New book highlights local sports in the 1950s & 1960s‘When grass was green and skies were blue’ is due out in mid-September
By: Ken Olson, Superior Telegram
Ever wonder who won the first football game on Memorial Football Field (Ole Haugsrud)? Or who scored the first goal for the Superior high school hockey team?
Do you know how many basketball players from Superior lettered for the University of Minnesota Gophers in the 1950s?
The answers to those questions and many more may be found in the upcoming book “When grass was green and skies were blue.”
Mike Cowan, who grew up during the golden era of sports in Superior, is nearing completing of the book, which is about his growing up in Superior in the 1950s and ’60s,
“It started out about my fond memories of growing up in Superior, but then it turned into the rivalries that developed between neighborhoods, grade schools and eventually the three high schools in town,” Cowan said. “I started reading the Telegram sports pages and it just so happened that the first year that I was reading was in Aug. 1949 when the fastpitch softball leagues, which were popular at the time, were hosting the first Northwest Softball Tournament. It was held at the old Blues Stadium, because that was the only place that had lights.”
The goal of the tournament was to raise money for lights on one of the softball diamonds in town, and about three years later lights were put up at Wade Bowl.
“As I’m reading, I realize that the guys who are playing fastpitch softball were the same guys who a few years earlier were the high school athletes,” Cowan said. “Then I started reading about the rivalries.”
The next item that caught Cowan’s attention was when the 1949 Superior Central football team was undefeated going into its last game.
The Vikings were winning late in their final game at Hurley when Florian Helinski faked covering up on a punt and returned it around 100 yards for the winning score. Helinski went on to play football and basketball with the Indiana Hoosiers.
Two members of the Central team that finished the year with a 6-1 record were Whitney Archambault and Rod Lundberg.
Lundberg eventually won the first Ernie Nevers Scholarship, which was sponsored by Ole Haugsrud. Lundberg went to Wisconsin for one year then came back and was an all-conference back at Superior State College (UW-Superior).
“Those were two of the stories that sparked my interest,” said Cowan, who interviewed more than 40 people for his book, including Ross Amundson and Harry Goldfine.
Amundson was a sophomore starting quarterback for a Superior East High School football team that defeated cross-town rival Central High School. The following year his family moved to Billings Park and he went on to play quarterback for two seasons at Central.
Amundson also holds the distinction of being one of the first Division I baseball players from Superior, playing third base with the Wisconsin Badgers.
“The unbelievable thing about Ross is that when he was a 13-year-old playing in his first year of Babe Ruth Baseball against 14- and 15-year-olds, he threw four consecutive no-hitters,” Cowan said. “He lost his fourth no-hitter by the score of 8-7 because he said he was so wild.”
Goldfine, who graduated from Central, went on to play football at Southwest Missouri State before eventually transferring back to UW-Superior. While Goldfine sat one year because of his transfer, Yellowjacket coach Mertz Mortorelli had him coach the St. Francis Pony League youth football team, which went undefeated. He also coached St. Francis in basketball and recalls being coached by Ron Orlandi on the Giants when the Babe Ruth League just got started.
Cowan grew up in the 1950s near Wade Bowl and now lives in Fond du Lac, Wis. After attending St. Louis grade school and graduating from Cathedral High School in 1965, he went on to the University of Wisconsin and played hockey for the Badgers for three seasons along with Mark Fitzgerald, also from Superior.
Cowan went on to teach school and coach high school boys and girls hockey in Waupun and Fond du Lac Springs. He later coached women’s hockey at Marian University in Fond du Lac.
One of Cowan’s losses while at Waupun was a 1-0 loss to Superior in the quarterfinals of the 1974 state tournament, which was played in Green Bay.
“I wasn’t big enough to be a basketball or football player, so I was fortunate to grow up in Superior when hockey was just starting out,” Cowan said. “If I would have grown up five earlier, there wasn’t any hockey. If I would have grown up five years later, I would have still played hockey, but there would have been a lot more kids playing.
“I had the opportunity to go to Madison and play three years when they were just starting their program under Bob Johnson. We were there at the right time, and I was fortunate enough to get a college education.”
Cowan’s book also includes a section on baseball, which didn’t get started at Central until the 1950s.
“They didn’t play very many games, mainly because of the weather, but there were some pretty good players, including Ron (Hawk) Hawley, who was a good left-handed pitcher; and John Larson who was signed by the Blues,” Cowan said. “East started baseball when it hired Ron Orlandi as its coach, then Cathedral eventually started. By the late 1950s all three schools had baseball.”
When Cowan started playing hockey in the mid-1960s, the only place to play was on neighborhood rinks.
“Our goals were the logs they used to warm the warming shack,” Cowan said. “Eventually they added boards around town and then at the Municipal Rink.”
High school hockey got its start when Central and East combined for several years before Superior Senior High School was opened in 1965. Cathedral also had teams for a few years before it stopped being a high school.
In the book, Cowan also relives his days of playing softball at the neighborhood playgrounds.
“We had to ride our bikes everywhere, including Jane’s Grocery Store near the East End Fire Hall. There’s a hockey rink there now,” Cowan said. “While I was playing for Wade Bowl it was interesting when we had to play at the Carpenter School. The North End had a tough reputation, and some of the guys didn’t want to go down there. But that didn’t bother me because I went to St. Louis and knew most of them.”
The book also includes a section on the strength of basketball in Superior in the 1950s, when five local boys lettered at the University of Minnesota: Glen Reed, George Hanson and Bob Olson from Central; Tom Benson, East; and Dave Tucker, Cathedral.
“I thought that was pretty impressive,” Cowan said. “Basketball in Superior at that time was so good.”
Football was also pretty good in the 1950s, with Central sporting undefeated teams in 1957 and 1958.
Football really took off in the mid-1960s when East and Central both had good teams, which included players like Bobby Olson, Tom McCauley and Ed and Packy Paquette.
“There were so many good athletes coming out of this town,” Cowan said. “All I really wanted to do is tell people about them and let the readers hear their stories. All of the people I talked to had fond memories of growing up in Superior and playing sports.”
Cowan has been working on his book for about a year and is scheduled to be done in mid-September. It will be on sale at Globe News and the Superior Ice Arena, as well as a few other locations.
Adding to the book will be an introduction by Jim Hawkins, a Cathedral High School grad who went on to a successful baseball writing career, which included covering the Detroit Tigers for many years. Hawkins was a finalist last year for election into the Baseball Hall of Fame.
“Jim was so gracious to write an introduction for my book,” Cowan said. “He has plenty of his own fond memories about growing up in Superior.”
And if you’re still trying to figure out the remaining answers to the questions at the beginning of the story: Cathedral High School won the first football game at Memorial Stadium, and Steve Matushak scored the first goal in Superior high school hockey.
Matushak’s historic goal was scored in 1962 for the Central-East co-op team.
A few other teasers for the upcoming book: Who was the first hockey player from Superior to play Division I hockey? Who was the last team to defeat Superior Central in football?
For those answers, you’re going to have to buy the book.
NOTES: The book “When grass was green and skies were blue” will cost $12.95 when it comes out in September, but Cowan is taking advance orders for $9.95. Checks may be mailed to Mike Cowan, 529 Willow Drive, Fond du Lac, Wis., 54935. Please add $3 for postage outside the Duluth-Superior area.