By “CP” Christopher Peppas (DB ’71)
A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away, there stood an institution of learning on the corner of Windlake Avenue and Becher Street.
From 1946 through 1972, the Brothers of Mary ran Don Bosco High School, occupying a Cream City brick building on Milwaukee’s south side.
Before the Brothers of Mary took over, the building had been condemned and deemed unsafe because of a questionable staircase on the third floor of the east end of what was then Windlake Avenue Elementary School, a part of Milwaukee Public Schools.
Don Bosco is a place where generations of boys became men imbued with and steeped in the values and traditions of the Catholic faith. They all went on to have lives, raise families, and become a part of Greater Milwaukee and communities across the country.
In addition to English, algebra, history, calculus, business law, and typing, a lot of attention was paid to athletics as well. The goal was to develop a strong body to accompany a strong mind.
It was in the days of the old Catholic Conference where Don Bosco first appeared on the local radar as a powerhouse.
There were a few championships sprinkled in the first decade or so. But the sobriquet “Football Factory” wasn’t applied until the arrival of one James Haluska.
Coach Haluska was a standout quarterback at Racine St. Catherine’s High School and the University of Wisconsin, taking the team to its first Rose Bowl, and had a short stint with the Chicago Bears in the NFL.
He left the upstart AFL’s Los Angeles Chargers to come to Bosco to coach football, teach World History, and, yes, become a legend along the way.
There’s a reason that the Wall of Champions across from St. Thomas More’s Jerry Huennekens Gymnasium bears Haluska’s name. Haluska’s fingerprints are still all over St. Thomas More. He is in its very DNA.
The Haluska-led Dons shared the Catholic Conference crown in 1961. Beginning in 1964, Bosco ran the table for four-straight years, cementing its place in history.
This is when I first came to know Don Bosco Football.
My brother Nick matriculated at Bosco in 1962 and graduated in 1966. Back then, admissions to the high school were limited and my Mom waited outside in line on a bitterly cold, windswept night just so that she would get one of those coveted slots.
A picture of her shivering outside the front doors on Becher Street made the Milwaukee Sentinel that morning. Because of that, I was admitted as a legacy.
My dad owned Marshall Camera and he would film the games in color on 16mm and later the new 8mm format. He also helped Haluska by jerry-rigging a forward/reverse button on the game film projector that the team would review before the next game.
The technology seems primitive, almost stone-age, compared with today, but it was state-of-the-art back then.
Speaking of cutting edge, Dad also set up a closed-circuit phone system from the press box to the field using army surplus wire and a phone receiver and switchboard (ask your grandparents) headset so that Haluska could talk to his assistant coach, who had a view of the whole field.
The home games were played at noon on Sundays at the old South Stadium, kitty-corner from DB, and they were events. There were popcorn vendors, people hawking cotton candy, and somewhere along the way, the vuvuzela made its first appearance. They were for sale also along with pennants, pins, and all manner of merch.
There was nothing quite like the sight of the Dons, in their green jerseys, gold pants, and shiny new Riddell helmets walking across the street from the basement of the gym next to the school.
I can still hear the clickety-clack of the cleats on their spikes as they made their bi-weekly trek. These were real cleats, shorter if the field was dry, and swapped out with longer ones when it was soggy (as a manager, this was just one of many duties). This was real, honest-to-goodness grass on the field.
Because the colors matched that other football team from up north, it was like we were watching the Packers come out of the tunnel at Lambeau Field when the Dons would emerge from their locker room.
Come to think of it, that other team was having their fair share of success on the gridiron at the same time. Coincidence? You be the judge.
In 1964, the first of four-straight titles, the Jim Haluska-led Dons squad played flawlessly, going 9-0 (7-0 in conference) and sopping up sole possession of the highly coveted title. The powerful line was anchored by High School All-American Tackle Ted Derynda (DB ’65). The team thrived with Quarterback Chet Gerlach (DB ’65) under center, outscoring the opposition, 132-43. Derynda was also voted First-Team, All-Conference along with Gerlach and guard Tom Walczak (DB ’66). Tackle Tony Marola (DB ’65) and halfback Jerry Jenders (DB ’66) were named to the Second Team.
Although they didn’t match the unblemished mark of the 1964 team, the gritty gridders of Becher Street still managed to capture the crown in ’65. They finished with an 8-1 mark (6-1 in conference), with a passel of players getting post-season honor nods. The Dons tripled their opposite number on the scoreboard (153-51). Dominating the line of scrimmage was the play of tackle Paul Zelazek (DB ’66), guard Tom Walczak, and center Greg Glass (DB ’66). Halfback Jerry Jenders triggered the potent offense. They were all elevated to First-Team, All-Conference status. End Dale Boguszewski (DB ’67) and halfback Mike Musha (DB ’66) garnered Second Team honors for their efforts.
Unbelievable is the word that best describes the 1966 Don Bosco title team. The Dons went 7-0, utilizing a stifling defense to outscore the opposition, 110-19. More than 8,000 fans saw Bosco best Pius, 7-6. Leading in that game, Coach Haluska’s “quick kick” play was implemented on a third-and-seven. The ball traveled 83 yards, sealing the squeaky-close victory.
First-Team, All-Conference nods went to ends Dale Boguszewski and Tom Mihm (DB ’68), guard Dan Wied (DB ’67), and running back/linebacker Mark Mulqueen (DB ’67), who Haluska called “the best I ever coached at Don Bosco.”
