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Okey, I am behind posting some informational answers by my readers. I had over 300 emails in my football saved file and a week or so ago I decided to weed out messages that no longer were needed to be saved. I also found some messages I should have replied to and just never got to or follow up. Sorry.


Back in February of 2022 a reader, Matt Hoffman, sent me a question that I thought had been forwarded to Cliff Christl, a great newsman who has been the official historian of the Green Bay Packers for a while. I figured he was the best source to answer the main question. Well, I didn’t send it on to Cliff until I began weeding my messages. Here’s the story:

Matt had come across several early Green Bay Packer players who he thought, after graduating from high school, came back to their former high school team to play for another season. There was confusion over when or if they really graduated. Could they have been “red shirted” or just come back as “ringers.” Matt had a lot of documentation to present and question whether or not Rigney Dwyer of Green Bay East or Gustave Rosenow of Menasha had played beyond their high school eligibility. The problem was that the prevailing eligibility rules between the 1890’s and the 1920’s were not always enforced. Plus, for many years some schools held graduations in January and in May/June.

First, in the beginning there were no rules as to who could play on a high school team. When the sport was introduced in 1884 coaches would sometimes play with their team. In 1890 the Rev. Sidney Smythe of St. John’s Military Academy was injured in a game against Beloit College and would walk with a limp for the rest of his life. G. A. Chamberlin, teacher and coach at Milwaukee East Side (Today’s Riverside) played end on his 1893 team This was when the Milwaukee City Conference was just beginning.

Look at the very first blog I posted. It recounts the 1897 mythical champion team, Madison High School. Some of their players were only occasional students. Ages couldn’t be confirmed but their opponent for the first mythical national championship claimed that several Madison players were 24–25-year-old.

Chamberlin and Smythe helped form the WIAA in 1896 and a loose set of rules were included in the formation of the organization. Age 20 was the set age for the oldest an athlete could be to compete. One of Madison High’s opponents for 1897 and 1898 was to be Milwaukee South Side (South Division) but South cancelled both games beaus they felt that Madison wasn’t following the WIAA guidelines. The WIAA at that time could basically only caution schools. It took a few years to finally take firm control of the public schools' athletic programs.

In my book I list the ages of several team’s players. One example was the 1909 champion Chippewa Falls team with several 20-year-old seniors and an 18-year-old freshman. Age 20 was the oldest you could be eligible to play sports. By 1920 the age limit had been dropped to 19 but that year Appleton used two 20-year-olds in a game against St. John’s. Even though private schools were not allowed to be part of the WIAA. The fact that St. John’s had helped found the organization, the private schools followed the WIAA and national rules. Appleton chose to use the two players who had been recently become ineligible to compete because, as the school put it, St. Johns wasn’t affiliated with the WIAA so in their mind the two men could play against non-member schools.

So, back to Matt Hoffman’s question, did Dwyer and Rosenow play for their high schools after their eligibility had expired? This gets complicated but here is Cliff Christl’s answer:

“Rigney Dwyer played football four years at West, 1913, '14, '15, '16. So, his last football season was the fall of 1916, and he is pictured in the 1917 Yearbook with a capsule of his four-year football career on p. 76. Yearbooks are dated to coincide with the spring graduating classes, not football season. That said, Dwyer was listed under the title seniors in the 1916 yearbook as was Orlo McLean, another of the original Packers, and both were again listed as seniors on the football team in (the fall of 1916), the 1917 yearbook. Both also played basketball in the 1916-17 season.”

“I don't have copies of the yearbooks, just Xerox printouts of the football section and class pictures of the original Packers. I did note on my copies that Dwyer was listed as a senior in both yearbooks but didn't write down any explanation. This is perceptive on Mat's part, and I might have erred by saying he graduated in 1917. This raises the question in my mind: Did Dwyer graduate from high school?"

"Here are my guesses and that's all they are. No, I can't imagine East or West using ringers at that point. Maybe late 1890s, early 1900s. But not by 1916, '17. As you have may have come across researching the Milwaukee City Conference schools, they had mid-year graduates. So technically those athletes were first semester seniors in the winter/spring of one school year and second semester seniors in the fall/until graduation date in January of the next school year. In the '20s or '30s, I forget which or maybe both, East High would lose key basketball players almost annually to graduation in January of their senior years. But doing a quick newspaper search I couldn't find any mention of mid-year graduations when Dwyer was in school. That doesn't mean they didn't have them, but Dwyer was still playing in February 1917.”

“Here's something else to keep in mind, flunking kids was not that unusual back then. Maybe Dwyer was scheduled to graduate in the spring of 1916 and didn't, so he was back in school in the fall of 1916. Again, you've maybe come across this, but I believe the age limit for athletic participation back then might have been 20. So, Dwyer would have been eligible to play football. The military draft could have been a factor, too. By the fall of 1917, Dwyer was in the Army. So perhaps he was drafted before he could graduate in the spring of 1917. Again, I know East lost basketball players during the season to the WW II draft call-ups. I wish I knew the answer but determining whether people graduated from high school or not back then is sometimes impossible. There was a case in the '30s where East had a three-year basketball star who would play basketball and then drop out of school after the season.”

So, Matt, this was the best I could come up with. I know that Cliff’s message only follows up on Dwyer, but I think this applies to Rosenow as well. It just was a confusing time in the history of the sport.


Another reader, Thomas Schaefer, sent the following after reading my posts on Waukesha High School and I’ve been remiss in making mention of the information. The email came after I had done several blogs on Waukesha. This was a response to my May, 2021…yes, I’ve failed to post this in nearly two years. I put it away and would occasionally try find a spot to post. Then I got to my email file and so here it is. This is good, first-hand information:

“ Re: The Blackshirts of Waukesha (The blog was entitled “The 1938 Blackshirts”) I recall a much different reason for the Cardinals of Waukesha to change their name to the Blackshirts. As I was growing up my mother and father as well as my grandfather would explain that the Blackshirts started wearing black after the formation of the Suburban Conference in the late 20's or early 30's. Four of the teams; Waukesha, Shorewood, South Milwaukee, and Wauwatosa all had red or scarlet figure prominently in their school color scheme. As the athletic directors worked late into the night to complete the formation of this new conference none of them wanted to change their schools color scheme. This would be very expensive. The Athletic Director of the Waukesha school district, tired of the impasse and wanting to go home, declared his teams would wear black, this solved the uniform issues and the meeting soon ended. It also afforded a cost saving to the Waukesha school because black uniforms (especially football uniforms which had to be cleaned more often) could go longer between washings. Since then, Waukesha, and now Waukesha South has worn black and their cardinal mascot dressed in black has been known as "Blackie Blackshirt". I have not heard the story about the cost of red dye inhibiting the purchase of red uniforms until very recently and wonder if this were indeed the case why so many smaller districts, South Milwaukee, and Wauwatosa to name two, would not have made similar moves. My father, Ernie Schaefer, played for Lee Saubert who was the longtime football, basketball, track coach and Athletic Director at Waukesha from 1920 to 1960. This was the era when the name was changed from the 'Cardinals' to the 'Blackshirts'. In fact, he married Lee Saubert’s daughter, Suzanne, who is my mother. My sources for this history have a pretty solid provenance. There are many explanations for where the name and change to black uniforms came from. This is the one that Lee Sauberts children and grandchildren have heard many times over the years.”

Thanks Thomas. I wish I had had this at the time I was writing about Waukesha as it surely would have been integrated into the stories.

These are just two of several messages I will address on my blog and there are several that don't require a blog posting. I will try and be more proactive in responding to inquiries.

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