Princeton High School will play a full season of eight-man football this fall for the first time in nearly 65 years.
The Princeton and Green Lake school boards voted in October to move from 11- to eight-man football after Montello indicated it wanted to drop out of the three-school cooperative that had fielded a team, the Phoenix, since 2007.
Princeton and Green Lake officials decided there were not enough interested students to maintain an 11-man program with Montello’s departure. The Princeton and Green Lake co-op team, the Tigersharks, will compete as an independent this year and is poised to join the South East Conference next year.
The WIAA Board of Control earlier this month accepted recommendations that included moving Princeton/Green Lake and Montello to the eight-team conference for 2024 and 2025.
The realignment, which the board will review for a final time in April, only affects football. Princeton/Green Lake will compete with Montello, Oakfield, Elkhart Lake-Glenbeulah, Williams Bay, St. John’s Northwestern (Delafield), The Lincoln Academy (Beloit), and Valley Christian (Oshkosh) in the South East Conference.
Eight-man football has been gaining popularity as school districts across the state, especially in rural areas, deal with declining enrollments and waning interest in tackle football. The game is played on an 80-yard field that is 120 feet wide. Traditional football fields are 100 yards by 160 feet. Eight-player games are typically fast-paced and high scoring.
About 50 teams with school enrollments under 200 competed in eight-player football in Wisconsin in 2022. Sixteen teams qualified for the playoffs, which debuted in 2018. Defending champion Wausau Newman Catholic defeated Belmont 54-0 in the 2022 title game. At least eight more schools are expected to compete in 2023.
The local cooperative team involving Princeton, Green Lake and Montello played eight-man football out of necessity in 2021 when injuries decimated the thin team. The Phoenix did not resume its 11-man game against Wautoma after falling behind 46-0 in the first half and forfeited its homecoming game with Poynette the following week. With 20 healthy players the Phoenix played Greenwood in an eight-man game as a substitute homecoming. Greenwood posted a 44-8 win.
Josh Cheek, who had succeeded Lance Schultz, resigned as coach in September 2022. Parker Velte finished the 2022 season as the interim coach as the Phoenix went 1-9. The sole win came in a Senior Night season finale, 27-25, over North Fond du Lac.
The Princeton School District is currently advertising for a varsity football coach to “help lead our new eight-man football program. Leading training sessions, offering inspiration and advice during gameplay, formulating game strategies, and organizing team meetings are all tasks of the coach.” The part-time position pays $2,500 to $3,500 per year.
PHS football highlights
Princeton High School formed its first football team in 1903, its first year as a three-year high school, but no records have been found of any games played.
Princeton Republic, Oct. 8, 1903: “The boys are out every evening practicing for football. Altho it is the first team ever organized at school, it promises to be a good one, and able to meet any team of its class. Earl Stewart was elected captain of the team. The probable lineup of the team will be as follows: center, Earl Stewart; right guard, Fritz Ernst; left guard, Chester Whiting; right tackle, Ernest Krueger; right end, George Morse; left end, Carl Schendel; quarterback, Curil Merrill; left halfback, Mace Morse; right half back, Ed Borsack; fullback, Helmuth Krueger. The boys wish to thank all who subscribed for the purchase of suits.”
Earl Stewart was not only Princeton’s first football captain, but also became Princeton’s first collegiate football player, lettering at Ripon College in 1905.
There are no reports of competitive football games being played in Princeton until the 1930s and 1940s when touch, or tag, football became popular. A Princeton squad lost to Green Lake 20-13 in 1938, and in October 1943, teams from St. John’s Catholic and St. John’s Lutheran played a series of four games. The Lutherans routed the Catholics, 14-2, 18-3, 12-0, and 32-0.
Six-man tackle football officially arrived in 1948 under the guidance of coach Ralph Lenz.
Princeton Times-Republic, Sept. 23, 1948 – “A varsity football team for the high school is beginning to develop under the direction of Mr. Lenz. So far, nineteen boys are taking part, and there may be more. A division of the members will take place sometimes this week and twelve boys will be selected for the A team. These twelve boys will be outfitted in complete uniforms. The remainder of the members will become the B team under the direction of Mr. (A. Carl) Hannemann.”
Boys selected for the varsity were Ken Mlodzik, Roger Kallas, Dennis Lashock, Urban Lashock, Clifford Mashuda (Sr.), George Humphrey, Eugene Mashuda, Tom Drill, Rodger Zaumeyer, Jim Sondalle and Don Manthey, with Tom Weiske and Jim Ostrander as managers.
A 60-yard field was marked off in a section of the airport and goal posts erected. Princeton played its first game on Oct. 1, 1948, at Brandon. Tom Drill’s touchdown run and George Humphrey’s extra-point were the only Princeton scores in a 45-7 loss. Princeton also lost a scrimmage to Green Lake’s B team, 36-24, before calling it a season.
