MAROON HALL OF FAME HEROESIssue Date: May 10, 2018
By Jerry Harpt
It doesn't matter if we are ten years old or seventy five when it comes to heroes. We all need at least one person who exemplifies a goal toward greatness that we can identify with, either by his or her willingness to become the thoroughbred that takes those steps out of their comfort zone, or those who put in that extra effort to achieve goals that were once beyond their reach.
Riverside Country Club was filled with those kind of heroes on the night of May 5th. They were former Menominee High School graduates who nurtured whatever natural abilities they owned and raised them to the next level, and even beyond. Their honorary plaques will soon embrace the halls of Menominee High School. Future students will walk those halls, study those plaques, and say, "I want to be like them"
The heroes we are talking about are twelve in number. They are, Fred Norcross, Francis Talent, Dick Deschaine Red Lacousiere, Billy Wells, Larry Ebsch, Ken Hofer, Bill Rademacher, Pat Miller, Sydney Wells, Tiffany Hodge Gilbert, and the 1967 Maroon Basketball Team.
Fred Norcross starred at Menominee High School in 1902. He went on to quarterback the University of Michigan Wolverines, from 1903 through 1905. He served as team captain in 1904. He later coached Oregon State University for three years, gaining a 14-wins, 4-losses, and 3-ties record. He served as a major in the U.S. Army during World War I.
Francis Talent was a member of Menominee's famed, "Point a Minute Team," of 1929. That year, Menominee scored 404 points during the season, giving up only 12. Talent scored 27 touchdowns. In one game against Kingsford, which Menominee won by the score of 150 to 0, Talent scored 54 points and ran for 588 yards. He did this in only two quarters. He remained an active Menominee native during his lifetime, coaching youth football and serving as president of the Menominee Recreation Department. He was a longtime member of the chain gang at Menominee football games.
Sydney Wells, has set a new and higher-standard for women golfers from Upper Michigan and Wisconsin. She was a walk-on for the Michigan State University Golf Team. A fierce competitor, by the time she graduated, she was voted, "Golfer of the Decade," at the university. She has also captured eleven Upper Peninsula Ladies Golf Association Championships. Adding to that, Syd has gained honors as Wisconsin State Golf Association Player of the Year and also Senior Player of the Year. She is a member of the Upper Peninsula Sports Hall of Fame.
The 1967 Maroon Basketball Team, led by Coach Bob Krysiak, wasn't expected to have much of a post season. Their regular season record was an underachieving 6 wins and 10 losses, having to forfeit numerous games due to a rules violation. Because of their record, all their tournament games were played out of town and they were the underdogs in them. But mental toughness and raw desire led them into the State Finals arena, where they defeated three highly favored teams, to become state champs, in Cinderella fashion.
Dick Deschaine was a remarkable athlete for Maroon football, basketball, and baseball programs. After high school, he became a pass receiver for the M and M Hornets of the semi-pro Wisconsin State Football League. He later went on to punt for both the Green Bay Packers and the Cleveland Browns, back in the 60's, when Bart Starr and Jim Brown were household words. He held the record for longest Packer Punt, at 73 yards, for many years. In 1976, Packer fans selected Dick as thee punter on the all-time modern era Packer team. Accepting the Plaque for Dick was his all-time school chum, Larry Ebsch, also a member of the first-ever Maroon Sports Hall of Fame.
"Coach Red LaCousiere made you feel like you were one step away from the majors," was a comment that one of his former players said about him. Red was one of the most humble and most beloved athletes to ever pass through the halls of Menominee High school. He excelled as an athlete, a motivating baseball and basketball coach, and also someone who exuded humility, shying away from the spotlight.
Red was the stabilizing force in the development of the American Legion Baseball Team. Until he passed away, he used his own money to provide baseballs, bats, and gloves to those players who needed them. He grew up in simple circumstances and understood that not all kids could afford a glove. He refurbished old gloves and gave them to needy kids. He went to church daily and treated his players with the utmost Christian respect. Lots of his former players would look him up, when they came to town. l.
Billy Wells, didn't realize, one night, but he was about to have a date with the girl of his dreams, Debbie Reynolds.
A few years prior to his date with Debbie, Billy played halfback on the highly touted Menominee Maroon 1947 and 1948 football teams. He was also a sprinting star in track.
After high school, he became a three-year starter in the, "Pony Backfield," at Michigan State. He scored two touchdowns and led the Spartans to victory in the Rose Bowl, during his senior year. He was named most valuable player, in that game, which led to his invitation to be on the Ed Sullivan Variety show. Before his appearance, Billy had mentioned that he had a crush on the young and single Debbie Reynolds. To his surprise, Ed Sullivan introduced Wells and then invited Debbie to walk out on stage and greet Billy. They remained good friends over the years.
There were several tables staged against one wall at the first Maroon Honor Banquet. They held old photographs of past athletic events and accomplishments. One of the photos shows Dick Deschaine and Billy Wells, both in professional football uniforms, uniting on the sidelines at a Pittsburgh Steeler-Green Bay Packer football game. Also playing in that same game, was a former Marinette High School great, Jug Girard. Deschaine represented Green Bay while Wells and Girard played for Pittsburgh.
