THE GREAT 1949 RACINE ST. CATHERINE’S TEAM

I know, the headline says the great 1949 Racine St. Catherine’s team but first I have to mention several other items.


First, a message I received from Thomas Schaefer concerning the story I wrote a while back about the Waukesha Blackshirts. The info I had on the school’s nickname was from an online school profile on WisSports.net, I think, or from the Waukesha Freeman…I’m not sure which. Mr. Schaefer offers a more interesting and personal account. Here it is:

“Re: The Blackshirts of Waukesha 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 Sauberts 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 to Mr. Schaefer for the information and if anyone has comments on other stories, please send them along!


Second: As some of you know I worked for MaxPreps.com (Based in California) at one time. I was the state of Wisconsin’s field representative for several years. I actually never met Kevin Askeland, one of the web site's writers in person, but he and I have been e-mailing each other a lot over the past 10-years concerning many subjects. Kevin writes history on several sports but mainly football and he has in the past highlighted several people from this state. He has two recent stories, one entitled “Football Coaches of the Year 1910-present” (High school football: Bob Ladouceur, Paul Brown, Herman Boone top Coach of Year list from last 110 seasons - MaxPreps ). I enjoyed the list and I understand that not many state of Wisconsin schools have been highlighted nationally over the years but if you click on the link and scroll down to 1940 you will find Win Brockmeyer from Wausau listed as that season’s coach of the year.


In another story he lists Tony Romo from Burlington as the states “Greatest Quarterback” ( High school football: Every state's greatest quarterback - MaxPreps ) but this is based mainly on what a QB did in the NFL. Bart Starr and Brett Favre are the top players from their state, Alabama and Mississippi. Interesting and subjective.

Kevin Askeland also has an occasional blog story concerning the national history of high school football and other sports. It can be found at High School Sports History (substack.com).


I guess that was more than two things but, NOW, on to the 1949 St. Catherine’s team


The school has had a long history of sports success, mainly in basketball and cross country, but in the 1930-1961 period the football teams were highly successful, winning outright or sharing seven mythical Catholic state championships. The story of the 1949 team actually goes back to 1942. The school had a turn-style of football coaches during those seven years. In 1942 the school hired Gene Schneider from Loris College in Dubuque Iowa, who was only four years past graduating from the school, to take over the St. Catherine’s program. He posted a 3-3-2 record in 1942 but guided the team to the 1943 state mythical title in 1943, their first since the 8-0-0 team of 1931, going 7-0-1. Schneider was drafted into the Army and served from 1943-45. In stepped Orville “Orv” Dermody and he found some success, especially with the 1945 Catholic mythical state championship team (8-0-0). But, back from service came Gene Schneider who became co-coach with Dermody for the 1946 season as they again won the state title with another 8-0-0 season record. They had an assistant named Henry Engel. Schneider left in early August of 1947 to return and coach at Loris College and Orv Dermody had also moved on so that left the school shorthanded and the coaching reigns were turned over to Henry Engel. He directed the team to a lowly 2-5-0 record. He was set to again be the head coach the next year, 1948, but then he was called back to active service by the military so a new coach had to be found. The school picked a good one in Eddie Race.


Like many coaches of the time, Eddie Race had varied duties wherever he was located. Born in Pittsburgh, an uncle brought Ed to Milwaukee and enrolled him at Pio Nono (Now St. Thomas More) where he played football, basketball and baseball. He was recruited to play football at Loyola Marymount where he started all four seasons on the football team as well as playing hockey for three seasons as a goalie. It was in that sport that he earned a mention in the old newspaper stories called “Ripley’s Believe it or Not” after scoring a goal as a goalie. He also was cast in a Hollywood movie, “The Game That Kills” in 1937. Not a great movie but it had a few future stars in it. Rita Hayworth, Ward Bond and Paul Fix. Eddie played, what else, a goalie. His play on the ice at Loyola earned him a spot in the U.S. National Hockey Hall of Fame (Located in Eveleth, MN.). Eddie then returned to Milwaukee where he became the head football and basketball coach at St. Benedict’s High School, posting a 16-5-0 record from 1938-40. Moving on, he then directed Messmer High School football, hockey, boxing and baseball teams. On the gridiron he had a 25-8-4 record for the 1941-46 years. Next up was the 1947-48 season where he coached football, boxing, hockey, and baseball at St. Francis Minor Seminary (Now also part of St. Thomas More H.S). The football team was 5-2-0 in 1947 and finished second in the Catholic Conference. Then, the spot at Racine St. Catherine’s opened up and Ed was offered the job as head football and baseball coach and assistant to the legendary basketball coach, John McGuire. Ed would stay at the school from 1948-61 and post an 80-31-6 record with two mythical Catholic state football titles, six Catholic Conference titles and six second place finishes in 14 years. His 1955 and 1957 teams were undefeated and the Angels posted a 24 consecutive conference win streak during the 1954-57 seasons while earning the 1955 and 1957 mythical Catholic state titles.