Princeton High School recorded its first six-man football win, 18-13, over Montello in 1949. It also announced its first homecoming celebration in October. “This is something new which is being brought,” the newspaper noted. “… Alumni of Princeton High are especially welcome back for any of the events, and the public is invited to all of the affairs.” (Princeton lost to Hustisford, 47-13.)
Lenz was succeeded by Hannemann in 1950. He was succeeded in 1952 by Ralph Ball, who led Princeton’s successful move to eight-man football as the Tigers rolled to a 4-2-1 season. They outscored their opponents 162-76; both losses were by less than a touchdown. Leading scorers were Arvin Kahl with 49 points, Alvin Severson with 36, and Merlin Sina with 25.
After two winning seasons in its first four playing football, beginning in 1953 Princeton suffered through 11 straight losing seasons, including a winless streak that spanned four seasons and reached 18 games.
PHS replaced Poynette in the Dual County Conference in February 1954, joining Pardeeville, Rio, Cambria, Fox Lake, Markesan, Randolph and Fall River. Princeton had difficulty competing with the larger schools as the conference fluctuated between eight- and eleven-man football. The 1955 schedule, for example, included five eight-man games and two eleven-man games. (There was also a cancellation in September 1955 due to a polio outbreak.)
George Giese earned first-team all-conference honors in 1957. Princeton defeated Fall River 21-0 that year despite having only eleven players available due to the Asian flu epidemic.
When the conference moved completely to 11-man football in 1959, wins became rarer for the outmanned Tigers. They were outscored 195-26 in an 0-6 season.
“We went to other schools with one bus,” Jerry Baumann (Class of 1960) recalled in 2022. “Markesan came here with three. They’d have guys running around the field and more still coming off the buses.”
Ball was succeeded in 1960 by Wayne Belke, a recent graduate of the State College at Oshkosh, where he was all-conference, most valuable player and captain for the football team. Belke’s Tigers opened the 1961 season with five straight losses, being outscored 155-14, before breaking their 18-game losing streak with a 14-14 tie at Montello on October 24.
“As far as PHS was concerned, it was a win,” the Princeton Times-Republic said. “The boys hugged the coach, they yelled, they screamed, and they blew horns all the way back to Princeton. After all, three years is a long time to go without a win and what’s more the boys proved they can score more than one TD a game, even if the last one came with just 38 seconds left in the game. It was a truly well-played game on Princeton’s part.”
Princeton’s record had improved from a tie in 1961, to two wins in 1962, to a winning record in 1963. Preseason talk about the experienced team, which included athletes such as Jerry Lese, Ken Kautzer, Tom Sullivan, Jess Ladwig and others, in 1964 turned to a conference championship.
Princeton Times-Republic, Sept. 24, 1964 – “The Tigers took a very satisfying win from a strong Pardeeville team last Friday, shutting out the defending champs, 13-0, in what was the first Princeton football win over that team in as many years as anyone can remember. Jess Ladwig’s 67-yard touchdown scamper to ice the game in the last quarter must go down as the game’s highlight.”
Injuries and suspensions due to training rule violations derailed Princeton’s momentum, however, as the Tigers finished 4-3 and in third place in the conference. From there, PHS football returned to the conference cellar with one win in 1965.
Only 13 upperclassmen reported for the first practice in 1966. The school board threatened to cancel the season unless more boys decided to play. Students helped recruit additional players, who suffered through another winless season.
Jerald Hannemann, whose father coached here in the 1950s, arrived at PHS in 1968 to fill a second-semester vacancy to teach industrial arts and four physical education sections. He inherited a team in 1969 with only five seniors from the Class of 1970. They had been sophomores when the school board considered not playing football in 1967 and had not won a varsity game.
The Tigers scored their first win in four years when they defeated Randolph, 34-13, in October 1969 at homecoming, the first game under the new athletic field lights. Doug England capped the Tigers’ opening drive with a nine-yard TD run. Randolph scored twice, but Warren Naparalla’s 84-yard kickoff return gave Princeton a 13-12 lead at the half. The defense held Randolph scoreless in the second half. Naparalla scored again on a 51-yard interception, and Bill Nelson and Tom Sosinsky each added TD runs.
Princeton High School held its first football Parents Night on October 30, 1970, when the Tigers (6-2) faced Montello (5-1-1) in a battle for second place in the Dual County Conference. Parents of the varsity players, managers and cheerleaders were honored during halftime. Montello spoiled the night with a 14-6 win. Princeton’s only score came on a two-yard run by Naparalla set up by a long run by England. Joe Reiser had three interceptions.
The team’s 6-3 record in 1970 was the best in school history, but the mark did not last long.The Tigers finished 8-1 and tied for first in the Dual County Conference in 1973. Their only loss was to Westfield in the second game of the season. However, the Tigers had disposed of perennial conference bullies Montello, Randolph and Pardeeville.
