Fifty years ago this week, the 1966–67 Platteville High School boys basketball team did what no other has since, playing in the WIAA state tournament at the UW Fieldhouse in Madison.
The Hillmen captured the imagination of this small rural community and in the process grabbed the attention of the entire state when they played their way to the eight-team, one division state tournament, ultimately going toe-to-toe with defending champion and prep basketball powerhouse Milwaukee Lincoln in the state semifinals.
On the 50th anniversary of Platteville’s incredible run, this is a look back at that magical 1966–67 season.
Platteville was led by 33-year-old history teacher Royce Reeves, a 1952 graduate of Dodgeville High School and a 1956 graduate of UW–Platteville. Reeves was a standout at Dodgeville and UWP, where he finished his Hall of Fame career second all-time with 1,274 points, which is still 14th best today.
“Sometimes you have to be lucky in sports and we were lucky to have a smart veteran coach,” said Jim Lawinger, a senior and leading scorer on the 1966–67 Platteville team. “He was smart and dedicated and he always had a plan. He had a philosophy of playing really good, hard-nosed defense and getting the ball inside on offense.”
“He was very knowledgeable, but he was also very much a disciplinarian,” remembers Gary Osterholz, a junior reserve guard on the 66–67 team. “He was a very good player himself and he wanted that to carry over with us. He brought out the best in everyone.”
“Practices were usually pretty serious and Royce was pretty strict, but he was fair and he was a good friend of the guys on the team,” said Dave Schmoekel, a junior reserve forward on the 1966–67 team.
Reeves quickly became a successful coach, but struggled to break through in the playoffs. He led Platteville to a 17–1 mark in 1963–64 and a second-place finish in the 14-team SWAL, but Reeves’ Hillmen were knocked out of the regional playoffs in the first round by his alma mater Dodgeville, which went on to win the 1964 state title.
A year later, Platteville went a perfect 17–0 in the regular season, but lost to eventual state champion again in the first round of regionals, this time it was Monroe.
In 1965–66, Platteville finished 21–2 overall, won a second straight conference title and advanced all the way to the Beloit Sectional final, before losing to number one ranked Madison East by a single point, one game shy of state.
After coming so close to a state berth, Reeves and his team vowed next year would be different.
THE 1966–67 STARTERS
SF — Senior Jim Lawinger (6’1”) was a three-year varsity player. He started at small forward as a junior and led the conference in scoring at 19.2 points per game. Lawinger, who went on to a Hall of Fame basketball career at UW–Platteville, averaged 26.7 points per game as a senior and set the single-game scoring record with 44 points in a regular season win against Darlington and finished his three-year varsity career as Platteville’s all-time leading scorer with 1,197 points.
Lawinger went to a become a teacher, boys basketball coach and softball coach at Sussex Hamilton near Milwaukee. He was later a boys basketball assistant coach at Germantown and is now an assistant coach for the UW–Platteville men’s basketball team.
SG — Senior Tom Barth (6’0”) was also a three-year varsity player and two-year starter. Barth was known as the team’s best defensive player and averaged around six points per game.
PG — Senior Steve Klaas (5’11”) missed the first three games of the season with a knee injury suffered during the football season. Klaas scored 12 points in his first game back in the conference opener against Cuba City. Klaas, who went on to a successful boys basketball coach at Adams–Friendship, was the team’s point guard and was an equally tenacious defender as Barth. He averaged 11.3 points per game.
C — Six-foot-6 senior Dennis Nodolf was the anchor of Platteville’s defense and a great rim protector. He also averaged 12 points per game and led the team in rebounds.
PF — Senior Bill Hake (6’2”2) was another gritty defender that usually guarded the other team’s top forward. He was a good rebounder and had occasional big nights scoring, reaching double figures four times, including a career-high 16 points in a conference win at Lancaster. Hake passed away last fall of ALS (Lou Gehrig’s disease).
