The first goal of the Manawa Athletic Booster Club was to raise money for a football field and track.
The organization is still working on that project, but members have also set their sights on recognizing former athletes and coaches that have made their mark at Little Wolf High School.
The club has started an athletic Hall of Fame and the first inductees are the school’s two state championship teams: the 1985 football team and 1983 baseball team.
Both will a recognized at a banquet Saturday, June 28, at Conroy’s Bear Lake Resort.
Mary Griffin and Jeff Bortle are heading the Hall of Fame project.
“Manawa athletics needed a booster club to make sure that sports stay strong in the community and to carry on our strong tradition,” Griffin said. “The Hall of Fame seemed like the natural next step. In order to have a strong athletic program, you need to bring back alumni and keep them involved. It is a way to showcase our school.”
“We felt that athletes that have graduated from Little Wolf High School deserved to be honored by their alma mater,” Bortle said.
Bob Lieberman, coach of the 1985 football team that defeated DeSoto 14-6 in the Division 5 title game to cap a 13-0 season, recalled some fond memories.
“In grade school, they would play tackle football during recess and played so hard the teachers had to ban them from playing because they thought someone was going to get hurt,” he said. “I knew they had their goals set high when a bunch of them went to the Badger football camp during the summer just to see what type of shoe worked best on artificial turf.”
The Wolves had one of three undefeated teams in 1985.
“Their greatest asset was that they were great competitors and team-oriented,” said Lieberman, a member of the Wisconsin Football Coaches Association Hall of Fame. “They did not want to let their teammates down because of the shame they would feel. In the championship game, the play that sealed the deal was when Brian Rill intercepted a pass and returned it for a TD with less than a minute to play. DeSoto was the heavy favorite, as they had won the last two Division 5 state titles.
“I was fortunate to coach a group of young men from Manawa who garnered 213 wins and losing 76 while winning 16 CWC championships,” he added. “I was also very fortunate to have excellent assistant coaches along the way that included Gerry Hackbarth, Jim Quinn, Dan Peterson and Bob Roloff.”
“These kids truly liked each other and were such a close-knit bunch,” Quinn said. “They were always upbeat and positive. If you were to watch a video of these kids, they were perfectionists right down to having there arm guards, hand guards, etc., all lined up neatly on the nearest yard line. This was an example of their commitment to excellence.”
Quinn recalled a moment he shared with Lieberman prior to the championship game.
“The morning we left for Madison, we were sitting in the coach’s office and Bob asked me what I thought the outcome of the game would be,” he said. “Going out on a limb, I said, ‘If we get more points than them, we will win.’ Bob said to me, ‘You’re really living dangerous with that prediction aren’t you?’
“Just like our players, I have fond memories of not only that season, but all of the time I spent as coach for Manawa football,” Quinn said. “I am so looking forward to the banquet to catch up with coaches and players alike.”
Mike Lemke coached the 1983 baseball team that handed Marshall a 5-1 defeat in the Class C championship game.
“I started out coaching American Legion baseball before I got involved with the high school program,” Lemke said. “That 1983 team, I had four seniors – Gary Fortney, Kevin Rosenau, Rick Dain and Mark Johnson – that showed great leadership. That was a great big part of our success that spring.”
Lemke recalled the championship game while proudly showing off a baseball autographed by the players and newspaper articles about the team’s victory.
“We played Weston in the semifinals and Marshall in the finals,” he said. “It was one of the greatest memories of my life, but it was also more their doing than mine.”
Assistant coach Jim Roenz was also part of the team’s success, according to Lemke.
“I am pleased to have had the experience of coaching with Mike Lemke,” Roenz said. “He had put so much time into the baseball program over the years and a state championship is really special. He definitely deserves the recognition.
“I remember returning from a baseball coaching clinic in the winter of 1983,” Roenz said. “Coach Lemke asked me what I thought about the idea of requiring the players to shine their cleats before each game. I wasn’t sure where he was going with that comment and then he added, ‘If we are going to compete at state, we had better look sharp.’ It turns out he was prophetic.”
The 1983 team overcame a fair amount of adversity, Roenz said.
“Nobody really believed that we could do what we did,” he said. “The team had lots of talent and they really liked playing baseball. I remember the Sectional game vs. Sevastopol. Gary Fortney started the game with a bunt base hit and we kept the Pioneers on their heels all game. Making it to state is a very pressure-filled game. Those are memories that can never be taken away. Trophies or medals aren’t nearly as important as the memories.”
The banquet will begin with a 4:30 p.m. social hour. A 50/50 raffle will be held and paddles will be sold for prizes. A chicken and roast beef buffet dinner will follow at 7 p.m., followed by presentations, awards, speeches and drawings. Bear Lake Resort will provide a DJ at 9 p.m.
“We only have 300 tickets for the banquet at a cost of $25 per person,” Griffin said. “Anyone can attend the presentations for $15.”
Tickets can be purchased at First State Bank or by contacting Griffin at 920-538-3940. Check can also be mailed to Griffin at N5993 Summit Lane, Manawa WI 54949.
Proceeds will go to the Manawa Athletic Booster Club to help further Manawa athletics.