Forty years ago I compared Carl Bruggink to a chess grand master as his Clintonville Trucker basketball team competed in the final game of the single class Green Bay sectional.
Being a coach is similar to a chess player because both require strategy and matching move-for-move, plus a great deal of preparation and hard work to be a success.
A coach must also deal with people – not easy to do because of our many different moods and handicaps, both of a physical and psychological nature.
In addition they must deal with the double P – parents and press, both of which can be demanding and critical.
I admit to being a Carl Bruggink fan since meeting him during the 1964-65 basketball season when his Truckers came into the Washington School gym and dispatched the New London Bulldogs.
It was my inaugural season covering sports for The Post-Crescent as New London Bureau writer and I was coming off an unbelievable football season where the Bulldogs had surrendered 78, 52 and 48 points and were winless.
Both teams were part of the old Mideastern Conference which ranks as one of the elite conferences ever. The Bay and FVA approach that status as to competition and caliber of play and coaching.
Bruggink was unique as a coach because from our very first meeting he made me feel at ease and broke down the game – big plays, turning points, strategy and statistics – with me barely getting past my introduction to ask a question.
Carl knew what the media wanted, what makes a good story and he is just an enthusiastic, outgoing person.
It is easy to like Carl Bruggink.
Being stationed in New London gave me dibs on covering high school sports west and north of Appleton and quite often those assignments were Carl’s basketball team.
Many of the assignments were regional games in the old gym which was home during his 41 years of coaching. He ranks seventh on the all-time list of boys coaches with a 549-368 record.
In a recent column for the Amherst weekly I wrote about how lessons learned from my high school teachers helped prepare me for my career, including covering basketball. This was one paragraph:
“I had the privilege to report on some of the best high school basketball in Wisconsin and coincidentally some of the historic coaches – Dick Bennett, Carl Bruggink, Dick Emanuel, Jack Wippich, Ole Jorgenson, Ron Einerson, Ralph McClone and Clem Massey to name a few.”
Bennett, of course, and his brother Jack both played for Carl and went on to be successful coaches in high school and college. Wippich, Jorgenson, Einerson and Massey all coached in the Mideastern Conference.
Carl was even more enthusiastic in 1977 after his Truckers won their first state title paced by his future son-in-law Mike Jirschele. The state tournament was a three class format at that time.
Carl took a team to state early in his career (1963) when it was an 8-team field. Appleton West proved a road block in the early 1970s with back-to-back wins in the Green Bay sectional.
The first loss came in the sectional final and the game ranks as one of the best I ever saw. The top-rated Terrors eked out a 46-44 victory. West went on to capture the state title on a last second shot to defeat Neenah. West ousted the Truckers in the semi-final in 1971.
It was the 46-44 game that resulted in comparison of two great coaches Bruggink and Emanuel to chess grand masters. A graph from that story:
“Two of the masters of the game matched wits in the finale of the WIAA basketball tournament Saturday with Appleton West’s Dick Emanuel check-mating Clintonville’s Carl Bruggink in the match and gained the prize – a trip to Madison and the state tournament.”
Clintonville recognized him last week for his lifetime achievement by dedicating the “Carl Bruggink Court” in the high school field house.
The achievement includes the many people he has influenced off the court as a teacher and as ambassador for Clintonville.
He has come out of retirement to assist with the girls basketball program. “Carl Bruggink Court” sounds like a good place to begin a new career.