The 1967 Dons finished up this quartet of excellence. Perfection was definite in season and the 7-0 gridders did not disappoint. Pummeling their conference foes with a lopsided 178-33 point-differential was the order of the day. Quarterback Terry Campbell (DB ’68) had an embarrassment of riches to hand the ball off to in the backfield.
Craig Shully (DB ’68), Ron Barczak (DB ’68), and Bill Plachinski (DB ’69) chewed up 220 yards of green grass as more than 8,500 fans saw the Marquette Hilltoppers get toppled, 28-7. All-Conference nods went to Campbell, Mihm, Barczak, linemen Mike Ryback (DB ’68), Dave Childre (DB ’68), and Tom Zarzycki (DB ’68).
This unprecedented run truly cemented Haluska’s legacy as one of the top football coaches of all-time. Who knows what would’ve been had Haluska decided to stick with the AFL as a pro and not come here to coach and teach freshman students how to say the word “bourgeoisie” phonetically, like a cheer at a football game.
I graduated from Don Bosco in its penultimate year of 1971. The Dons won conference my senior year, finishing with a 7-1-1 mark. After opening the season with a scoreless tie and dropping a 12-5 tilt to the hated Marquette University High School, Bosco ran the table, outscoring their opponents, 178-52.
(That adds up to five titles in seven years. Hey, that’s just what Bart Starr did with those other gridders.)
Led by a steady and unflappable signal-caller, Jeff Barber (DB ’71), running back Don (Dink) Sager (DB ’71), receivers Dave (Buddha) Russell (DB ’71) and Mark (Buck) Rogers (DB ’71), linebacker Mark (Marco) Giorgi (DB ’71) and lineman Tom Rozina (DB ’71), the Dons were most definitely a force to be reckoned with.
During the playoffs leading up to the WISAA State Championship, Bosco lost to the eventual champs, Green Bay Premontre, now part of Notre Dame de la Baie Academy. The Dons weren’t outcoached or outplayed as much as they were outsized.
Premontre had a front line that averaged 6’ 7” in height and 246 pounds in weight. Pretty paltry by today’s standards, I know, but that year it was more than both the Green Bay Packers and Wisconsin Badgers had lining up that same season. I mean, a 6’ 8”, 290-pound nose-guard? He had more than eight inches and more than a hundred-pound edge.
Still and all, Bosco kept it close until the very end.
The Dons struck first and fast (and how!) when Barber found a wide-open Russell on the left sideline and he scampered just under 75 yards for the touch.
Late in the first half, Bosco held Premontre to a fourth down at their 43-yard line. To most everyone’s surprise, their quarterback Mark Lemerond trotted out and nailed a field goal that barely cleared the uprights to pad their lead.
It was rare to kick successfully from that distance as football was transitioning from straight-on kicking to the present-day, soccer-style approach that made the old style extinct.
That was another innovation that Coach Haluska had the foresight to implement. The AFL and NFL had only one sidewinding kickers each. Pete and Charley Gogolak ushered in a new era that was a game-changer.
Coach recruited local Polonia team star, Rich Lechusz (DB ’71), to do likewise for the Dons. After a few growing pains commensurate with learning a new skill, Rick “Kick” was drilling home extra points and triples with uncanny accuracy.
When you look at the sidelines at a football game today, from high school to the pros, you marvel at how many people are on the sidelines. More players, for sure, but all the extra coaches, specialists, and specialists’ specialists as well.
To think what Jim Haluska was able to accomplish with only two assistants–Andy (Greek) Stefan running both lines and Ron Fieber (DB ’54) overseeing running backs and linebackers–is almost hard to comprehend compared to the systems in place today.
Haluska had a great mind for creating innovative plays, and many are still being called today at high schools like Pius XI and Catholic Memorial, where he coached after leaving Don Bosco/St. Thomas More.
This was verified by an assistant coach at Pius as recently as ten years ago. Haluska’s name came up in conversation, and the coach starting naming plays like “Fullback 6 Pass,” “32 Trap,” and “Wing Right”–even the names survived.
In terms of facilities, Don Bosco was a school held together with chewing gum, baling wire, and little else. And the athletic program didn’t have a lot to offer as incentives, such as weight rooms, lounges, and the like.
The home field, South Stadium, was owned by the City of Milwaukee and only used for games.
During the week, the team would suit up and jog to Baran Field, located south of Lincoln Avenue at 2474 South Chase Avenue. No yard markers, make-shift goal posts, a seven-man sled leftover from the Bronco Nagurski-era, and some tackling dummies…that was about all we had. State-of-the-art it wasn’t.
The field was sloping and rather hilly, but out of those harsh conditions many champions were created.
Long-time Athletic Director Phil Schrempf would order the buses, handle the tickets, schedule doctor’s physicals, and get eligibility forms to the players on the Varsity, B-Team, and C-Teams.
He would also SELL all the participants their mouthguard kits, if you wanted to keep your teeth, that is.
In 1970, Mr. Schrempf retired, and I assumed his duties while still a senior at Bosco. There was a lot to do, and I had a lot of help from Joe Quick (DB ’72), Bob Huber (TM ’73), and several others.
It was a wild ride, to be sure, and it made me the person I am today. And I wouldn’t change a thing.
In celebration of our 150th Anniversary, throughout the 2020-21 school year, the St. Thomas More Communications Committee will release a series of engaging stories and spotlights to highlight and celebrate influential figures and memorable moments from our school’s 150-year history.
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- Bosco’s rich sports history begins and ends with Football! By Chris Peppas (DB ’71)