For most people in the Tri-State area, when the name Cuba City is mentioned, the words basketball and Coach Petitgoue automatically come to mind. Jim Swenson, features editor for the Telegraph Herald, chronicles the past 50 years of high school basketball in his new book, "A Driving Passion: Jerry Petitgoue and 50 Years of Tri-State High School Boys' Basketball."
Swenson said he wrote the book due to his love of high school basketball. "I used to cover a lot of games as the sports editor at the Telegraph Herald," Swenson said. "I knew I wasn't alone in my enjoyment of the sport, and what better place to start than in Cuba City with "Coach." Plus, I love to write and since I read almost only non-fiction, I felt the urge to write a non-fiction book."
Swenson soon realized after he started he had to expand the topic from just being about Coach. Swenson said the many players from Dickeyville and Kieler who went to Wahlert turned this into a real tri-state book.
"As most people in the area know, he's the winningest high school basketball coach in Wisconsin," Swenson said. "I also talked to and did longer segments on Wisconsin coaches such as Jim Nedelcoff, Southwestern; Jim Blaine, Benton; Dennis Uppena, Cassville; and Jim McGrath, who not only coached at Prairie du Chien, but also at Dubuque Wahlert. There's lots of fun segments on Wahlert's Ed Colbert and his strong runs, plus some of Platteville and Galena's best teams ... just about every team in the area is mentioned."
Petitgoue said when Swenson first approached him two years ago, he said, Why me? "I was overwhelmed by it to be honest," Petitgoue said. "He put an awful lot of work in it over the past two years and I know he has literally close to 1,000 names included in the book. It closely follows my career at Cuba City and it then sprinkles in the three Dubuque schools and Benton's championship season. For the basketball person it's going to be pretty good."
Swenson started researching towards the end of the 2009 season and was able to finish the book this fall. Swenson said he spent hundreds of hours looking through microfilm along with nearly 100 hours doing interviews. "Add to that another 100 or so writing, and you've got someone who is blessed with an understanding wife, Kris - similar to coaches who have wives who support their passion," Swenson said.
Swenson clearly did his research for this book. He conducted close to 50 separate interviews with coaches and many of those comments are included in this book. Swenson said the comments from those interviews will pique the interest of many readers, however, the game-by-game descriptions he found in stories written by great TH sportwriters such as Hal Lagerstrom, Bill O'Neill and Renny Zentz will also catch the readers attention.
"Back in the day, as they say, before the Internet and video games, high school boys basketball was the big thing in most schools and communities," Swenson said. "The coverage was big and the interest was very high. All told, counting a year-by-year list of TH All-Area Teams, I would say there are 1,000 tri-state area names in the book."
Swenson added a bonus for readers in Cuba City. "There is a only one chapter in the book on girls basketball," Swenson said. "I had a nice talk with Coach Jeff Pustina who might one day beat Coach Petitgoue's win record."
Above all, Swenson's hope for readers is to recall the memories of days gone by and what high school boys basketball meant to people. "When a school was heading toward a state title - and this still happens to some extent - everything else paled in comparison," Swenson said. "I covered a lot of the games I wrote about, including some of Cuba City's state tournament games and I miss that. I miss the excitement, the competition and the deadlines. I imagine a lot of area fans miss those days, too."
Swenson said he hopes the readers will revel in the history and know that not all coaches are liked by all. "I am aware that not everybody is a big Coach Petitgoue fan," Swenson said. "He, like most coaches I talked to, realize that fact. I've been a longtime youth coach and even at that level, I haven't been able to please everyone. It's part of the territory."
Swenson said regardless of whether you like the coaches or not, Cuba City has something to be proud of - two perennial winning basketball teams that most other towns would love to have. "I certainly wouldn't have written the book if it had been otherwise," Swenson said.
The book is available and can be purchased from Gile Cheese in Cuba City.
The book can also be ordered from www.tristateroundball.com which also has other related basketball items on the website. The book costs $19.95 plus tax and is 206 pages long. A book signing will be held tonight (Thursday) from 5:30 to 6:30 p.m. at River Lights Bookstore, Dubuque with Swenson and Petitgoue. Swenson said a book signing will be held in Cuba City sometime after Christmas.