Reflecting on 1977 state hoops title
By Erik Buchinger
The Truckers’ 1977 boys’ basketball state championship team celebrated its 40-year reunion on Friday, Jan. 20.
Prior to the varsity home game against Marinette, alumni from the boys’ basketball program met at Matthew’s Supper Club for a happy hour.
All alumni in attendance at the basketball game stood up and were recognized prior to the game, and the 1977 state title team was honored at halftime.
Representatives from the Truckers’ championship team included Head Coach Carl Bruggink, Assistant Coach Bruce Parkovich, and players Joe Mauel, Mark “Chisel” Shingler, Kean Kasper and Steve Reinke.
Following the game, the group went to Cindy B’s for the rest of the night.
The Clintonville Tribune-Gazette spoke with several members of the program’s first ever state championship team, who reminisced about their high school basketball playing days 40 years later.
The Truckers made it to the state championship in 1976, but a last-second tip in for St. Francis sent Clintonville home with a 68-66 loss. Did that loss give the team motivation going into the next season?
Mike Jirschele: No doubt it does. When we’re that close and lose on a last-second shot and pretty much coming back with a lot of the same guys, I knew we would have a shot of at least competing and possibly getting back to the state tournament again.
Carl Bruggink: Oh, I think so. The fact that we lost at the last second gave us all the more incentive to get back.
Joe Mauel: It was a new experience for us that first year. I was a sophomore that year, and the rest of us were pretty new to it. We didn’t have a lot of expectations, but we still went and did pretty well.
What were some of the expectations and feelings the team had going into the 1977 championship season?
Bruggink: I knew we’d be pretty good. In fact, I got a charge out of Mike Jirschele. He said when we came back in ‘76 when we had the welcome home party, he said, ‘Don’t worry, we’ll be back next year.’ As a coach, you know how hard it is to get back, so I just thought be careful because it could put a lot of pressure on us. But we made it back, and we won most of our games pretty good with a really nice team.
Mauel: We thought we could go back. We were in the Bay Conference going against bigger schools, and we were able to compete with them, so when we went to the Class B tournament, we’d be prepared and thought we’d go back.
Mark Shingler: One of the interesting things about that season is that we were also in the state football playoffs, and there were many of us on the basketball team. In the beginning of the year, we were practicing football early and then practicing basketball after. It took us a little while to gel because we came to basketball from football, but my good friend Mike Jirschele was the captain and kept us focused.
When did you know the team had the caliber of a state-championship team?
Kean Kasper: I think we came together halfway thought the year. We had a couple bad games in a row when we got pounded pretty good. We made a couple changes in personnel, and after that we took off and won the rest of the year.
Bruggink: I figured we’d be pretty good. We had a couple of our high scorers back from the year before when we finished second, and I think being there the first year really helps because you’ve been through it all, so I figured by Christmas we were rounding into shape and we’d be ok.
What aspect of the team took the Truckers to the top that season?
Steve Reinke: We had a great leader in Jirschele – an all-time player and a great leader. He pushed everybody.
Shingler: We just had fun. We played well with each other. We worked hard, played hard and we had fun. Mike was a big jokester and prankster, and he kept us loose. I call them my family.
Jirschele: When you have an athlete like Joe Mauel that goes on to play Division I, that helps. We had enough kids on that team that just played together well, and nobody cared who was scoring what and who got the publicity. It was about going out and working as a team and playing hard.
Mauel: A lot of it was coaching. Coach Bruggink had that full court constant press up and down game that a lot of teams we played didn’t really see a lot. It was that fast pace up and down game and working really hard in practice. As a team, it worked really well together.
Bruggink: We kind of had it all. Everybody kind of knew their role, which was an important thing. You don’t win championships unless you have a good bench because then you’ll have good practices. Sometimes the kids would say practices were tougher than the games. Bench players were important because if they don’t work hard in practice, your first string gets in a game, and it’s a whole new ballgame.
