Platteville’s Clay Shaffer has more than his fair share of fond memories from his 32 years of coaching girls’ high school basketball, the last 23 of those years spent at Platteville High School.
But when reflecting upon his Hall of Fame career, memories of his 1983–84 state championship team at PHS, top the list.
Friday night Shaffer and several members of that championship squad celebrated the coach’s recent Hall of Fame induction as well as the 30-year anniversary of that special team’s once in a lifetime accomplishment.
At halftime of Friday’s girls’ basketball game against visiting Richland Center, Shaffer and his 1983–84 state championship team were introduced to the crowd.
Shaffer, who was inducted into the Wisconsin Basketball Coaches Association Hall of Fame at the WBCA’s annual banquet on Oct. 5, also presented his Hall of Fame plaque to the school.
“It’s a very humbling honor,” said Shaffer of his Hall of Fame induction. “It’s humbling knowing your whole career has been validated; that all the hard work, and bus rides and time away from the family was worth it. It’s like someone saying, ‘hey, you did a good job.’”
Shaffer graduated from Cuba City High School in 1970 where he played varsity basketball under John Nicholas. He then attended the University of Dubuque where he played for legendary coach John Davidson, until he graduated early in December of 1973 and left the team midway through the season to accept a long-term substitute teaching position at Dubuque Hempstead.
“John Nicholas and John Davison were very influential in both my life and my coaching career,” said Shaffer. “They taught me so much about the game.”
In the fall of ’73 Shaffer accepted the position of social studies teacher and basketball coach at St. John’s High School in Bancroft, Iowa.
Not until a few weeks before the beginning of the season did Shaffer find out that he was actually coaching the girls’ coach, not the boys.
“On my contract it just said basketball coach,” explained Shaffer. “And prior to that year St. John’s didn’t even have a girls’ basketball team. I didn’t find out until we were in a meeting with a sporting goods salesman picking out uniforms. I got a strange look on my face, and the principal said, ‘you do know you are the girls’ coach, right?’ That’s how I found out.”
At that time Iowa girls basketball was played 6-on-6 where three girls played offense and three played defense. Players could not cross half court and each player was allowed only two dribbles.
So, Shaffer had to relearn the game of basketball according to Iowa rules.
“The biggest challenge was the rules,” said Shaffer. “The game was basically a 3-on-3 half court game.”
Shaffer spent five years at St. John’s before returning to Grant County and Platteville High School in 1978.
In his 23 years as Platteville’s varsity coach Shaffer compiled more than 200 victories.
“I never worried about the records much,” said Shaffer. “I was always concerned about the current season we were in. I felt the past was the past and records were made to be broken anyway.
“Defense was always my staple as a coach. We wanted to play good, sound man-to-man defense. We ran a simple offense and tried to find as much help off the bench as possible.”
Platteville won a pair of regional titles in 1984 and 1992 under Shaffer, but never did win a conference title. Platteville won its first girls’ basketball conference title last winter under current Hillmen coach Wayne Jentz.
“We never did get a conference title,” said Shaffer with a twinge of regret. “We got close a few times, but Cuba City or Lancaster always seemed to be in the way.”
Over the course of his career Shaffer also coached four players that went on play Division 1 college basketball, as well as several others that went on to play basketball or other sports at lower levels.
Shaffer mentioned by name: Megan Scott (PHS 1979), who went on to play at Kansas and transferred to Wisconsin; Anja Hellman (1984), who was the star and leading scorer of the 1984 state championship team before going on to earn All-Pac 10 All-Freshman honors at California; Erin Stoffrengen (1985), who formed a potent 1–2 punch with Hellman in ’84 and later started at the University of Northern Iowa; Nicki Taggart (1993), who played at Purdue and later Marquette and now coaches at the University of Arkansas, as well as Laura Digman, Paula Runde (1994) and Denise Wetter (1997).
“We’ve had a lot of talented basketball players here at Platteville and I’m sure I forgot to mention someone, but it was an honor to coach them all,” said Shaffer.
“The kids were the best part of the job. Each year was different and each year was special. And I still stay in contact with a lot of them. I’ll get a letter or a Christmas card or see them here or there. It’s nice to catch up. That’s always the best thing about teaching and coaching, the relationships you form.”
