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WAUNAKEE…THE EARLY YEARS

I was working on a future blog when I ran into some very interesting facts about the Waunakee football program. What I found pointed me toward looking up early history of the program in the Wisconsin State Journal and the Capitol Times newspapers. First, I was trying to get season by season records for the school. I emailed the athletic department for help and they said that their historian would get in touch with me but alas, he never did. I looked for old year books online and only found one at Yearbooks - High School, College and University Yearbooks Online (e-yearbook.com) and that was the 1949 edition but the brief story led me to a big discovery. In the brief recap of the 1948 season, it was mentioned that after playing 6-man football for several years that in 1949 they would begin playing 11-man (Sorry I’m not politically correct but I grew up with the term 11-man and not 11-player. I’m calling it “man” for now).


Next, by chance I found a link to the school’s football records that went back to 1947. This link gave me the information I needed for their season by season 11-man record. It was quite impressive to look at the history. I knew really only the Pat Rice coaching history and that has been spectacular but what the school teams of the earlier years blew me away. So, I dug deeper and did searches on Historical Newspapers from 1700s-2000s - Newspapers.com looking at the 1930’s and 40’s. The first mention of Waunakee football was in 1939. Now, I digress a bit.

On May 7, 1938, Walter Ott of Coleman talked about his “invention”, 6-man football. He was a guest speaker at what was billed as the First Annual Football Clinic in the University of Wisconsin field house. Athletic Director and head Football Coach Harry Stuhldreher instituted the clinic as a way to help all coaches in the state to learn more about the sport. Both of the Madison papers touted the event and expected that there would be between 450 and 500 coaches attending at least one day of the event. Stuhldreher would speak as well as Harvard coach Dick Harlow, Green Bay East coach Tom Hearden, Milwaukee Washington Lisle Blackbourne, Russell Leksell of Rhinelander. Harry Conley of Superior Central and former Badger freshman coach Glenn (Pat) Holmes who was now at Oak Park H.S. in Illinois. Other notable speakers were on the schedule as well. The clinic was expected to draw coaches from Illinois, Iowa and Minnesota.


While Ott was billed as the inventor of 6-man football he actually was just the first in Wisconsin to adopt the new game from information he learned from the sport being played in Nebraska where it was actually invented by Stephen Epler of Chester, NE. in 1934. Epler’s experiment: 90 years later, six-man football still small-town king - Flatwater Free Press. The version of the sport became popular in the 1930’s and 40’s and is still played in several states in particular Texas.


After the clinic some schools with low pupal numbers in this state adopted the new football version. Looking at some old Waunakee yearbooks the high school only had between 120-150 students during the period of 1939-48. In fact, in the 1949 yearbook I only counted 150 students and 10 teachers. With the help of three people from the Waunakee public library I got more details on the history of the school. It opened in 1904 and before that high school students took a train to Lodi for classes. In 1935 there were 69 students in school from Waunakee and Westport. By 1939 the school had 75 students with some coming from Springfield, Dane or Vienna. It was now time to play football.


6-man became very popular in the southeast region of the state, but it also did well in the northern part of Wisconsin. 1939 rolled around and teams covered by the Madison papers were embracing 6-man. Necedah, Wonewoc, Elroy, Hillsboro, Deerfield, Cambria, De Forest, Brooklyn, Poynette, Black Earth and Waunakee started that year. In fact, Waunakee defeated Deerfield 32-20 as Sam Murphy scored twice and dropkicked an extra point in their first ever game on September 22. The next week turned out to be a disaster as they lost to De Forest 31-0. The number of area teams were limited that season, so teams often played each other twice. It was a start. Verona, Arena, Spring Green, Mazomanie, Sauk City, Prairie du Sac, Lodi South Wayne, Argyle, Hazel Green, Shullsburg, Benton, Belmont, Camp Douglas and Viola all joined in and there were multiple conferences…the Juneau County 6-Man, Blackhawk 6-Man, the 6-Man Independent and later in 1941 the Suburban 6-Man Conference was formed and some former 11-man schools from the Tri-County, the Duel County League and the State-Line League dropped down to 6-man. Over the next few years some schools would move back to 11-man and others would play both in the same season. In 1950 most schools had dropped 6-man and as I have said, moved back to 11-man football but in the Madison newspaper coverage area 8-man was introduced with Montfort, Highland, Barneveld and Livingston forming the Iowa County League.