THE 1966–67 BENCH
G — Senior Gary Leffler (5’11”) was the top guard of the bench. He started the first three games of the season for the injured Klaas.
G/F — Junior Bob Faherty (5’11”) added offense off the bench and could play both guard and small forward. Faherty went on to play football at UW–Platteville and taught and coached golf at Iowa–Grant High School for many years.
F — Junior John Steffen (6’1”) was the top big man off the bench. He came in to spell either Nodolf or Hake. He was Platteville’s leading scorer in 1967–68, helping the Hillmen win a fifth straight conference title.
F — Senior Frank LaVoy
G — Senior Tim McIntyre
G — Junior Steve Peterson
F — Junior Tom Cushman
G — Junior Gary Osterholz
F — Junior Dave Schmoekel
G — Junior Steve Tatge
“We were a well-rounded team,” said Lawinger. “We could go fast and we could go slow. We played really good defense and all the guys were really smart.”
“All the kids on that team were pretty close and it all started back in grade school when we played against each other at St. Mary’s, Platteville Middle School and the old lab school,” at UW–Platteville said Osterholz. “When we got to high school and played together everybody was really dedicated no matter if you only played a little bit or you were the star.”
“We didn’t have open gyms or camps or anything back in those days, but we played a lot of basketball on our own at the outdoor courts behind the old high school, which is now the middle school, after baseball practice in the summer,” added Lawinger.
“We played wherever we could, either at St. Mary’s or the outdoor courts all over town,” said Osterholz. “We had a good group of us that played two or three nights a week that whole summer.”
THE REGULAR SEASON
After sharing the 1966 SWAL title with Lancaster and having returning starters in Lawinger and Barth, Platteville was the consensus choice to win the 66–67 conference title and did not disappoint.
The Hillmen put together a perfect 17–0 regular season and won a fourth straight conference title. Platteville dominated Rockford Harlem 77–58 in the third game of the season with Lawinger pouring in game-high 39 points.
The Platteville Journal reported that on Friday, Jan. 13, only 21 Platteville fans braved a severe snow storm to travel to River Valley. The Hillmen dominated as always, 81-32, despite the low fan turnout.
Platteville got it’s biggest test of the regular season on Friday, Feb. 10 holding off second-place Dodgeville for a 64–60 victory at PHS. Lawinger scored 12 of his game-high 27 points in the fourth quarter as Platteville’s 62–50 lead dwindled to four in the final minute.
A week later, Lawinger made 13 field goals (there was no 3-point line at the time) and 18 free throws in a 93–41 victory at Darlington to set a new school record with 44 points, breaking Doug Knutson’s three-year old record of 41. Platteville clinched the SWAL title with the win and closed out a perfect regular season with an 82–56 win at Boscobel.
Platteville dominated Dodgeville to open regional play in the team’s third meeting of the year 61–38 to open regional play.
“Those games against Dodgeville were always a little more important to Coach Reeves,” said Lawinger. “He was from Dodgeville and he was going up against his former coach John ‘Weenie’ Wilson. Those were the games where we felt more pressure because he put in more time and effort into those games and he really wanted to win.”
The Hillmen then defeated Lancaster on their home court 70–48 on Friday night (Klaas scored 24 points), and hammered Cuba City 65–37 Saturday night at UW–Platteville to win the regional title. Lawinger scored a game-high 24 points and broke Knutson’s all-time scoring record.
The following Tuesday, Platteville knocked off Cassville 71–54 in a sub-sectional game at UW–Platteville despite a season-low 13 points from Lawinger.
“That was a tough game,” said Lawinger. “They were a small school, but they came to play. I know I didn’t have a very good night.”
After Tuesday’s win, Platteville was off to the Janesville Craig Sectional. Lawinger poured in a game-high 36 points, and Nodolf (13), Klaas (12) and Barth (10) all reached double figures, as the Hillmen defeated Evansville 85–71 on Friday, March 10.
