THE GREATEST GENERATION BEGINS TO SHINE…PART 1

NOTE: The following may be more of an in-depth look at this decade than others. Mainly, because of all the history here in the two blogs…Part 1 and Part 2. I want to pass on to you the best story I can.


NBC broadcaster, Tom Brokaw wrote a very good book in 1998 entitled The Greatest Generation depicting Americans who came of age during the Depression, went on to fight in World War II and forge a new and better life for themselves and their families. These people overcame tremendous hardships and those of us today owe much to them. The star players of the 1940’s were born in the 1920’s and 30’s. Most of their coaches had survived the First World War years and the post war years to direct classic teams. They were part of The Greatest Generation.


If you look at many of the yearbooks from high schools during the war years you will see tributes to former students who were in the services and an occasional tribute to former students who died. In my book I even mentioned that two players, team captains Dick Arndt and George Howard, for the 1943 Baraboo team were drafted before they had even graduated and following their next to last game that season, they left for basic training. Most of the time it was the January graduates who were first to serve. That was the same for many draft age teachers and coaches.


While I like to concentrate mainly on high school players and coach’s I want to mention a bit about college players and some coaches. In 1940 Elroy Hirsch of Wausau was the top high school player in the state. After graduating he chose to attend the University of Wisconsin in Madison and played there as a freshman and a sophomore. Following his sophomore season he enlisted in the Marine Corps and after being inducted he was sent to the University of Michigan as part of the V-12 navy College Training Program, and he played football for the Wolverines. Later, after graduating he played football for the Marines in Virginia and California. He was one of several hundred thousand recruits/draftees went through the Army, Navy and Marine programs to develop officers for the services. The military though football was a way to best develop physically men for future combat.


The Navy had special teams at four major colleges, Iowa, North Carolina, St. Mary’s in California and Georgia. The 1944 Iowa Pre-Flight team went 9-1-0 playing an independent schedule and ended up ranked #6 in the final college AP poll. Meanwhile, the University of Iowa Hawkeyes went 1-6-1, going 0-4-1 in the Big Ten. Even if you think you know a lot about Elroy Hirsch look at the Wikipedia page and you will be amazed at how good of an athlete he was: Elroy Hirsch - Wikipedia. The war interrupted the lives of millions of football players. Many entered the services and would finish their college education several years after the war. The NCAA relaxed eligibility rules for those student athletes and that proved to be a boom for some college programs who received returning players who were now older and stronger.


As mentioned, this was a time of great changes to the Wisconsin athletic landscape. Young teachers were inducted into the military, thus interrupting their civilian careers. Some returned as teachers and coaches and others, now older, moved into administrative positions. I alluded to some of those changes in my blog on Waukesha 1943-63: Waukesha 1943-63 (wihifootball.com)


The 1940’s had more than a number of GREATS…Teams, Coaches and Players. There are so many choices. Here are the great teams:


First, the honorable mentions (In no special order):

1942 Milwaukee Marquette (9-0-0), 1947 Appleton (8-0-0), 1941 Prairie du Chien Campion (9-0-0), Racine St. Catherine’s…4 Catholic state titles…1943 (7-0-1), 1945 (8-0-0), 1946 (8-0-0 and the #4 team, 1949 (8-0-0), Madison Edgewood…4 Catholic state titles…tied with St. Catherine’s in 1946 (8-0-0), tied with Milwaukee Messmer in 1947 (8-0-0), Individual championships in 1944 and 1945 (8-0-0 both seasons), 1947 Milwaukee Messmer (8-0-0) and 1943 Shorewood (8-0-0).


Now, for the top 10…well, actually the top 15 (there are three ties so let’s make it the top 13.

#13 Milwaukee South Division 8-0-0

This team had it all. Size, speed and ability. They conquered the Milwaukee City Conference for the second consecutive year under the direction of Art Krueger who spent nine seasons as South’s head coach, winning three city titles. This was the best of them led by one of the all-time great’s, John Strzykalski who was a versatile speedy halfback, a sure handed receiver as well as a devastating tackler. John was one of five 1st team All-City players on the Milwaukee Journal team. He went on to star at Marquette University and was the first-round pick in the 1946 NFL draft, taken by the Green Bay Packers but he never played for them. Instead, he spent seven seasons with the San Francisco 49’s. The team scored 286 points and allowed only 33.


# 12…Tie between 1949 Milwaukee Pulaski (8-0-0) and 1949 La Crosse Aquinas (9-0-0)

1949 was a classic season for football. Other than 1942, this season may have produced the best assortment of teams. Pulaski had a fine offense and a very tough defense. The school was opened seven years before and Coach Gene Wozny was blessed with a lot of talent. Six members of the team were named to the All-City team Heil Worden was the leader on the team and earned All-State as well as honorable mention All-America. He led the conference in scoring, and he would take his talents to Notre Dame, playing fullback. He later played in the NFL and the Canadian Football League.

