while there he earned a letter as he played on the 1943 Big Ten champions, coached under College Hall of Fame Coach Fritz Crisler. From there it was off to service in the Pacific as he saw combat on Okinawa. Dreyer served three years in the military and then returned to Madison and played there from 1946-48, serving as the team captain his senior year. Following his play in the Blue-Gray All-Star game and then it was on to the NFL. He was drafted by the Chicago Bears and played one season before coach George Halas (Who was also the owner of the Bears) traded him to the Green Bay Packers. By now it was 1952 and Wally decided to retire from the NFL and took the head coaching job at Berlin H.S. before moving back to Milwaukee and taking the head coaching job at Rufus King. His first season was not a huge success as the Generals went from 7-0-1 in 1952 to 1-7-0 in 1953. He changed his assistant coach (Most teams in those days only had one assistant) for a man who would be very iatrical in Kings success. Richard “Dick” Krueger moved into the assistant spot and 1954 was a move into the right direction as the team improved with a 5-3-0 record.
At this point I want to make a mention about the 12-team City Conference in 1954: With 12-teams there was a 3-way tie for the City Championship. Boy’s Tech, Washington and South all finished with 6-1-1 records. Tech beat South but tied lowly Lincoln and lost to Bay View. South tied Lincoln and lost to Tech. Washington played to a tie vs. Bay View and lost to middle of the road Juneau. Crazy.
Things got better in 1955 for King as the team went 7-0-1 and won their first City Conference title. 1956 was also fine as the team went 7-1-0 for their second consecutive City title. The team lost a lot of key starters from the past two seasons but even, so they were 5-3-0 and placed second in the city. As I mentioned before the landscape in the city population wise was changing. For the first time, in looking at the school’s yearbooks, I noticed more and more African Americans attending King. The first players from that ethnic group appeared in the 1957 team photo. Earnest Jackson, John Triggs, Jim Weber and Sterling Gray may not have started but they all contributed to the team and would do so moving forward. The African American community had mainly attended Lincoln and North, but now more and more were more attending all the high schools in the city and that only helped all.
1958 the team went undefeated, going 8-0-0 as the Generals finished #3 in the United Press International football poll behind #1 Superior Central and #2 Waukesha. Louis Beauchamp, brother of future star Joe Beauchamp, was one of the stars of the team. 1958 made it three out of four seasons that King was #1 in the conference and even though they posted a 7-1-0 record in 1959 they could be proud of being #2 that year
Wally Dreyer 1958
Wally Dreyer left the school and became the head coach at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee from 1960—71 as well as being named an Assistant Professor of Physical Education. He held the assistant position until 1988 when he retired. While at King he posted a 40-16-1 record and was named to the WFCA Hall-of-Fame in 1993. Richard “Dick” Krueger stayed at King on and off until 1966. He spent time after the 1959 season as a Graduate Assistant at the University of Georgia and at UW-Milwaukee in 1961. He left King in 1966 and became the head coach at Milwaukee Madison where he won four city championships and three division titles in his 20-season’s. He posted an overall record of 168-86-1 as an assistant and head coach.
This is just the first part of the early Rufus King story.