Clintonville went through the regular season, and the Truckers beat Ladysmith in the state tournament semifinals 91-74 for the most points for a single team in state history. What was the team’s overall feeling going into the state championship game against Prairie du Chien?
Mauel: We were very confident. I don’t think anyone was nervous or anything. We just went out and had enough confidence where we thought we’d do fine. Back then we played in the UW Field House, and there’s like 10,000 people on statewide network TV. I don’t think we ever thought about that. We just went out and played, and it was fun for us.
Shingler: I don’t think we thought we could lose. We rolled up 90-some points the game before, and we had a lot of confidence that nobody was going to beat us. Nobody could outwork us.
Kasper: After sectionals, we were pretty sure that we were going to be one of the teams to beat. After the first game down at state, I don’t think there was a doubt we were going to win the next one, so we were pretty confident.
Jirschele: I was always worried. I always wanted to go out and I didn’t want to lose anything, and we just knew that we had to go out and play our game. We were hot at the time, and if we could just keep going and play like we had been playing, we had a good chance at winning.
Bruggink: Scared stiff. Before the game you’re nervous, but once the game starts, you’re busy coaching, and you don’t even think of what the game means.
What was said prior to the championship game?
Bruggink: I stressed that we were representing the teams before us because we had some really good teams, but we were playing teams 2-3 times our size until the state switched to divisions. I really stressed that we were representing all those other alumni guys who didn’t have the opportunity we had, and we represented them well.
Clintonville built a big lead in the championship game. What was your favorite moment from the title game?
Jirschele: I know I fouled out, I remember that. I remember in the last few minutes where we were relaxed because we’re like ‘We’re going to win this.’
Reinke: The part of the game I remember most is Tom Viergutz hitting a shot right before the end of the buzzer to get us to 91, and he was the last bench player. He actually got on the team by winning a free throw contest over a couple other players.
When the game was over, Clintonville beat Prairie du Chien 91-70. The 182 total points in a state tournament still stands as the highest ever in WIAA Division II history. What was the feeling when the game was over, and Clintonville had its first ever state championship?
Bruggink: Indescribable. I felt so blessed. The good lord has been really good to me.
Shingler: I lost my dad when I was 10 years old, and I knew he was there with me. I just remember going up into the stands and giving my mom a hug first because she really raised me by herself my last eight years, so she’s the first person I sought out. After that, of course we carried Carl off.
Jirschele: It was exciting because that’s what you’re playing for. You’re playing for the Clintonvile Truckers. I thought the year before, we let down Clintonville because we didn’t win it, and I wanted us to go out and win a championship for the city of Clintonville.
What was the postgame celebration like?
Bruggink: All my coaches and a bunch of teachers at the hotel all went out, and I said I’ll stay with the team. My daughter Sheri had her first official date that night with Mike Jirschele, who is now my son in law.
Kasper: It was great. We had a great time back at the hotel. We threw a lot of lawn furniture into the pool at the Sheraton in Madison, and we went a little crazy. I don’t think anyone slept too much that night.
Reinke: It was awesome. When we came back, there was a parade and a line from Bear Creek all the way to Clintonville welcoming us back.
Jirschele: It was great. Both years we went down to the state tournament, they had a big parade when we came back to town. It was just exciting to see all the Clintonville citizens out to watch us come back into the city.
What’s the feeling like looking back 40 years later?
Kasper: I feel really old. It’s a great feeling coming back and seeing all the coaches again and all the players. We put a lot of hard work in, and when we look back, it’s one of the best memories of our lives.
Mauel: It’s fun seeing all the guys. A lot of people weren’t able to make it, but Clintonville is still a nice town. It’s nice to come back, and it’s nice to see people we haven’t seen in a long time.
Jirschele: I wish I could’ve been there. I was out of town, but I think it’s great. I think that’s the way the city is – they don’t forget, and you’re always playing for the city of Clintonville.
Bruggink: It’s awesome. Clintonville has been so good to me. Forty-one years of coaching, and I loved every year of it. I got to coach the girls for three years and helped my granddaughter, and that was fun too. I never worked a day in my life because I loved what I did.