Under Ed Race’s tutelage, 1948 had been a very exciting season for the Angels as they posted a 6-1-0 record and shared the Catholic Conference title with Milwaukee Marquette after a 13-20 loss to the Junior Hilltoppers. There was a lot of talented juniors on that team and they would mature even more in 1949, even with losing 20 lettermen from the ’48 squad. Future WFCA Hall of Fame coach Eddie Race worked his team hard in the late summer to erase the memory of the 1947 season. They were ready for their opponents. Fullback Jim Feest had been the main star as a junior in 1948, leading the Catholic Conference in scoring and totaling 102 total points (15 touchdowns and 12 extra points). Somehow, in the final game of the 1948, a 31-6 win over St. John Cathedral, he was still able to score three touchdowns but the Racine Journal Times reported that his right ankle was so hurting that he couldn’t kick extra points. The team's 1948 opener against Waukesha Industrial School was cancelled by the schools governing body when they banned all sports for that school year so St. Catherine’s only played a seven-game season.


As a side note, did you read my blog about “Early Scoring Records”? Well, alumnus Bill Angel from the 1930 St. Catherine’s team was featured at the top of the Journal Times sports page on the day that St. Catherine’s second game story appeared (Which was way down at the bottom of the page). Bill had given up football for golf and he was the 1948 County Golf Champion. The football game story mentioned that Jim Feest had scored three touchdowns and kicked two extra points in a 41-19 win over Don Bosco. Angel would later be in the stands (As mentioned by the newspaper) to see Feest break his, Angel’s, conference single season scoring record of 85 points set in four games with Feest scoring 87 points in six games.


Now, 1949 rolled around and Feest and his returning teammates were ready to take the title outright. Beside Feest (5’9, 187), other returning stars were seniors quarterback Jim Haluska (5’11, 170), End Don Penza (6’1, 188), tackle Mark Koleske (6’1, 180), guard Paul Verway (5’10, 80), who started at halfback in 1948 but was moved to the line for this year, and junior center Ed Jarosz (5’11,170). End Dick Bebow, guard Gerald, wingback Joe Cucanato, tackle John Penza and tackle Joe Sodomka all contributed greatly to the team’s success. How talented were these players? Well, Feest, Haluska, Don Penza, Koleske, Verway and Jarosz all made Journal Times sports writer Keith Brehm’s unofficial All-City team. That’s six first team players on Brehm’s 13-member squad as he added two positions for extra linebackers but six stars are a lot as the team covered St. Catherine’s and the two larger city public schools. Four players (Feest, Haluska, Penza and Verway would earn All-Catholic first team mention and Koleske, along with Jarosz would make the second team. Feest would be named to the AP First Team All-State squad as he rushed for 1,017 yards and scored 115 points (18 touchdowns and seven extra points). Jim Haluska made the third team AP squad as he was 108-48-6-1,031-13 passing on the year. Don Penza would get honorable mention for hauling in 28 passes for 502 yards and scoring nine touchdowns and two extra points. They made spectacular plays throughout the season. On one passing play Jim Haluska tossed the ball to Jim Feest who caught the ball in-bounds, along the sideline. Feest then passed the ball backwards to end Dick Bebow who was wide open and he ran the final 15-yards for the score.


Playing at the Marquette Stadium before 7,000 fans the Angles posted a 12-6 win over Marquette that ended in spectacular fashion. With five seconds left in the game, Jim Haluska passed from the 11-yard line to the endzone where Don Penza outjumped a Junior Hilltopper defensive back for the winning score. Penza missed the extra point kick but it didn’t matter. They were undefeated, conference champions and earned the Wisconsin Catholic mythical state title. The team stars and coach Race were carried off the field on the shoulders of their teammates.

In 1993, Milwaukee Journal writer Cliff Christl created the “Team of the Century” encompassing the years 1893-1993. There were a lot of contributors to the article, coaches, newspaper people and a few former players. Of the 130+ players on the honorable mention list, Jim Haluska was mentioned at the quarterback position (along with 17 other players) while Jim Feest was also named to the list (along with 365 others). People came to recognize just how good Don Penza was as an offensive end and on defense. Penza was named to the second team as an end.