“I also had some great assistant coaches; people that knew basketball,” added Shaffer. “Kathy Herbst, Pricilla Hahn and Maureen Vorwald; they all made my job a whole lot easier. They took care of all the little things so that I could concentrate on coaching.”
Coaching never came easier for Shaffer and his staff than during that 1983–84 season.
“That was a special team,” said Shaffer. “Led by Anja, Erin and Karen Feehan we had a three-guard attack that was very athletic and talented. We used a full court press and ran all the time.”
“As soon as the opponent got off the bus we wanted to pick them up,” joked Shaffer. “We used our pressure defense to generate quick offense. We routinely scored in the 70s. But that team was also full of honor roll kids. The entire team G.P.A. was over 3.75. They were all thinking well ahead of me. At timeouts they would have an idea of what we should do before I said it to them — something Kathy and I were just talking about on the bench. They were great thinkers on the court. People also joked with me that anyone could coach that team. Well, they were right.”
The 1983–84 team was talented up and down the lineup, but Hellman was the unquestioned star.
She was a exchange student from Finland, the youngest member of the Finnish junior national team the year before she came to Platteville.
“She was playing pickup ball over at the university before the season against the Pioneer women,” said Shaffer. “Then coach Curt Fatzinger called me and said, ‘you’re not going to believe this kid. She could start right now...for my college team.’
“We definitely got lucky with her. She just fell in our lap.”
In 25 games Hellman scored a team high 20.9 points, 5.0 rebounds and 4.32 assists. She also shot .520 percent from the field and .790 from the free throw line. Hellman was named the Southern 8 Player of the Year and honorable mention All-State.
Stoffrengen was a junior in 1983–84. She finished second on the team in scoring at 16.3 points per game, while averaging 4.6 rebounds and 2.0 assists. A year later as a senior Stoffrengen was named the Southern 8 Player of the Year.
Feehan, a senior in 83–83, was the starting point guard. She averaged 5.5 points, 3.4 assists and 2.0 rebounds per game.
Senior Debbie Malone averaged 10.2 points per game and was the team’s leading rebounder at 6.1 per contest.
Senior Kay Martin (4.2 ppg, 5.5 rpg) was the team’s other starting forward.
Senior guard Tina Pearce (3.0 ppg, 2.0 rpg) were and junior Brenda Bumgardner (2.7 ppg) were Shaffer’s top players off the bench.
“I have a special place in my heart for Tina because she was the one that lost a starting sport when Anja showed up,” said Shaffer. “She realized that for the good of the team she had to come off the bench and she never said a word or complained about not starting.”
Other members of the team were juniors Jennie Wirtz, Denice Gray, Darcy Beals and Marita McGinley. Sophomore Linda Klinger was brought up from the JV for the postseason.
Platteville went 16–2 during the regular season, but finished second in the Southern 8 at 12–2 behind Cuba City (13–1).
The Hillwomen won their first 10 games, including victories over Cuba City (53–38) and perrnnial power Lancaster (69–58), but dropped back-to-back games in rematches with the Arrows (47–46) and Cubans (58–55) on Feb. 14 and Feb. 16.
Platteville rebounded with six straight victories by an average of 32.5 points per game, but a familiar opponent awaited in the opening round of Class B regional play: Cuba City. Regional playoff brackets were unseeded and determined prior to the season until the early 2000s.
Hellman scored a game-high 17 points, and Stoffrengen and Feehan chipped in 10 each as Platteville held off Cuba City on their own court 51–48.
Feehan then hit a game-winning buzzer beater to knock off Lancaster 39–37 at UW–Platteville in the second round. Hellman scored 16 and Stoffregen added 10 despite being hounded by the Lady Arrows’ innovative triangle-and-two defense throughout the game.
“Cuba City was favored to win the regional that year as they always had been and Lancaster also had a great program back then too under coach Jewel Henke,” said Shaffer. “But once we got past Cuba City and Lancaster we thought we had a pretty good shot to get to state. We thought why not us?”
Platteville beat Prairie du Chien 60–49 at UW–Platteville to win the regional title behind 18 points from Stoffregen.