An upset win over Montello, previously undefeated and ranked third in the state, set up a showdown with Pardeeville for the conference lead. Princeton trailed 16-6 at halftime of the homecoming game but rallied for a 21-16 win as the Bulldogs’ last drive stalled at the 13. Alan Bednarek scored from 60 yards out and Dave Jantz on a 53-yard run in the second half.
Princeton clinched a share of the Dual County Conference title – the school’s first – with a 20-14 win over Randolph in the season finale.
The 1974 Tigers avoided major injuries and lived up to expectations, marching through the nine-game season undefeated and finishing first and third in the state small school rankings by the Associated Press and United Press International polls, respectively. (The WIAA did not have a postseason tournament at that time.)
Princeton edged Pardeeville, 14-13, on Oct 10. Bednarek and Tom Bradley scored on 61- and 10-yard runs, respectively, before the Bulldogs rallied in the second half. Bradley blocked Pardeeville’s final extra-point attempt, and Steve Reynolds iced the win with an interception.
Princeton clinched its second conference title with a 35-6 win over runner-up Randolph. Bednarek scored in the first quarter on a 58-yard run. Jantz had a 17-yard run and 6-yard TD pass to Glen Gorsuch, and Tim Sosinsky added two short scoring runs.
The Tigers finished off their undefeated season with a 60-14 romp over Rio. Bednarek scored 24 points and raised his season rushing mark to 1,110 yards. Jantz ran for one touchdown and was four-for-four passing with four touchdowns.
The Tigers were escorted through town by a cavalcade of cars. An “appreciation party” at the school drew a crowd of nearly 400 people, the newspaper said.
The team was honored again at the football banquet sponsored by the Rotary Club in March 1975. A plaque from the Associated Press was presented to Hannemann and his players. The inscription read, “Wisconsin small school football champions 1974.” The plaque is displayed in the high school trophy case.
Hannemann departed after the 1974 season. He was replaced by Greg Apkanian, who had played football for the University of Wisconsin. He was replaced in fall 1979 by Don Maurer, who coached here for two decades. The team recorded seven winning seasons in nine years in the 1990s.
Princeton rejected Green Lake’s offer to form a co-op football team in 1989 when Maurer told the school board plenty of PHS students were interested in playing football. In 1993, however, he told the board that with only five seniors, three juniors, eight sophomores and fourteen freshman reporting he did not have enough players to field a varsity squad. Enough additional players turned out and the Tigers went 4-3 in the Dual County Conference and 5-4 overall.
Princeton Times-Republic, Sept. 21, 1995 – “‘Whoa Nellie’ to the fantastic finish between the Randolph Rockets and the Princeton Tigers. With one minute and eight seconds on the clock the Tigers came from behind to record their first victory over Randolph in the past 18 years with the score Princeton 24, Randolph 22. Justin Kutz became the Chevrolet player of the game with two outstanding receptions and the two-point conversion to win the ball game. Joe Jungwirth connected with Justin on a three-yard pass and a fifty-yard pass splitting two Randolph defenders and taking it in for the touchdown to tie the game up at 22 to 22. Justin then scored on a two-point conversion run to take the lead and seal the victory.”
Princeton was selected to play Almond-Bancroft in the opening game of the 1996 high school football season at Camp Randall.
Princeton Times-Republic, Sept. 5, 1996 – “It was an ending to a great day when the Princeton Tigers football team defeated Almond-Bancroft 27 to 8. The Tigers accumulated 321 yards of total offense last Thursday in Madison playing on Camp Randall’s football field. Rustin Clewien scored on a 12-yard-run in the first quarter and a 64-yard run in the fourth quarter along with a two-point conversion. … Scott Sommerfeldt had a 45-yard run for a touchdown in the second quarter. … Ryan Bentley added a four-yard run in the third quarter.”
Princeton finished the regular season 9-2 and qualified for the WIAA playoffs for the first time.
Princeton Times-Republic, Oct. 17, 1996 – “The Tigers are going to the playoffs for the first time in Princeton’s history. The position in the playoffs was clinched by their homecoming win over Hustisford, 19 to 12.”
The Tigers defeated Port Edwards 35-20 in the first round and lost to Hilbert in the second round.
Princeton Times-Republic, Nov. 7, 1996 – “To end the great season that the Princeton Tigers have had, they finished with a 40-0 loss against Hilbert Saturday night. … Coach Maurer praised the team on the outstanding job they have done this season despite Saturday’s loss. The team had several players who made a number of tackles against Hilbert. Lucas Jachtuber led with seven solo tackles and five assists. Neil Maurer had three tackles with six assists.”
The school board allowed eighth-graders to play freshman (not varsity) football in 1997, but interest again waned in the 2000s. Princeton, Green Lake and Montello debuted their co-op football team, the Phoenix, led by Coach Bill Condon in 2007.
My research only extends to 2000, so if there are football accomplishments or interesting anecdotes from the last 23 years that I should add to this history, please let me know. Also please let me know if you have any corrections, suggestions, or photos to help tell this story.
Thank you for caring and reading about local history.