Aquinas not only tied with Racine St. Catherine’s for the 1949 Catholic title. Aquinas, along with St. Cat’s they would have been a fine match for any of the public schools. The BluGolds waltzed through the season scoring 252 points and allowing 70. End Jim “Dumbo” Temp was the largest player on the team standing 6’3,200. No other player weighed more than 185 pounds and most starters were 145-170 pounds. Granted that there were only three high schools in La Crosse but seven of the All-City team (Named by the La Crosse Tribune) were from Aquinas. They were cousins Chuck Skemp, halfback, and fullback Mike Skemp, halfback Jim Skaff, guard Dick Coughlin, tackle Dick Pouzar, end Bob Gilbert and junior Jim Temp who is on my top players of the 1950’s.


# 11 Milwaukee Washington 8-0-0

Lisle Blackbourn would coach two more seasons at Washington, leaving after the 1947 season to coach Marquette University and later the Green Bay Packers but this 1945 team was one of his best. Powered by his son, Lisle Blackbourn Jr, who earned All-State honors on both the AP and UPI teams and was awarded a special trophy as the state’s top player. He scored 104 points as he crossed the goal line 14 times, kicked 18 extra points and two field goals. The Puregolders were held to 19 points, a season low by Madison East, in the season opener but after that they scored between 32-58 points in the next seven games. They put up 322 points on the season and allowed 50. Tackle Robert “Red” Wilson stared on both sides of the line.


#10 Marinette 1943 8-0-0

Playing tailback at 5’9,145, Earl “Jug” Girard guided the Marines to an undefeated season. Not a big size team, they used their speed and abilities to master their opponents. Girard latterly carried the team offensively passing for six touchdowns and rushing for 13. He was a good kicker, making 13 extra points, but he was a superb punter. On a soggy, mud-soaked field in near freezing weather he scored the only points in a 7-0 win over Menominee. He carried the ball 56 times (Another report I had read said 49 carries and that was listed in my book) for178 yards and the win. In 1993 he was named to the first team of the 1993 All-Century Football squad in the Milwaukee Journal as a punter. He would miss two seasons due to military service but return and after graduating from the University of Wisconsin he would play 10-seasons in the NFL.


#9 Whitefish Bay 1948 8-0-0

Champions of the tough Suburban Conference the Whitefish Bay Blue Dukes beat their three main contenders for the conference title: Shorewood, 26-0, Wauwatosa, 14-6 and Waukesha, 14-7. All had fine seasons going 5-2-1, 5-3-0 and 6-1-1 respectively as Whitefish Bay prevailed. Only the final game of the year against West Milwaukee, was the outcome really in doubt. West Milwaukee posted a 1-7-0 record, but they came into that battle fired up and though they lost they put up a good fight with the Blue Dukes coming out on to, 6-0. Coach Eddie Jankowski kept the team together as that season the weather was bad and there were a few injuries. The last three games against Wauwatosa, Waukesha and West Milwaukee were all played in heavy rain or with the field is poor shape due to earlier inclement weather. They scored 197 points at a clip of almost 33-points a game before the final three and only allowed 40 on the season. Five members of the team made the All-Suburban team.


#8, #7 and #6 Wausau 1945 (8-0-0), 1944 (8-0-0) and 1943 (8-0-0)

Combined, all three of these were very dominating as they held 16 of their 24 opponents scoreless. As you will read later, Coach Win Brockmeyer was the most successful coach of the decade. His 1945 team scored 184 points and allowed 41. During these three seasons the most points scored by an opponent was in the 39-21 win over Stevens Point in 1945. In all the other seasons no more than eight points was scored by the opposition and that was also in 1945. In 1944 the defense was very stout allowing only a single touchdown in a 31-7 win over Antigo in the second game. The Cardinals scored 203 points. 1943 was the better of the three teams offensively as Wausau scored 240 points, including a 1-0 forfeit by Nekoosa and allowed 19 points. For many seasons Wausau played only a conference schedule but when Nekoosa dropped out of the conference, they had to step out of their comfort zone. Being the largest city and then the largest school in the Wisconsin Valley Conference, Wausau dominated the region for many years.


