Courtesy of Anuta Research Center
An unprecedented 13 players and one student manager from Menominee, Marinette and Peshtigo area were members of Coach Mickey McCormick’s football brigrade at Carroll College, Waukesha, Wis., in the early 1950s. The team, pictured from left, included: Front row: McCormick, Emil Pontow (Menominee), Vernon Schahczenski (Marinette), Jim Mitchell (Marinette), Darrel Fifarek (Peshtigo), Bob Norcross (Menominee), Bob Moucher (Menominee), and Fred (Junior) (Menominee student manager; standing: Dick Alfredson (Menominee), Bob Brink (Menominee), Howie Lieburn (Marinette), John Krah (Menominee), Dick Winther (Menominee) and Frank Kellner (Menominee); and seated in front is Blain Schahczenski (Marinette).  
Courtesy of Anuta Research Center

An unprecedented 13 players and one student manager from Menominee, Marinette and Peshtigo area were members of Coach Mickey McCormick’s football brigrade at Carroll College, Waukesha, Wis., in the early 1950s. The team, pictured from left, included: Front row: McCormick, Emil Pontow (Menominee), Vernon Schahczenski (Marinette), Jim Mitchell (Marinette), Darrel Fifarek (Peshtigo), Bob Norcross (Menominee), Bob Moucher (Menominee), and Fred (Junior) (Menominee student manager; standing: Dick Alfredson (Menominee), Bob Brink (Menominee), Howie Lieburn (Marinette), John Krah (Menominee), Dick Winther (Menominee) and Frank Kellner (Menominee); and seated in front is Blain Schahczenski (Marinette).  

Francis John “Mickey” McCormick, athletic director, and head football and basketball coach at Menominee High School in the immediate post-World War II era, was a special person with a remarkable career in education and coaching. He was only here four years, but in that brief time left an indelible mark in local sports lore.

McCormick was coaching at St. Norbert College in DePere, Wis., when the college put its football program in mothballs because of a player shortage due to WWII. Many small colleges had to scale back their sports programs because the young athletes were marching off to war.

High school teams were forced to alter their season schedules because gasoline was rationed. Menominee has long been recognized in present-day football as a team willing to take long road jaunts than any high school in Michigan in order to fill out its schedule. The Maroons have covered all corners of the Upper Peninsula, southern Wisconsin, Lower Michigan and even Minnesota to book a full slate of eight or nine games. Time and again the team went against schools with much larger enrollments when it ran out of opponents in the U.P.

That wasn’t the case in WWII (1941-1945). The Maroons were able to schedule schools within a reasonable distance in those war years, schools like Escanaba St. Joseph, Green Bay West, Oconto, Peshtigo, Shawano and Kaukauna. They did keep regular foes like Iron Mountain, Iron River, Sault Ste. Marie and Escanaba on the U.P. circuit. Marinette, of course, was a traditional rival when the teams clashed on Armistice Day (now Veterans Day) each Nov. 11 no matter what day of the week the date fell. If Nov. 11 fell on a Sunday, the game was played on Monday, which meant the lights were out at both schools on that day.

I was in the eighth grade in 1944 when Menominee traveled by train to play at Kaukauna, Wis. The team occupied one coach of the train and fans were seated in a second coach. I was in the fan section with my friend, Dick Boucher, whose brother, Robert, was a Maroon standout. Those were the days when every youngster who was a football freak had a favorite player on the varsity. At home games they were allowed to carry in the player’s helmet as the team trotted onto Walton Blesch Field.

Sometimes a pre-entry fight erupted to determine who got to carry the helmet. It wasn’t only the honor of lugging a hero’s helmet, it meant you got in the game free. Bernard H. “Barney” Mccann, Menominee’s winningest coach until Ken Hofer came along in 1965, directed the Maroons for the final time in 1942. Fritz Miller came here from Indiana to direct the Maroons in 1943 before being called to serve in the military during the war. He returned to Menominee following the conflict. His two sons, Mike and Pat, were outstanding athletes at MHS.

Fred Barstow, a former Maroon star with playing time at Notre Dame, and Ed Peterson from Wakefield, were named co-coaches for the 1944 season.

The shuffling of coaches in the war years made it difficult to build a strong sports program. The school board preferred hiring a teacher-coach who would be consistent in building a program. McCormick was a perfect fit.

The genial Irishman, who played football at Marquette University in Milwaukee when the Hilltoppers (their nickname at the time) sponsored the sport, and later for the Duluth, Minnesota Eskimos, a professional team, introduced the T-formation in the Upper Peninsula.

His first call for practice in the late summer of 1945 attracted more than 80 candidates, which was considered an excellent start for a rebuilding program. Many of the candidates supplied the freshmen and junior varsity rosters, but McCormick was pleased with the large number of prospects he had to work with.

He tapped left-handed sophomore Mike Shatusky to be the team’s starting quarterback, and freshman Ray Johnson to be the starting fullback. A mixture of seniors and underclassmen filled out the rest of the lineup. The team finished the season 2-4-1, but its biggest achievement was a stunning 12-6 upset of Marinette at Walton Blesch Field.

McCormick’s teams went on to post 5-2-1 (1946), 7-1 (1947) and 7-1 (1948) records before leaving for the opportunity to return to college coaching. He was named head coach at Carroll College and the Pioneers became a Wisconsin power in small college football ranks.

Two of the coach’s players — Billy Wells and Dick Deschaine — went on to play in the NFL. Wells and Shatusky were standouts at major football colleges — Wells at Michigan State and Shatusky at Michigan. A number of others played small college football, including a sizable number at Carroll. At one time in the early 1950s the Carroll roster showed 13 players and one student manager from Menominee, Marinette and Peshtigo.

McCormick stoked the drive to inaugurate night football in Menominee. His 1947 team was the first to play under the arcs, beating Ironwood 39-0.

Night football was important for high schools in the 1940s. Men were returning home in droves after World War II and were starved for football. The decade of the 40s was kind to Menominee and Marinette football teams. The schools fielded strong teams and fans packed both Walton Blesch and Lauerman fields. Most fans worked day jobs and Friday night football attracted regular crowds of 2,500 to 3,000 spectators. The paid attendance for M&M games in the decade was anywhere from 6,000 to more than 7,000 depending on the weather on Nov. 11.

Perhaps McCormick’s most lasting contribution to Menominee was grade school football. A member of the Menominee Lions Club, he convinced his fellow members to help him organize a grade school football, basketball and track program in Menominee. The Lions Club sponsored and promoted minstrel shows at the historic Menominee Opera House to raise funds for equipment to usher in the programs. The shows later moved to the former Lloyd Theater. The now famous pancake suppers replaced the minstrel shows as a major fundraiser.

The track program was suspended after a grade school youngster died after being struck in the head during a shot put event.

Thousands of Menominee faithful can look back and recall their fun times in the grade school programs. The first championship game was played in 1947 when St. John’s and Boswell fought to a 6-6 tie. Francis Tallent, former Maroon grid great, coached St. John’s and Eddie Brown, former Maroon quarterback, coached Boswell. Four years later Brown was killed in combat in the Korean War.

The makeup of the programs have changed somewhat over their 72-year history, but McCormick’s signature is stitched in the pigskins the kids use today.

The accomplishments and the memories of the likable teacher and coach left behind still glow in Maroon sports lore.