|The Tree House Chronicles||
“I miss the atmosphere, waking up Saturday mornings and getting ready for games. It was a way to get the whole student body together”. Will Hermanson, a senior and transfer student from Northwestern College in Iowa, reflects on his time of cheering on a nationally competitive football team, “I like watching
most other sports, but football brings out something special”.
Many colleges and universities around the U.S. have a great tradition in football, but as the leaves change color and the air gets cooler, at the University of Wisconsin-Superior you will not find a college football game being played at Ole Haugsrud Stadium on an autumn Saturday afternoon.
UWS football ended abruptly after the 1992 season was suspended two games into the season. There are many different theories and view points as to why the football team was really shutdown, but the most accepted is the apparent lack of players that came out for that final season.
According to Dave Kroll, who has been the Head Athletic Trainer at UWS for the last 20 years, only 48 players came out for the first day of practice in the fall of 1992. And although they were severely short on players the team had talent and the season looked promising.
“We brought in nine great skill- position players from Hibbing Community College that year, and we were going to be good” said Kroll, “The only thing is that they were found ineligible because they never went to class and got bad grades at Hibbing,”.
There are several different theories surrounding the recruitment issues that plagued the football team during its last few seasons. One was that new head coach Dan Lounsbury didn’t recruit enough players to come play for the team.
“Lounsbury was a full time coach,” UWS Athletic Director Steve Nelson said, “but he didn’t recruit like a full time coach and there were low numbers because of that.”
Although, it may be hard to imagine that the main reason the football team was axed was because Coach Lounsbury may or may not have recruited enough players for the 1992 season. After coaching at UWS, Lounsbury went on to work on the collegiate level with Texas, TCU, Tulsa, Purdue, Cortland State, Southeastern Oklahoma State and now coaches with Texas A&M-Commerce. Lounsbury has also worked with several pro and semi-pro football teams.
It was reported in the September 25th, 1992 edition of The Promethean that there were 90 recruits that season and there was expected to be 65-70 players in training camp; barely half of that showed up for the first practice. Dale Mundle, a UWS football player from 1989-1991, thinks otherwise about the recruiting issue.
“I often suspected the recruiting budget was slowly being cut” Mundle said, “The year I was there we had players from California, Texas and from all over the place. Many of them went home for different reasons, and we never got anyone to replace them."
In football, there is much more money being spent to recruit new players as opposed to other sports because there are a lot more spots to fill on a football team.
Although they had a lack of players, things seemed to be turning around with Coach Lounsbury after finishing with a 2-6-1 record in 1991, his first season with the team.
“We’d have a few thousand fans at the home games” Mundle said, “We weren’t winning the conference championship let alone many games, but we were competitive and fun to watch.”
After the first two games, what was left of the team became plagued by injuries. Six players were out indefinitely with injuries and another six would have been game time decisions. This left only 22 players to take the field had they continued to play games.
“You can’t have a college football team with 48 guys, and after academic problems and injuries in the first two games of the season, we were down to 22,” said Kroll.
Their final season ended with a 1-1 record before starting conference play. They won their last home game ever, defeating Concordia St. Paul 27-22. The following week after that game was played, UWS athletic director at the time Patricia Dolan held a press conference to announce the rest of the games for that season would be forfeited.
A 1988 UWS student athlete graduate, Beth Clark recalls about hearing the news of the cut football program:
“It was a tough time” Clark remembered, “People were disappointed because there was a great tradition and then so quickly it was gone.”
Clark, a hall of fame inductee at UWS, has gone on to teach and coach volleyball and girls’ basketball at Hermantown High School. Just recently she acquired the athletic director position at Hermantown. She weighed in her position as an A.D. if she was put into Dolan’s position:
“It would have to take place over an extended period of time because to me it’s hard to justify cutting an entire program after one bad year” Clark said, “Obviously the decision was tough, but you can’t second guess the A.D. We’re on the same page and whether you like or not, you need to support what’s best for the school.”
Though the football team was dropping in numbers, the fans in the stands were not. And although there was still quite a fan base, the football program in general was in trouble for quite some time.
“The last few years was a continuous downward spiral, despite the fact we were playing better” Mundle said, “The program had no stability, there were three different head coaches in the last four years the program existed.”
After the 1992 season ended, it was announced that the football program would be shut down indefinitely.
“It came to the point where it felt like we [Athletic Department] were throwing money down a black hole,” said Nelson. “The athletic director needed to assess what she had at the time, and the decision had to me made,” he added.