All three had a short profile in my book but I will cover Haluska, Penza and coach Race more here as well as reproduce the post on Feest. Haluska and Penza are profiled with Feest in my book but I have additions to their profiles below. First, Jim Feest.


Jim Feest:

“As a junior, set a conference record 87 points scored on an average St. Catherine’s team. Playing on the same team as quarterback Jim Haluska, Feest rushed for 1,017 yards in eight games and scored 89 points in six conference games as a senior. Standing 5’9”, and weighing 198 pounds, Feest was a hard-hitting fullback. His career was often compared to Ameche’s and many thought he was the equal of the “Horse”. St. Catherine’s was state Catholic high school co-champion, with La Crosse Aquinas, going 8-0-0.


The team had lots of talent besides Feest, including quarterback Jim Haluska who would go on to Madison and lead, along with Alan Ameche, the Badgers to the school’s first Rose Bowl. St Catherine’s Don Penza would go on to be a team captain at Notre Dame while lineman Ed Jarosz played at Marquette. Jim Feest dropped out of high school while just a half-credit short of graduation. He joined the Army and earned his diploma but never went to college. Playing for the semi-pro Racine Raiders in 1953, he hurt his knee and never played football again.


At age 48, after playing squash at the local YMCA, Jim Feest suffered a heart attack and died. He earned honorable mention on the 1993 Milwaukee Journal All-Century Team.”


Jim Huluska:

After graduating in 1950. Jim first attended The University of Michigan but then transferred to Wisconsin where ha stared with Kenosha’s Alan Ameche and led the Badgers to the 1952 Big 10 championship and the 1953 Rose Bowl, a 7-0 loss to Southern California. He set season passing records in Madison and was drafted by the Chicago Bears and played in just five games his rookie season before retiring and took up coaching. He went to Don Bosco in 1960 where he taught and coached for 12 years. He then took over the St. Thomas More program after Don Bosco and Pio Nono merged and was the school’s athletic director as well as football coach. Haluska move to Pius XI as a teacher while coaching at Waukesha Memorial before the Jim Young era. Overall he posted a 206-60-4 coaching record with 12 conference titles and one state title in 1976. He was named to the St. Catherine’s, Don Bosco, St. Thomas More halls of fame, the UW Athletic Hall of Fame and the WFCA Hall of Fame. Jim passed in 2012.


Don Penza:

Like Alan Ameche, Don was born in Kenosha and moved with his family to Racine. After graduation he attended Notre Dame where he was the team captain in 1953. Coach Frank Leahy called him “the best team captain I’ve ever had”. Don was listed on the 1953 All-America team and was drafted by the Pittsburgh Steelers. Playing in only two exhibition games, he hurt his knee and was forced to retire. From 1954-56 Don was a first Lieutenant in the Marines and played “service” football while at Quantico.


Following his time in the service Don Penza went on to coach at Wisconsin Rapids Assumption from 1957-1967 where he compiled a 68-18-2 record with five conference championships. In 1968 he retired at age 35 from coaching to enter politics and was mayor of Wisconsin Rapids until 1978. Returning to coaching in 1981, Penza was hired at Woodstock (IL) Marion Central Catholic Central and would go on to compile a 90-18 record with three Illinois Class 2A state titles in eight seasons. Don died at age 57 in 1989.


Eddie Race:

I mentioned a lot about Eddie but what happened after he left St. Catherine’s? He and his family lived on the south side of Milwaukee and he commuted every day to Racine to teach and coach. He decided that he needed a change so he took the head coaching job in 1961 at Milwaukee Pulaski where he directed the Ram’s to an 8-0-0 record. In 1962 he moved to Cudahy where he coached football and volleyball until 1969 and continued teaching until he retired in 1983. While at Cudahy he posted a 27-25-4 record and his career coaching totals were 161-70-14 and he earned many awards. Named to the WFCA Hall of Fame in 1996 as well being named to the Loyola Marymount University Hall of Fame in 1993. He earned two honors at St. Thomas More with the Alumni Hall of fame in 1996 and the school Athletic Hall of Fame in 1997. The following year, 1998, he was inducted into the St. Catherine’s High School Hall of Fame. Prior to that, in 1985 he was named “One of the Most Interesting People in Town” by Milwaukee Magazine. At the age of 90, Eddie passed but his coaching career and how he molded students and players can not be forgotten.


Correction (10/26/2021) - the original article had a typo stating Jim Haluska had won "1 conference title". That should have said "12 conference titles".