ALLOUEZ — Xavier High School opened in Appleton in the fall of 1959 for ninth and 10th grade students. Gene “Torchy” Clark, the former boys’ basketball coach at St. Mary School in Appleton, was hired to lead the new Xavier Hawks on the court.
“Torchy played a 20-game schedule during that first year, 1959-60. He played all but two games against four-year schools,” said Mark Miller, editor of the “Wisconsin Basketball Yearbook” and chief scout/basketball writer for wissports.net. “He had coached some of those guys at St. Mary’s, which at the time had gone through ninth grade. He knew that he had a fairly talented group and wanted to challenge them.”
The story of the inaugural season is part of Miller’s new book, “Hawk Hoopla: A History of Xavier High School Boys’ Basketball.” The author’s connection to the program dates back 50 years.
“It’s a special place. I began attending games in 1971-72, when I was in third grade at St. Therese School in Appleton,” said Miller, a 1981 Xavier graduate. “My dad (Richard Miller) was the freshman coach. I used to tag along to the freshman and varsity games. I got the (basketball) bug early in life.”
Downtime due to the pandemic prompted Miller to move forward with the book.
“I was kind of sitting at home, like everyone else, and had some of the research done in the past,” he said. “I thought, ‘I’m going to try to complete the research.’ As I got more into it, I discovered that a lot of these guys from the ’60s did such great things. It would be really interesting to hear their stories, and they are not getting any younger.
“I thought it would be really cool to chronicle all the achievements and interview a lot of the former players and coaches, get all the statistics in one place where you can read about some of the big games and some of the big individual performances; just celebrate the history of Xavier basketball,” he added.
Miller interviewed 22 former players, covering all decades, and six coaches, including Bob Biebel, who wrote the foreword for the book. Biebel coached at Xavier for 10 years. He led the Hawks to the 1995 WISAA (Wisconsin Independent Schools Athletic Association) state championship. Clark won the program’s first state championship in 1963 when he led a team featuring all-state selections Kip Whitlinger, Dick Weisner and Rocky Bleier to the WCIAA (Wisconsin Catholic Interscholastic Athletic Association) crown. Current head coach Matt Klarner, who guided Xavier to the 2017 WIAA (Wisconsin Interscholastic Athletic Association) Division 3 state championship and an undefeated season, was also interviewed for “Hawk Hoopla.”
Not all the Xavier boys’ teams enjoyed success on the court. Miller said that he was thankful to interview Jerry Schmidt, who had the difficult task of following the Torchy Clark era.
“Jerry came in and did OK his first year in basketball and did really well in football,” said Miller. “His second year, he had dropped (coaching) football and just did basketball. They really struggled. One of the guys quit the team. Jerry only lasted two years. He’s 91 years old now. He went on to coach at East Troy after Xavier and did a good job. He talked about what it was like during his time in the late 1960s and early ’70s. He has fond memories. He remembers all the guys. It was fun to connect with him.
“All the coaches at Xavier prepared the players to be successful in life,” he added. “You’re always going to have your guys who struggle in life, but, by and large, most of the great players in Xavier history have gone on to do impressive things beyond their high school careers with their families, their jobs, their church communities and in the community.”
A common memory among the players was the homecourt atmosphere, said Miller. In 2004, the Xavier gym was named in Clark’s honor.
“The winning percentage has been pretty high (at home). It gets really loud in there,” said Miller. “I think that old feel is missing in a lot of the fieldhouses now. In the Fox Valley Christian Conference, all the gyms were that way. Xavier, Lourdes (Oshkosh), Premontre (Green Bay), the noise and the closeness to the action created a great environment.”
The all-time leading scorers in school history were among the former players interviewed for the book. Current University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh guard Hunter Plamann broke Whitlinger’s mark in 2018. Miller connected with both as well as other top-10 scorers, including Brad Sowinski (1993), Jeff Dorschner (1980), Pat Fitzgerald (1968), Sam Burkart (2016) and Steve Reader (1977).
Miller organized “Hawk Hoopla” by decade.
“At the end of each decade, I pick out four or five storylines about each decade. I picked an all-decade first team and second team with bios on each of the guys,” he said. “I also have the stats for each decade of anyone who has ever played at Xavier. So, if you scored two points or 2,000 points, your name is included. We also have all-opponent decade teams. At the end of the book, every game is chronicled season by season and conference standings for every conference that Xavier has been a part of over the years. I hope people enjoy it.”
To order “Hawk Hoopla: A History of Xavier High School Boys’ Basketball,” visit wbby.com. The $25 price includes shipping.