Tiger tradition alive and wellNHS’s 1988 state champs will be honored tonight
By: Emily Kram, Superior Telegram
Northwestern High School is steeped in football tradition.
In 1973, the team played to an undefeated season. In the 1990s and 2000s, the Tigers made 11 straight playoff appearances.
But the crowning achievement came in 1988, when Northwestern won the WIAA Division 3 State Championship.
“How many schools can say they have a state championship in anything, let alone a high-profile sport like football?” said Dennis Scherz, head coach of the Tigers.
The 1988 team remains a source of pride for longtime fans. They can still rattle off stats from the season, and they know every highlight from the big games.
Richard Scherz, father of Coach Scherz, was among the Tigers’ longtime fans.
“He was a big part of Northwestern football,” Dennis Scherz said. “He had his spot in the stands, but he hadn’t been able to sit in that spot for … about the last year.”
Before his health began to fail, Richard Scherz turned up early for every home game to secure his seat. He talked to the radio broadcasters setting up for the evening and watched the team warming up.
When the players took the field, many of the names were familiar — Scherz had watched their fathers and uncles in the past.
“The last 10 years of his life, that was his focus. He just couldn’t wait for football season to start,” Dennis Scherz said. “He’d go everywhere the team went. That made his life happy.”
On Aug. 23, Richard Scherz passed away.
Dennis Scherz learned of his father’s death while traveling to Ashland for the Tigers’ season opener, but he didn’t tell his players at the time. They learned the news over the course of the next week as Scherz helped with funeral arrangements.
“I (was) distracted, there’s no question about it,” Scherz said. “My son Ryan, who runs the offense, obviously it’s his grandpa, so we were both missing in action for a while.”
The Tigers claimed 45-34 victory over Grantsburg two days after Richard Scherz’s funeral.
The victory preserved Northwestern’s strong record on its home turf, and it set Dennis Scherz reminiscing about football and his father.
“Football meant a lot to him, and I tell the kids that. … The kids don’t understand how much this means to people like that. All the people that grew up around here, it just means a lot to them; and if they can embrace that, it’s just another reason to play.”
The Tigers will give a nod to their history and their fans at tonight’s homecoming game the against Ladysmith Lumberjacks.
The festivities begin at 4 p.m. with the third annual Tiger Community Event. There will be a bonfire, games and activities, including a climbing wall and a dunk tank.
Also beginning at 4 p.m., the Poplar-Wentworth Lions clubs will host a spaghetti dinner. Proceeds from the event go toward youth football.
Northwestern fans will be in for a treat at halftime too, as the school honors the 1988 state championship team.
Scherz said former players are “starting to trickle in” for the event, but he didn’t have a final tally as of Thursday.
Bill Pelkey, who coached the Tigers to victory in 1988, will be unable to attend due to a prior engagement. He ended his coaching career at NHS with a 68-22 record and has been inducted into the Wisconsin Football Coaches Association Hall of Fame.
“I wish I could be there. I’m sure going to miss all the activities at the high school,” Pelkey said.
Andy Lind, an assistant coach in 1988 and later head coach, is expected to attend.
The perfect season
Perfection is hard to come by in high school football, but the 1988 Tigers aren’t far off.
“It was really that era, that particular time frame, that set the standard for today,” Scherz said. “That’s our measuring stick.”
Scherz served as an assistant coach under Pelkey, beginning in 1987. The Tigers suffered two losses in 1987, both to eventual state champion Hayward.
In 1988, the Tigers played to a perfect 13-0 season, culminating in a 31-7 victory over Prairie du Chien in the WIAA Division 3 State Championship game.
“That team consisted of a lot of great kids,” Pelkey said. “They were not only great athletes but they were great people, great students.
“I always felt that in order to win, you had to have kids of that caliber.”
The 1988 team was filled with standout players. Jeff Anttila was named the 1988 Wisconsin High School Football Player of the Year, and Shane Schiff earned All-State recognition on offense and defense. Shane Sedin, the team’s fullback, went on to play Division I football and was a captain for North Dakota.
“That was a pretty dominant football team,” Scherz said. “Some pretty special athletes and some dominant performances.”
Northwestern’s stats from 1988 are staggering. For the season, the team put up 673 points, an average of about 52 points per game.
“The most difficult thing was getting enough substitutes in the game to keep the score from getting too high,” Pelkey said. The varsity offense typically played the first half, and then reserves took over for the second half.
Even with that arrangement, the Tigers rolled over opponents.
Northwestern opened the season with a game against Ashland. On the first series, the Tigers came up short and had to punt.
Then the team came roaring to life.
In Northwestern’s next 13 possessions, the Tigers never needed more than four plays to score.
That streak took the Tigers through the remainder of their game with Ashland, the entirety of their game with Silver Bay and the first quarter of their match-up with Chetek.
Against the Bulldogs, Northwestern led 6-0 after the first quarter, and Pelkey saw an opportunity to get his starters some playing time in the second half.
“I leaned over to Andy Lind and I said, ‘We’ve finally got ourselves a ballgame,’” Pelkey said.
The Tigers then proceeded to score 42 points in the second quarter, and the starting offense found itself on the bench once again for the second half.
On defense, the Tigers were even more dominant. They had seven shutouts in the 13 games they played and gave up only 43 points for the season — 3.3 points per game. During Heart O’ North Conference play, the Tigers allowed just one field goal and one touchdown.
“And most of those points were against our JV defense,” Scherz said.
Northwestern’s varsity squad allowed a field goal during the regular season and then a pair of touchdowns in the playoffs.
“Seventeen points. That’s it,” Pelkey said.
“I’ve never seen anything comparable to that,” Scherz added.
Tonight, the 1988 players will be back on the field in Maple, and in the stands, fans will surely be reminiscing about the season of perfection.
“What football does for a school is it brings the community together,” Pelkey said. “It’s a positive thing for people to rally around.”