Hellman exploded for 33 points in a lopsided 76–35 victory over Sauk Prairie in the first round of sectionals.
The Hillmen held off Portage 54–49 to claim the sectional title and the program’s first trip to state. Platteville held a two-point lead with two minutes to play and made their free throws to pull out a five-point win.
“We were overlooked again at state, but we were overlooked all season,” said Shaffer. “Brillion had a Division 1 recruit that was going to Illinois so they were considered the favorite to win our division.”
But Platteville’s full-court press and fast-break offense was too much for Brillion. The Hillwomen opened up a big lead in the first half and cruised to an 81–46 victory. Hellman scored a game-high 25 points.
“Once we got settled in and the nerves wore off we really played well,” said Shaffer. “They had a D1 recruit, but they couldn’t run with us. Anja had played in an international tournament in China the summer before she came to Platteville so she wasn’t intimidated by the big crowd at the UW Fieldhouse. We played off her and as she went the rest of the girls followed.”
In the championship game Ashland tried to stall to slow down Platteville’s potent offense.
They succeeded early on and trailed by just two, 16–14 ,midway through the second quarter before Platteville hit eight straight free throws to take a 10-point halftime lead, 24–14.
Platteville connected on 17 of 22 from the line in the game and held on for a 41–28 victory.
When asked his lasting memory of that championship run Shaffer said, “losing my mustache.”
“One day in the fall, before the season even started I was sitting with Tina and Debbie at school when Dick Schumacher, a professor at UW–Platteville, asked me what I would do if we ever won state,” explained Shaffer. “I said I would shave off my mustache. After we beat Portage to go to state the girls reminded me of what I had said before the season. So I agreed to stick with it.
“The day after we won the championship we had Sunday breakfast with the governor and the other two championship team’s at the governor’s mansion. They we came home for a reception at the high school. I remember shaving in from of 2,000 people in the high school gym. They wheeled out a bowl of cold water on a cart and gave me some shaving cream and a razor, while Kathy held the mirror for me. It was a good laugh, but boy did I sure did cut myself up.”
Shaffer, who is an assistant coach for his grandson Austin Shaffer’s sixth grade basketball team and stays busy in the spring, umpiring roughly 50 baseball and softball games, has seen it all in his life, but the 1983–84 team holds a special place in his memory.
“That was a very close team on and off the court,” added Shaffer. “It was really nice. I don’t think I ever had a team that was that close every again. They were so much fun to be around.”
1983–84 PLATTEVILLE GIRLS BASKETBALL ROSTER
# Name Pos. Grade
12 Karen Feehan G Sr.
14 Erin Stoffregen G Jr.
20 Deb Malone F Sr.
22 Darcy Beals G Jr.
24 Jennie Wirtz G Jr.
30 Brenda Bumgardner G Jr.
32 Kay Martin G Sr.
34 Tina Pearce G Sr.
40 Marita McGinley F Jr.
42 Anja Hellman G Sr.
44 Linda Klinger G So.
50 Denice Gray F Jr.
(23–2 overall, 12–2 Southern 8*)
Platteville 74, Madison Edgewood 24
Platteville 75, Iowa–Grant 40*
Platteville 69, Lancaster 58*
Platteville 79, Darlington 29*
Platteville 83, Galena 50
Platteville 61, Dodgeville 33*
Platteville 73, Southwestern 41*
Platteville 70, Mineral Point 32*
Platteville 53, Cuba City 38*
Platteville 73, Iowa–Grant 41*
Lancaster 47, Platteville 46*
Cuba City 58, Platteville 55*
Platteville 78, Prairie du Chien 61
Platteville 83, Darlington 34*
Platteville 76, Dodgeville 32*
Platteville 71, Southwestern 47*
Platteville 87, Mineral Point 40*
Platteville 68, East Dubuque 54
Platteville 51, Cuba City 48
Platteville 39, Lancaster 37, OT
Platteville 60, Prairie du Chien 49
Platteville 76, Sauk Prairie 35
Platteville 54, Portage 49
Class B State Semifinal
Platteville 81, Brillion 46
Class B State Championship
Platteville 41, Ashland 28