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The 1938 Blackshirts

Many changes occurred in the 1930s for Waukesha High School (now Waukesha South). First, the name of the school nickname changed.

The team was once known as the Cardinals. During the Great Depression, the school needed to purchase new football uniforms. Unfortunately, the cost of jerseys made with red dye was too expensive for the school’s budget. Therefore, they decided to go with less expensive black jerseys. At the time black was apparently a rare color for football uniforms, so the opposing teams and their fans made fun of the Waukesha athletes and called them the “Black Shirts.” Rather than be embarrassed, the school decided to show pride in the name and therefore re-named themselves the Blackshirts. They also decided to keep the cardinal as their mascot, renaming him “Blackie Blackshirt.”

Did you ever wonder where your favorite school teams came up with a nickname? How about the Butternut Midgets, the Washburn Castle Guards, the Cudahy Packers or the Manitowoc Lincoln Ships (Shipbuilders). In 2015 Frontier Communications, a company that is the nation's largest provider of communications services focused on rural America began a series of stories covering high school nicknames that WisSports.Net picked up and featured on their website. The above explanation focused on the Waukesha South nickname. Steven Okonek was the author. I had asked South’s athletic director, Todd Sobnlsky how the name changed from Cardinals to Blackshirts and he provided the information from the web story.

The other major school change was the major change in coaching as Lee Saubert stepped down after 17 seasons. He had posted a 83-37-9 record in football and while he continued to coach other sports like basketball and track he cast a strong shadow on the team as the school’s athletic director. His replacement for football was a former star from the 1925 and 1926 teams, Clifford Goerke. After graduating from Waukesha in 1927, Goerke attended Carroll College where he lettered all four years in football and basketball and three years in track. As a junior in 1929 he earned all-conference as the team quarterback and in 1930 he garnered all-conference honors as a halfback. He’s named to the schools hall of fame in all three sports.

Under Goerke’s tutelage the Cardinals/Blackshirts posted the only undefeated record in southeastern Wisconsin in 1938. The nickname Blackshirts hadn’t completely caught on yet but the uniforms had changed. The yearbook for 1939 used both names. The team didn’t have a great, high scoring offense but their defense was spectacular, posting six shutouts.

The passing combination of Andy Sobrofski to Harry Frayett and La Vier Staven were key offensive components to the season. Don Kluge did the kicking with 8 extra points and a field goal along with placing kickoffs deep into enemy territory. Sobrofski also starred on defense hauling in five interceptions. After hurdling the first three opponents, all by shutouts they now faced the Packers, the most exciting game of the year. The victory over Cudahy came at the last minute. Down 6-0 they scored with only 10 seconds left as Sobrofski passed to Schneider who lateraled to Staven who, with key blocks by Harry Schneider and Harold Brecher, rambled fifty yards for a touchdown to tie the score. Don Kluge kicked the extra point and the Cardinals were number one in the conference with three games on the season to go.

The next game was a Homecoming 26-0 victory over Shorewood, the first victory over the Greyhounds in four years. This game was followed by a 14-0 victory over Wauwatosa which had been a thorn in the side of the Blackshirts for the past seven years. The season finale was a 19-0 shutout of West Milwaukee.

They did have some stars with five players on the All-Suburban first team and four on the second team. End Harry Frayett, tackle Don Kluge, guard Le Roy Mielke, quarterback Andy Sobrofski and fullback La Vier Staven were the first team members. Henry Schneider, Bob Williams, Perry Scheel and Harold Brecher were on the second team.

It was a successful coaching debut for Clifford Goerke. The 1939 season was a disaster as Waukesha went 1-7-0 but they improved to 3-5-0 in 1940 despite a number of injuries. 1941 the record jumped to 5-2-1 and a large number of young players were primed for the next season where the Blackshirts would cruise to a 8-0-0 record.


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