The 1963-64 Frederic basketball team made it to the 49th-annual WIAA Tournament in March 1964. Although they didn’t win the state championship, it was an experience that bonded the whole community. Shown (L to R) are Doug Panek, Jack Orgeman, Cary Peterson, Bill McAbee, Duane Clausen, Brad McAbee, Joe McAbee, Les Richter, Harry Ogren, Dick Magnuson and Mark Riedasch. Kneeling: Coach Tom Funne, Manager Brian Rogers and Coach Bob Berquist. Absent: Manager Steve Fossum.
Wed., March 12, 2014 | FEATURES
Fifty years ago: Frederic's own March madness
Editor’s note: Marlys Spencer served as administrative secretary to Superintendent R. P. Glynn and the Frederic School System from 1954 to 1995. She has very special memories of 1964.
Marlys Spencer | Special to the Leader
FREDERIC - The school year of 1963-64 began like any other in early September. If anyone had announced what would happen by spring, most people would have said “Great!” but few would have believed it. It had never happened before. Therefore, it was not logical to expect it.
What was known to only two people at that time was the fact that our family would increase by one in the new year.
In a small town like Frederic, population 857, social activities often revolve around high school sports. This year the football season began with seven seniors on the team. Their record was four wins and three losses in the conference.
Basketball practice started with only three seniors on the squad. They won their first 11 games, then lost to Osceola by three points and then picked up the last five they played. The conference championship was awarded to them.
It was a magical year, so far, and it continued.
Next came the subregional tournament hosted by Frederic. They won both games. Then the regional subdistrict and district or sectional held at Spooner each year. The team had been there the year before and lost. But there were high hopes for this year.
As the season progressed, the crowds grew. The gates for that season became a record. When tournaments began, so did attendance and hysteria. The office phone rang nonstop with ticket requests so, finally, Lloyd Thor was named ticket manager and a telephone line was installed in his classroom. He was an excellent organizer and did his best to satisfy everyone who called. Previous orders were honored so as more got on board, die-hard fans were rewarded. We eventually exceeded our quotas for seats but were able to secure unclaimed tickets from other towns.
My husband and I had followed the team and as the Spooner tournament approached so did my due date for delivering our second child. I had been so involved with ticket sales for months, school spirit, pep rallies and general euphoria, we decided we could not miss the games.
I visited with my mother by phone every weekend and of course shared all of this with her. She reminded me I was 8-1/2 months pregnant. “What if you go into labor in Spooner?” I replied that they have a great hospital there.
So we went and I managed to “arrange” tickets close to the floor so I didn’t have to climb too many bleachers. It was an exciting two nights and we won both games, advancing to the state tournament in Madison! Only eight teams in the entire total of 420 school districts, and Frederic was one of them!
The entire Frederic delegation erupted with a deafening roar onto the playing floor following the trophy presentation, shouting, screaming and hugging. It seemed the entire village was there. Word passed quickly of a celebration at the Frederic Golf Course, which at that time was an old farmhouse and very small.
We talked on the way home and decided we would just stop by for a brief time and we did. It was a wall-to-wall mass of humanity and I wish we had turned around and gone home. But we managed to squeeze into a spot at the end of the bar next to a wall, which seemed safe.
A good-sized fan stood by me, a fan who had been celebrating longer than most. He fell against me and jarred me from head to toe. We left immediately.
We continued to discuss the game and of course dared to consider a journey to Madison to continue backing the team. Sunday was a quiet day reading the paper, Sunday dinner and relaxing.
At 5 p.m. that day, as I walked into the living room, my water broke.
Thus ended my plan to travel anywhere except the 4-1/2 blocks south to the Frederic Hospital after dropping No. 1 son at his grandparents’.
I missed the continuing tournament hysteria at the office as I was in the process of birthing my second son. Patrick William arrived at 10:55 a.m. Monday, March 16. We were confined for the following six days. The rest was most welcome.
Bernice Asper reported in the Inter-County Leader that week, “Mr. Glynn’s Girl Friday just happened to be in the hospital Monday morning having a baby. She couldn’t have picked a better day to prove that it was difficult to get along without her, but life must go on and babies will come into the world, tournament or no tournament. Congratulations, Marlys.”
Adding to the tangle, it was payroll time. I was the lone check writer so Mr. Glynn brought the books, and checks were issued as I was propped up in my hospital bed. Since I was still a bit groggy, some checks had a correct first name with a new last and vice versa. It created laughs later!
The remaining office personnel of one administrator, one principal and his secretary faced havoc. The phone rang constantly with ticket requests, congratulatory messages and so many questions. Letters and telegrams from former students, coaches, administrators, legislators – some to the office and some to the coaches, personally – arrived daily.
Finally, calls to Madison helped to organize plans – ticket orders, bus transportation and housing for students, game days and times. The atmosphere all through the halls and classrooms was euphoric, difficult to concentrate on schoolwork!
Tuesday morning, with coaches Tom Funne and Bob Berquist, the team left for Madison. We were very fortunate to have such talented leaders for our young athletes.
Wednesday, March 18, brought 4 inches of rain, sleet, hail and snow. Nevertheless, on Thursday, five busloads of students and chaperones left Frederic for the six-hour trek to Madison. One hundred sixty student tickets and 150 adult tickets had been sold, even though our fans traveled the farthest of any, 300 miles. Half of the eight teams lived within 80 miles. We had the largest cheering section for our school size.
The 49th-annual WIAA Tournament began Thursday afternoon. The Capital Times reported, “There are no weak sisters playing this year.” Milwaukee, Eau Claire, Manitowoc and Waukesha were the largest schools. We were paired with Waterloo, a lucky draw for us, as they were the other small school there.
The game was an exciting one, very close, so both teams were hopeful. Enthusiastic fans led by our eight capable cheerleaders caused the decibel level to rise dangerously, right down to the final buzzer. The score was Frederic 56, Waterloo 58. One of the cheerleaders quipped, “That is what we met today.”
Our second game on Friday was against Manitowoc, and we made a valiant effort. But that score was 43-54 in their favor.
My husband and I listened to the radio he’d brought and cheered with the crowd. Nurses stopped in to listen with us. We were disappointed, as everyone was. But we had ranked fourth in efficiency among the eight teams with a field-goal percentage of 44.3 percent; least number of fouls, 20 in all; 21 of 34 free throws, or 61.8 percent; and four of our players made the state tournament team.
We had definitely succeeded in putting our town and school district on the map. Just qualifying for the state tournament in those days was a huge accomplishment. The entire structure changed a few years later, eventually into four classes instead of one, so teams only need now to compete with schools their own size.
On Sunday the group set out for the return trip home. One fan called from Black River Falls to pass the word, ETA 3 p.m.
A caravan formed at Luck including local police from both towns and the sheriff’s department, together with fans who stayed home and those who had returned early. One hundred eighty cars in all, fire trucks and school buses with horns honking and sirens blaring escorted the team the final six miles home. We watched out my window overlooking Main Street.
The destination of the entourage was the school gymnasium, where a giant rally was held. The band played and everyone cheered. Speakers included Mr. Glynn, the mayor and coaches. They conveyed the pride and joy we all felt.
The best part of the 1963-64 season was the way the entire school district had bonded. It caused all of us to smile more and greet each other on the street. It was an overall happy community to live in. Years later, whenever someone would wonder what year the Frederic basketball team went to state, I could tell them.