On Friday night the Tremper Trojans played host to the Indian Trail Hawks in what would end up being a well-played, closely contested 27-20 overtime win for IT. It also marked the return of the 1980-81 WIAA State Championship Tremper Football Team. This group of men represent the second of two consecutive, undefeated state championship teams that the Trojans produced some 40 years ago. The head coach and unquestioned leader of that group was the Hall-of-Famer Ron Davis. The group reflected on old times before the game in a tented area near the southwest corner of the stadium grounds. A lot of ’em still looked like they were ready to pad up. 40 plus years have passed since that historic run in KTown sports history…how is that even fricken possible?
I asked coach Davies when he knew that this team was a special squad. “Oh I think we knew going in to the ’79 season that we had some special talent and that these guys could really play, but they came together as a group very quickly. Then coming off the ’79 season we had a pretty good idea that this was a unique group and that we could have some real success”. And these players did not, would not, let up and they most certainly would not let their coach down. It is never easy to repeat a championship season. Many things must go right in order for any team, of any age group, in any sport, to win a championship. To win two in a row, undefeated, is next to impossible. But that is exactly what happened. And the dominant manner in which that second championship took place, one could only come away from that historic run using one word….dynasty.
Having been on the air for some 400 plus high school sporting events including broadcasting over 200 football games that included 4 State Championship calls, I feel somewhat qualified to say that the Gold Standards set by that football team still very much apply to today’s teams and players. When you think about QB play and leadership on the field, the conversation will undoubtedly shift toward Marc Hujik and where a player today may stack up against the dynamic Hujik in terms of being a field general. When you see a kid today that just loves to hit and plays the game with equal parts passion and fury, that player will be held up against the play of Ken Zigner. And when you see a defensive player that is an absolute difference maker that plays from sideline to sideline, you will find many football fans referencing the play of Randy Grundy. When asked about those three names Davies was quick to praise them and all of his players from that special team, “well those three were very special players and I think all of our guys were really a great group of players”, said Davies, “we may have not been the most talented group but those players worked so hard and were so disciplined and really loved each other and came together as a group and that made it a great team to coach”.
And as this group was introduced at halftime of the Tremper/IT game on Friday night, it was easy to stroll back down memory lane as they were all called out to receive their applause for being part of the greatest sports team in Kenosha in my lifetime. And the names called out were many familiar names as well…Bernhardt, Cairo, Ramsdell, Mitchell, Jansen and Kadamian just to name a few…all very familiar names in Kenosha sports history. Some of those players have since moved away and hold dear those relationships they created here in our fair city and some have never left and still call KTown home. “This is still a very, very close knit group and I’ve been fortunate to stay in touch with a lot of them”, said Davies, “it is hard to believe these guys are 58 and 59 years old now but it is a testament to how close they were that they still maintain strong relationships”.
So what made this group so special? My personal opinion…it all boils down to a passion for the game…and defense. I think back to a guy like Fred Santelli. In 7th grade he was the hardest hitter on the St Mary’s grade school team..a team of mostly 8th grade starters that had won a championship the year before. And to this day, he still looks like and walks like a guy that is just dying for someone to try and catch a ball in front of him, coming across the middle. In today’s game, you would be lucky to find two or three guys on the two teams combined that are out there defensively looking to eradicate someone on EVERY play. The Tremper championship defense had all 11 guys out there flying to the ball and delivering monster hit after hit…play after play. And the funny thing is, there were another 20 guys on the sidelines either waiting for their turn on the field or playing special teams and hitting just as hard. And then toss in Hujik in today’s read-option world and he singlehandedly could win you a dozen games.
Big kudos to the 1980 Champions. A team so dominant that even 40 years after-the-fact they are still the one unit that sets the standard by which all other teams will always be compared to. I am not old enough to have lived through the greatness of Alan Ameche and the Kenosha High School team of 1950. They are widely considered the greatest team of all time for Wisconsin High School Football. I am, however, old enough to remember the ’79 and ’80 Tremper Trojans and for my money, they are without question the most dominant Kenosha football team of my lifetime, and to run the table for two straight years is something we may never see again in this area. Time has passed and times certainly have changed but one thing is everlasting….and that is that the Tremper football team of ’79 and ’80 remain the Gold Standard of what high school football should be and can be. Much respect to everyone who had a part in that amazing piece of Kenosha sports history.