#5 Marinette 1949 8-0-0

This was a top-notch team with many stars. Quarterback Jim Strem earned All-State honors passing for 897 yards and 13 touchdowns, scored four more himself and kicked 21 extra points. While 1943’s Earl “Jug” Girard was a tailback who threw and ran the ball, the offense changed when Strem arrived on the scene, and he was a very good quarterback. Many from the area thought he was superior to Girard as a field general. Any team would have been glad to have either. Sophomore fullback Allen Felch gained over 1,000 yards rushing. Hall of Fame coach Howard Stiehm preached defense as well as offense. Playing an independent schedule, the Marines beat two very good Michigan teams, an Indiana squad and opponents from Two Rivers, Watertown, Antigo, Rhinelander and Eau Claire.


#4 Racine St. Catherine’s 1949 8-0-0

Yes, the Angles tied with #12 La Crosse Aquinas for the state Catholic title but this team was even more loaded with talent. I think my blog on the team: THE GREAT 1949 RACINE ST. CATHERINE’S TEAM (wihifootball.com) says it all but I will state here that this team could play well with any other top team from the 1940’s. Passing, rushing and defense were hallmarks of this team.


#3 Milwaukee Washington 1942 8-0-0

Many thought that this team was even better than the 1939 mythical state championship team with the great Pat Harder. Halfback Don Kindt and fellow halfback Alex Karbowski were first team all-city backfield mates. Tackle Tom Trester, guard George Woracheck and guard Warren Stenkellner were all-city lineman. Five other players made the second team led by fullback Robert Schultz in the backfield, team captain Norm Hollenbeck at center, end/kicker Bill Cross, end Ron Pullan and tackle Charles Gumm. With a great defense and powerful offense, the team was never in any trouble of being defeated. Some in the Milwaukee area declared them to be the state champion but the power of Wausau’s undefeated, untied and unscored upon season and St. John’s season against opponents with an overall record of 45-17-2 won people over to their side. On offense they scored 326 points and allowed only 25 with five shutouts.


#2 1940 Wausau (7-0-0)

At the advent of and then the Wausau dynasty was Elroy “Crazy Legs” Hirsch. He would go on to the College and Pro Football Halls of Fame with his success playing for both the University of Wisconsin and Michigan for college and with the Chicago Rockets and the Los Angeles Rams as a professional. While in LA he stared in movies (Watch “Zero Hour”. This was the movie that the David and Jerry Zucker and Jim Abrahams “Airplane” was based on. Hirsch plays the part that Kareem Abdul-Jabbar played). He later became the Athletic Director at Wisconsin. In 1940 he scored 102 of his teams 299 points. The team allowed only 12 points and those were scored in the season finale in a 45-12 win over Merrill. Besides Hirsch who played left halfback, fullback Rodney Liljequist, and ends Henry Olshanski and Glen Gahnz were all All-Conference. The Cardinals rushed for 1,667 yards and passed for 1,084 yards as well as intercepting 17 passes. The eight wins started a then state record 46-game winning streak.


#1 Tie between 1942 Wausau (7-0-0) and Delafield St. John’s (8-0-0)

It was Win Brockmeyer’s 1942 team that really got the state’s attention. 1940 had been very good and 1941 was also an undefeated year but this team was truly outstanding. They scored 225 points, not as many as 1940, but the defense was even better by shutting out all eight opponents. Led by fullback Roger Trotzer, who scored 106 points. He was one of six players who earned All-Conference. The defense never allowed an opponent to penetrate beyond the Wausau 25-yard line and gave up only 15 first downs!!! On offense they averaged 312 yards per game and 13 first downs. Because of the war they dropped a non-conference game to only play a conference schedule. Brockmeyer was very liberal in his substitutions, so he was able to build on the current season and give experience to the younger player for the next.


1942 Wausau


The states press raved about this team and with their undefeated season they continued their winning streak (More about that in the next blog). However, some members of the press began to make suggestions of a “match” game with undefeated St. John’s, but two things stopped the matchup. First, St. John’s football season stretched into the beginning of Wausau’s basketball season. The second reason was that the WIAA wouldn’t allow it. It never reached the WIAA to make a decision, but it would have been a great battle.

For the first time in the school’s history since the 1884-86 seasons, St. John’s only played one college team in a season and that was the Ripon College freshman who were the only Wisconsin school they played. All the others were high schools from Iowa, Indiana and Illinois. The Lancers scored 217 points and allowed only 47 and were led by back Terry Lenz who scored 17 touchdowns. Again, they earned the National Prep Championship Trophy as the top prep school in the country. This was Coach Edison Lerch’s final season as the football coach. He was in the Marines Reserve Corp and was activated soon after the season was completed. In 11-seasons Lerch compiled a 70-20-2 record and coached the 1932 and 1933 state champions as well as the 1942 title that he shared with Wausau. This was also the last title St. John’s would win until earning the 1988 Class B WISSA championship.


1942 Delafield St. John's


Check out Part 2 for more on the 1940’s coming soon.