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Golden boys: 1965 State Boys Basketball Champions
By John Morton


They left the University of Wisconsin Field House with not only a trophy in hand but a congratulatory telegram from Gov. Warren Knowles in tow.

They passed Verona, where Pat Lunde of Pat's Tap had erected a billboard to cheer them on.

The celebratory sirens started to wail in Belleville. The same in New Glarus, as the 3-mile-long caravan of cars holding Cheesemakers faithful continued to crawl toward Monroe along Wisconsin 69.

It was a cold and snowy day, but that didn't stop coach Lee Mitchell from getting out of his lead car to stand roadside, like a victorious general, to admire his army of gridlock. No doubt he was muttering his well-known catch phrase of "never a doubt" under his breath as he nodded his approval.

"I remember seeing the coach standing there and everyone honking," said Jim Ruf, a classmate of the senior players and among the throng that made the trip to Madison. "At least 1,000 Monroe residents traveled to watch it. We stormed the court afterward - I'm not sure we were allowed to - but no one was stopping us."

It was Sunday, March 21, 1965, and when those escorting the undefeated high-school basketball champions finally reached the celebration rally at the school gym, more than 3,000 screaming fans were shaking the rafters.

"It was a real big event for Monroe - it meant everything to our town," said Marshall "Bub" Zwygart from his winter home in Arizona. At the time, he was a high-school junior and served as team manager.

"It was even sweeter when you consider what led up to that. We had lost two years in a row to Dodgeville in the sectional final, and they had gone on to finish second at state one year and then won it the next," he said. "That was hard to take from a rival just 45 minutes down the road.

"But the gym was packed that day, just like all the home games. For the overflow crowds, they used to open up the study hall and set up a closed-circuit TV."

At the rally, knowing a man named Gleason was a big star at the time, Principal Walter Habula didn't hesitate to unleash his inner Jackie as he kicked off the party.

"Ladies and gentleman, boys and girls, how sweet it is," he bellowed as the crowd roared, according to the Monroe Evening Times.

The superintendent, predictably, was a bit more composed in his message.

"Boys, you were a picture of confidence, poise and determination," D.J. Huenink said to the players, as reported by the Times.

The next day, the Times ran a large caricature of coach Mitchell on its front page, the words "never a doubt" below it.

In Browntown, they changed the town's name to "Buringtown" for the day in honor of player Keith Burington, known as the Browntown Bomber.

They even had plans of taking him into town from Monroe on a firetruck.

"It was cold that day, and it would have been a 9-mile ride, but Keith agreed to do it," recalled Tom Mitchell, the son of the coach and Burington's teammate. "But then they got a fire call, so it didn't happen. Keith still jokes today how he lucked out on that one."

Not only had Monroe basketball won its first state crown, it had done so in an era without divisions based on school size. It had beaten not only the best but the biggest. There was no asterisk for this accomplishment.

"Only eight teams made it to state each year, so it was a big deal just getting there," Zwygart said. "Then you had to play three straight games Thursday through Saturday."

And not only did the team return from Madison victorious, it returned well-fed. It's amazing they could even move.

"I remember WEKZ radio bought us dinner Wednesday night at Leske's Supper Club (in Monona)," Zwygart said. "Well, the owner (Bob Leske) promised us all we could eat Saturday night if we won it all. So needless to say we were back there, and the bar must have been 20 deep with Monroe people who wanted to buy drinks. He gave away a lot of steaks to the players, but it was still a brilliant business move."

The feasting wouldn't end there, Zwygart said.

"We attended 22 banquets that spring as the guests of honor," he said. "Orangeville, Freeport, one at St. Bernard's in Madison. I remember they had Notre Dame's Jack Snow (who went on to a stellar pro career with the Los Angeles Rams) as a speaker and we were all introduced. Later, we visited the governor's mansion and took boat tours of Lake Mendota.

"It all must have gone into May. It was a wild spring, and during that time Monroe got hit by its worst tornado ever. I'll never forget it."

Added Ruf, "Only a tornado could have taken the wind out of the town's sail."