A game for the ages: SSHS vs. Cathedral, Jan. 21, 1966The forecast for Jan. 21, 1966 was 18 below zero with winds off the lake at 8-10 MPH. Imagine that; cold and windy in January. As cold as that day was outside, the indoor temperature at the Superior Senior High School gymnasium was closer to 118 degrees.
The following is another “Have Fun or Get Out of the Way” column by award-winning Don Leighton and Mike Granlund and their alter egos, Lance Boyle and Billy Pirkola, which runs occasionally in The Superior Telegram.
The forecast for Jan. 21, 1966 was 18 below zero with winds off the lake at 8-10 MPH. Imagine that; cold and windy in January. As cold as that day was outside, the indoor temperature at the Superior Senior High School gymnasium was closer to 118 degrees. How can that be? This was the night that forever will live in the minds of all who attended and participated in the first ever high school basketball game between the Superior Cathedral Panthers and the Superior Senior High School Spartans.
In fall 1965, the legendary sporting events between Superior East and Superior Central High Schools came to an end. Combining to form SSHS, the former high schools became junior high schools.
The new digs at 28th Street and Catlin Avenue were pretty impressive. The playing surface in the gym was almost double that of East and Central. What was most impressive was the number of spectators the new gym could accommodate.
In the January publication of the Superior Telegram, sports editor Stan May began his report of the previous night’s game: “The pendulum of basketball swung back and forth all night Friday at the Superior Senior High School gymnasium and when the final buzzer sounded, it had swung a little bit toward better shooting as the Spartans nipped the Superior Cathedral High Panthers, 81-80, as a new rivalry was launched before nearly 3,000 fans.”
What a night that must have been. If you took a poll of Superior and area basketball aficionados, I bet that more than 5,000 would claim their attendance.
The Panthers, guided by legendary coach Steve Bachand, entered the game with a roster that included Tim Rosin, Dennis VanMassenhove, Tom McDonald, Mark Frodesen, Tim Conley, Greg O’Brien, Joe Kongevick, Butch Schafter, Mike Longrie, Mike Moodie, Bill Johnson and Jim LaValley. The Spartans countered with Mike Regenfuss, Jeff Crisp, Dean Johnson, Packy Paquette, Harry Madsen, John Gerber, Dave Bjorkman, Perry Benson, Jeff Finn, Mike Maryanovich and Paul Hammerbeck. They were coached by Chuck Erickson. Talk about great athletes.
The Spartans entered the game with a record of 6-3, while the Panthers were 8-1. As May indicated, the game was back and forth with Cathedral leading at the end of one quarter, 24-16, on the strength of VanMassenhove and Frodesen. Regenfuss, Crisp, Madsen and Johnson all had a strong second quarter and SSHS led at the half, 40-38. The Spartans stretched their lead to nine after three quarters of play behind the scoring of Crisp, Regenfuss and Perry Benson.
The fourth quarter was dominated by Cathedral with scoring from Rosin, Frodesen and a VanMassenhove jumper that gave CHS the lead at 78-76 with three minutes to play. Johnson made a free throw to cut the lead to one. Regenfuss made two baskets in the last 48 seconds and Cathedral’s Rosin made a shot at the buzzer to finish the scoring; Spartans 81, Panthers 80.
Can you imagine the intensity and played out drama in the last few minutes of this game? I wish I could have been there.
Scoring for the Spartans were Mike Regenfuss, 20; Jeff Crisp, 18; Dean Johnson, 16; Harry Madsen, 15; Perry Benson, 6; Packy Paquette, 2; John Gerber, 2; and Bjorkman, 2. Cathedral was led by Dennis VanMassenhove, 18; Mark Frodesen, 17; Tim Rosin, 15; Tim Conley, 13; Tom McDonald, 12; and Greg O’Brien, 5.
One who was in attendance was George LaValley, a freshman member of the Cathedral junior varsity. His eyes light up when remembering the game.
“As a Cathedral freshman, I played earlier that night in the JV game, which we lost 63-46,” LaValley said. “The varsity game was standing room only. The crowd was electric, the noise deafening. As the game progressed, I remember thinking it was an unbelievable high school basketball game. Both teams had great players who played hard, made great shots; the game was back and forth.
“When SSHS ultimately won 81-80, I didn’t feel disappointed for my school, because it was such a great game. I played in six varsity games Superior vs. Cathedral, four of them in the same gym in 1967, 68 and 69. Those games were also packed to the rafters, and Cathedral won all six of those later games, but the 1966 game was undoubtedly the greatest ever. I will never forget that game. I can remember the score as if it were yesterday. Even now, 46 years later I feel that was the greatest basketball game I have ever watched at any level.”
Harry Madsen was a senior at SSHS and scored 15 points in the game. His memory is vivid when recalling the events on 1966.
“What an incredible game,” Madsen said. “The gym was packed, and you could hardly hear yourself. Cathedral was bigger than we were, but we had three great shooters in Mike Regenfuss, who went on to play for the Minnesota Gophers, Dean Johnson and Jeff Crisp.
“If there had been a 3-point arc, we may never have lost that season. The game was back and forth all night, and we were fortunate to beat that great Cathedral team in that first game ever between Cathedral and SSHS. I will never forget that great game.”
Regenfuss, who scored a game-high 20 points for the Spartans that night, doesn’t have any memories of the game itself, but he has plenty of recollections of the intra-city rivalries.
“Unfortunately I really don’t remember any details regarding the first game between SSHS and Cathedral, although I’m sure it was much anticipated by players at both schools,” Regenfuss said. “Intra-city high school football and basketball games were big community events in the early- and mid-1960s in Superior, and there was undoubtedly great anticipation over the first game. It was obviously a close, exciting game.
“Although we had a powerhouse football team that year (ranked among the best in the state of Wisconsin and Minnesota), our basketball team was a relatively small (our tallest player was 6-foot-2 or so) and we were a “work in process” as we struggled to combine the talents of players from East and Central. Accordingly, the Cathedral players and coaches (and fans) thought they had a great opportunity to beat their bigger cross-town rival in the first ever meeting of the two teams.”
How sad it is we don’t fill the Superior High School gymnasium to the rafters as we once did. Let’s show up tonight for the Superior-Wausau West girl’s playoff game at 7 p.m. and show support for one of the best teams in the state.
Scream, holler, cheer, yell, bring the kids, have some popcorn and a Coke, and bask in the electricity of a packed house during tournament time.
There is nothing like it. It’s up to you. It won’t be 18 below zero. Be there and create some excitement.
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