There isn’t one particular or major reason why UWS football did not return to the field in the fall of 1993. There are rumors that they were just too bad of a team to continue, that there was not enough money in the budget and that it needed to be cut to even out men’s and women’s sports. As there is truth to some of this, much of it is off kilter.
Another theory that suspending the season ended up not being temporary was the relationship between Head Coach Dan Lounsbury and the Athletic Director at the time, both of whom were unresponsive to comment requests.
“There seemed to be a bad relationship between Dolan and Lounsbury, and instead of solving the problem by giving Lounsbury options, Dolan cut football for good,” said Kroll.
“Dolan was an interim A.D at the time” Mundle added, “Did the fact that the A.D and chancellor were both women at the time play a role in the football team being cut”?
There are many different theories about why the football team was cancelled and the finger pointing could go on forever, but none of that would change the fact that there is no football team and there most likely never will be again. And although it’s seen as negative that there is no football team, cutting the program brought some good opportunities to UWS.
“We have been able to add and fund a lot more sports that fit our small university better than football” Nelson explained, “We were ahead of the curve by adding women’s hockey ten years ago, and the opportunity has really paid off for us.”
This also created more opportunities for student
athletes coming to UWS.
“With no football team, we [UWS] have more sports, which in turn give more student athletes an opportunity to play a college sport,” said Logan Campa, the UWS Student Body President. “If we had football right now, we probably wouldn’t have as many sports, and we wouldn’t be giving as many people opportunities to succeed,” he added.
There are many grumblings about whether or not UWS will field a football team ever again, and many people would like them to. Even 18 years after the football program was cut, the wounds of not having a team are still open, and students today would still like to see college football at UWS.
“I understand why we don’t have a football team, but it is a real disappointment,” said Campa, “I feel it would help with campus involvement, and with no homecoming it seems like there is little tradition”.
Many other UWS students also feel like they are missing out on something special without having a football team, or homecoming.
“You lose that whole environment – cheering and rooting for the home team and meeting new friends in the stands” sophomore Jordan Peterson said, “Having a football team would add to the ‘college experience’ and I think it’s a little ridiculous that we don’t have homecoming”.
Having been a collegiate athlete, Clark reflects on her time as an athlete and stresses its life lessons:
“It’s an experience you can’t duplicate. Ten years later you’ll look back and want to do it again” Clark said, “You’re put into an environment where you meet new people and you deal with winning and losing and the intensity of it all. It’s just a great experience.”
There has been talk about whether or not having football would help UWS’ enrollment, but this is an interesting subject according to Julius Erlenbach, the Chancellor of UWS.
“There would obviously be an increase in men at UWS, but I think we are right where we should be with enrollment. Many students like the small feel of the campus, and that is why some come here, so it really depends how you value these things,” he said.
Unless something dramatic were to happen in the near future, the University of Wisconsin-Superior will continue to go on without a football team.
“If there was talk about adding a football team, the big question would be about being able to viably recruit a full team,” said Erlenbach. “With how much money it would cost to bring back football, and the amount of commitment needed, the costs definitely outweighs the benefits in this situation,” he added.
In the many years of UWS football, in which the Yellow Jackets compiled a 206-340-37 record, there were many achievements in the early years. UWS won six conference championships from 1913-1940, and 19 players went on the play professional football, six of who went to the National Football League. In their most successful seasons the ‘Jackets were coached by Ted Wheratt, Ira Tubbs (who was also the inventor of the air needle used to blow up athletic balls), and Mark Dean. All three of these coaches finished with career records over .500.
Of the six players that played in the NFL, two of them stand out the most. Don Moselle played for the Cleveland Browns in their inaugural season and won a Super Bowl with them. More well-known and being a Superior Native, Doug Sutherland was drafted by the New Orleans Saints but spent most of his career as a Purple People Eater with the Minnesota Vikings. After these early years of success, UWS fell into a bad rut, and never seemed to get out of it.
As of now, and in the near future, the only teams you will see on Ole Haugsrud Stadium are the Superior Spartans (High School), Superior Stampede (Semi-Pro), and various UWS intramural flag football teams.
The real reasons as to why UWS cut its football team and whether or not there were hidden agendas involved still remain unknown and are left up to personal opinion. But the facts remain the same, there’s no more black and gold at the Ole except for distant memories and a forgone tradition.