"I'm speechless, and they call me Windy." This was the response made by Larry Ebsch, when he was informed that he would be inducted into the Maroon Hall of Fame. The humble journalist grew up with the likes of Billy Wells and Dick Descahaine. Because of health issues, Windy bypassed high school sports as an active player. Instead he became a team statistician for both football and basketball. He also served as sports editor for the Maroon News, a weekly publication. He became a prolific writer early in life, starting as an unpaid sports writer for the Menominee Herald Leader. In 1955, he became a salaried sports editor for the Herald Leader, and, a few years later, sports editor for the former Marinette Eagle Star.
During his career, which continues today with his community history column called, "Bye-Lines," Windy has helped build up the area sports community. He has been president of the U.P. Sports Hall of Fame, and president of other sports affiliated groups such as Menominee Baseball Indians, Babe Ruth League, Menominee Recreation Commission, DAR Boys Club, and Menominee Boxing Club.
The mild-mannered Larry married into a family with seven kids, six boys and the oldest, his wife, Arlene. Although he is a brother-in-law to six boys, they have always looked up to him as a big brother.
Ken Hofer's acceptance talk at the Hall of Fame ceremony, was a whole lot like an inspired speech he might have made during halftime talks during one of his football games. Ken was a popular football coach who cared about his players, beyond the gridiron. He never passed on a visit to a high school graduation party, if invited. And he was invited to many.
A successful athlete in his own right, Ken played for the Wisconsin Badgers in the mid 1950's. He began his coaching career in Menominee, in 1966. During his storied career there, he has captured three state football championships and eight regional titles. Besides the Maroon Sports Hall of Fame, Ken has been inducted into the U.P. Sports Hall of Fame, the Michigan High School Coach's Hall of Fame, and the National Single Wing Hall of Fame. It is not uncommon to see previous athletes hovering around Coach Hofer at events like the Maroon Sports Hall of Fame. His wife, Millie, watching him proudly from the sidelines, is glad to share him with his former players.
Bill Rademacher, or, "Roddy," as he was sometimes called, evolved from becoming the City of Menominee Youth Marbles Champion to making the first tackle of the game, for the underdog New York Jets, who defeated the Baltimore Colts in the third Super Bowl.
An overachiever, Bill was a walk-on at Northern Michigan University but, by his senior year, was a legitimate star receiver. Still relatively unknown, he tried out and was given a place on the Jets professional football team where he eventually became captain of the special teams. He spent eight years as a pro with both the Jets and Patriots. When his professional career ended, he took up coaching and eventually tutored a quarterback at Northern, named Steve Mariucci.
Bill became one of hundreds of players involved in a suit against the NFL, regarding multiple concussions that diminished his, and other player's ability to function properly. He passed away recently. A few years before he died, Tom Bengston, a lawyer and former grade school and high school classmate of Bills, became his care giver. Tom accepted Bill's Hall of Fame plaque at the recent ceremony. He thanked everyone for Bill's honor and tearfully told how deeply he felt for his old buddy.
Pat Miller, of Menominee High and Michigan State University fame, would often team up with friend Dale Race, of Marinette High School fame, giving basketball clinics to area youth, including both those who could or couldn't afford admission.
Pat was one of the players who led that 1967 team to the state basketball championship, having entered the post-season with that 6 and 10 record. He was all-state in both football and basketball. At Michigan State, he lettered in both football and basketball. He became co-captain of Michigan State's basketball team. After college, he played three years of professional ball in the Continental Basketball Association. In 1988 and 1989, he was shooting coach for the Detroit Pistons. He currently owns a consulting company where he conducts shooting clinics all over the country. A motivational speaker, Pat gave a tender thank you speech at the Maroon Hall of Fame Dinner.
Tiffany (Hodge) Gilbert fought her emotions when she talked about her father, Jim Hodge, who passed away a few years ago. She referred to him as her, "Mentor, Teacher, and Best Friend." She wasn't the only one holding back tears when she talked.
The highly coach-able Tiffany was a four-year letter winner in high school, in both basketball, gymnastics, and track. She was a four-time U.P. Champion in the 100-meter high hurdles. She was a three-time champion in the 300-meter low hurdles. She has set records in both U.P. Hurdle events. To add to those laurels, she was an All Great Northern Conference basketball player. She also graduated as Salutatorian of her high school senior class. She was a talented athlete who refused to live on her laurels. Instead, she would ask her coaches if she could stay after each practices ended, so she could work on improving her technique.
Tiffany moved on to the University of Michigan where she competed in, and lettered in, the 100-Meter and 400-Meter Hurdles, the Long Jump, and the Heptathlon. She earned All-Academic Big Ten honors three times. She won Michigan's Scholar Athlete Award all four years.
Now in Vermont, while helping her husband raise three boys and one girl, Tiffany is an assistant high school track coach. Her teams have won six boy's Division-1 State titles and nine girl's State Titles.
Tiffany, along with the other Maroon inductees, come in all shapes and forms. So when the future Maroon heroes walk the halls of Menominee High School, and read those plaques, they will be encouraged to greatness by models who were dedicated, humble, coach-able, had a strong work ethic, and a willingness to over-achieve. That's not a bad vision for anyone; adult, child, or senior citizen. We never have to stop improving, do we?
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