After a final 4-2 6-man record in 1948 the school opened their 11-man play in 1949 with a 14-0 loss to Mazomanie. They would go on to a 1-5 season. From 1949 to 2023 (75 years) the Waunakee Warriors have had only 10 losing campaigns. The school started slowly, going 3-3-1 in 1950, 1-5-0 in 1951 and 1-7-0 in 1952. But, in 1953, after three coaches over the past four years the school brought in a future Wisconsin Coaches Association Hall of Famer, Richard “Dick” Trotta.


Dick Trotta…WFCA HOF photo from a Waunakee HS Yearbook


Dick Trotta grew up in Kenosha and upon graduation he was inducted into the army where he served in the Pacific. Upon leaving the service he attended UW-Madison where he played baseball and in 1953, he took a coaching/teaching job in Waunakee and made an immediate impact. His first season the Warriors went undefeated, 6-0-0. The next season was a downer, going 1-5-3 and he broke even in 1955 as his team went 4-4-0. From then on, his teams were nearly unbeatable.


I have to admit that before doing some special research, as I said earlier, I had never heard of Dick Trotta. Doing research on Waunakee I learned of the great record that his teams put up between 1957 and 1963. One of those teams, 1961, was not on the list that I had in my book of undefeated, untied and unscored upon squads. During those seven seasons Trotta’s teams went 50-2-1, they had a 42-game unbeaten streak (42-0-1). The unbeaten streak and the 1961 year surely are fabulous accomplishments:








1961 Waunakee Team…Nov. 3…Wisconsin State Journal


Coach Trotta’s teams were known for their defense. During the steak Waunakee shutout 31 of their 42 opponents and had 36 shutouts during the 56 games over the above seven seasons. Only four of the 56 games found the opposition scoring in double figures. During the 1957 year the Asian Flu hit world-wide. Millions of people were affected but mostly it was just a mild to semi-serious sickness that was often short lived. However, in some African and Central/South American countries, there were a number of deaths. Wisconsin and the rest of the country had its share of deaths but certainly not as bad as the 1918 Spanish Flu. Games in Wisconsin were affected with a number of postponements but also some cancellations. That was the case with, first, the Sauc City game. Sauk played without eight men, including their two starting tackles and their two backups. The next week, the game against Spring Green was cancelled because both sides had a number of sick players.

Grotta posted a 73-17-4 record in 12 seasons with six conference titles. While at Waunakee he also coached baseball (Eight seasons and a 94-16 record and seven conference titles) and basketball (Seven seasons). Some newspaper and his citation on the WFCA HOF web page has his teams with 43 wins in a row but as you can see above it was 42. After the 1964 season, Grotta took an administrative position as the school principal and then the next year he became the district administrator. He would move on to take a job with the Wisconsin Department of

Public Instruction. Outside of coaching he pitched softball for many years and participated in the Senior Olympics. Tragically, he was struck by a car and killed in 2007 at age 84 while crossing the road after getting his mail. The person swerved to miss Grotta but was unable to do so.


What Richard Grotta built in his time at Waunakee a tribute to his school his players and other coaches who followed. HOF coach Gayle Quinn was hired by Grotta to succeed him, and the program thrived under his leadership as well. After Quinn it has been Pat Rice, and each has tried to pass on the legacy of what Trotta started.

A special thanks goes out to Anne Blackburn, Rebecca McDonough and Sam Kaufmann of the Waunakee Community School District for getting me information on early Waunakee village/high school history.


I also wish to thank Emily Harkins at the Waunakee Public Library for supplying me with lots of yearbook information used in this blog.

Without their help I could not been able to get a feel for the early days of the school football program.

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