Oconto Falls honors its football greats

Players reminisce of their time playing together

Greg Bates, Times Herald Correspondent

Contributed photo Players from the Oconto Falls High School 1997 state championship team were honored at Friday's game. Players include, from left, Chris Desterheft, Adam Zielinski, Nate Rogatzki, Scott Schroeder, Joe Porior, Nick Berg, Jason Radke, Adam Krause and Coach Jerry Moynihan.

As the teams were announced, the applause kept getting louder and louder.

The Oconto Falls community loves to honor its past successes on the gridiron.

Members of the 1967, 1982 and 1997 Oconto Falls High School football teams took part in an alumni weekend to honor the three championship teams. The teams were announced at halftime of the Oconto Falls and Luxemburg-Casco football game on Friday.

This season marks the 50-year anniversary of the 1967 team winning the North Eastern Wisconsin Conference title and finishing with an 8-1 record. They allowed just 13 points all season, but didn’t have a chance to win a state title since the WIAA didn’t introduce a playoff system until 1976.

The 1982 team went 9-3 and captured the Central Wisconsin Conference championship. The guys went on to finish state runner-up in Division 4, falling in the title game to DeForest 52-24.

The 1997 squad capped a phenomenal season by taking home the program’s first state title, beating Slinger 28-14 in the Division 3 championship game. The Panthers won the Packerland Conference that year and finished 12-2.

Oconto Falls athletic director Jerry Moynihan, who was a coach on the 1997 state title team, wanted to recognize the three teams on their milestone anniversaries.

“The ’67 (team), that was pretty darn cool for those guys,” Moynihan said. “They loved it. They just loved it.”

“Everything really came together nicely,” said Dan Coopman, quarterback of the 1967 team. “Really compliment (Moynihan) highly on the job he did.”

About 20 players or family members representing former players from the 1967 team traveled in for the reunion. Coopman flew from Florida to reminisce with his old teammates. That was his favorite part of the evening.

“Just seeing some of the guys that I hadn’t seen in 40 or 50 years,” Coopman said. “Some of them I hadn’t seen since they walked out the door when they graduated.”

The 1982 squad had four players make it back for the reunion.

“It was good to catch up with the guys that were there,” said the team’s quarterback, Scott Gaertig.

The players still get together for class reunions, so they get to see each other on a regular basis.

“Every class reunion we always talk football,” said Gaertig, who lives in Racine. “It always goes back to that.”

The 1997 had eight players attend the reunion.

“We all had a great time,” said Chris Desterheft, who was a linebacker on the state-winning team. “It’s a great opportunity to get recognized in front of your community and have people stand up and enjoy the hard work and dedication you put in.”

The evening started out prior to the Oconto Falls’ season finale with the guys from the three teams gathering for an indoor tailgate in a meeting room at the district office. The former players ate dinner and shared stories about their respective teams’ seasons.

“Just talking about the game and how things have changed over the years,” said Desterheft, who lives in Spruce. “The better equipment that we got when we were playing compared to what they had. … The guys that went to the championship, they were hard-nosed, hard grinders. You just went after it, you know. It was kind of like no excuses, get it done.”

At halftime, all three teams were announced to the crowd with some background of their achievements. The players and former players’ family members walked onto the field to be recognized. The ’67 team received a standing ovation from the faithful Oconto Falls fans.

Following the game, the alumni were invited to the River Island Golf Course to the hospitality room for some more time to hang out.

“Just being able to get together after the game,” Coopman said. “A lot of us hadn’t seen the new facility at Oconto Falls, so that was nice to be able to see the new field and the facilities that they had. It was nice to go down and be introduced at halftime.”

Some of the guys from the 1997 team made their way over to the Penguin Again to watch some the action on video from their storybook season.

“We watched a video and went over the game,” Desterheft said. “You look back at it 20 years later and go, ‘Why would you do that?’”

After the reunion wrapped up, players from all three years were already looking forward to more similar events down the line.

“I think that any time we can get back and share memories about athletics and times that we had, that’s great for everybody,” Coopman said. “I think it’s good for the people involved and I think it’s great for the community.”