A night later, Platteville shot a sizzling 60 percent (24 of 40) from the field to topple Madison West 65–53. Lawinger finished with 23 points, Klaas had 14 and Nodolf chipped in 11.
Platteville went on a 7–2 run to start the fourth quarter to build a 54–38 lead and West never got closer than 58–51.
“One of the things I remember about that game was the confidence factor we had going into it,” said Lawinger. “After coming up a point short a year earlier, we as a team just knew we were going to win this time around. Barth did an outstanding job on their best guard and Nodolf did an admirable job against 6-foot-6 Glen Richgels, who was the leading scorer in the Big 8 that year. The key to that game was keeping him off the boards.
“The crowd rushed the court and picked up all five started and carried us around. That was a total team effort and everybody was real appreciative. To beat the big boys like Madison West was quite a feat. We cut the nets down, and had a pep rally that night when we got back to the high school. The pregame confidence, the win and the celebration exploding all in one day is what I remember most about that season. I don’t know who was more excited, the players or the fans. Everybody had big smiles on their faces that night and even 50 years later, you still remember that stuff.”
STATE QUARTERFINAL: Platteville 68, Green Bay West 59
In the first round of the state tournament, Platteville drew another big school in the Green Bay West Wildcats on Thursday, March 16.
Lawinger tied a state tournament record by making 11 of 11 from the free throw line and finishing with a game-high 27 points as Platteville rallied from an early 18–12 deficit to score a 68–59 win.
“We had been to the sectional final the year before so we had that experience, but now at the state tournament we were all experiencing something new. Our first game was a lot of nervousness. We were jittery. It was not our normal game.
STATE SEMIFINAL: Milwaukee Lincoln 68, Platteville 59
Platteville’s reward was a semifinal matchup Friday night against top-ranked powerhouse Milwaukee Lincoln, which averaged a freakish 102.6 points per game during the 66–67 season. Lincoln had won state titles in 1959, 1961, 1962 and 1966, and was the favorite to win again in 1967. The Comets had in fact never lost a state tournament game in their four previous appearances.
Lincoln had a pair of talented senior guards and a sophomore who all went on to earn Division I scholarships. Fred Brown became an All-American at Iowa and later played in the NBA with the Seattle Super Sonics, and Clarence Sherrod played for the Badgers in Madison. Sophomore Ellis Turrentine, a 6’2” guard, went on to play at Drake University.
“I remember coming out in a zone defense because coach wanted to keep them from driving, but they had four really good shooters,” said Lawinger. “They were firing shots from what is now NBA 3-point distance and making them. That shook us a little.”
Lawinger battled inside against the talented Comets drawing foul after foul. He made 18 of 21 free throw attempts and finished with a game-high 30 points, but it wasn’t enough as Lincoln prevailed 68–59.
“The thing that sticks out in my mind is Jim shooting all those free throws at the state tournament,” said Schmoekel. “I just remember how amazing that was. We got the ball inside to him and he got fouled quite a bit and he was a great free throw shooter. He was really smooth in the post and he was hard to stop.”
Lawinger led the state tournament with 76 points and set a state record by making 38 of 48 free throws in three games.
Friday night’s semifinal game between Platteville and Lincoln drew more fans (13,998) than the following day’s championship game (12,567) , which Lincoln (25–1) won over Wausau 61–56 for a fifth state title.
STATE THIRD-PLACE: Appleton 62, Platteville 59
Platteville wrapped up the state tournament with a 62–59 loss to Appleton in Saturday’s third-place game.
Platteville finished the season 24–2 and fourth in the state after taking down major city schools Madison West in the sectional final and Green Bay West in the state quarterfinals. No Platteville boys basketball team has returned to the state tournament since.
"I don't really remember anything abut that game," said Lawinger. "We were so tired and spent from giving it our all against Lincoln. Appleton was a team we would have beat a majority out of 10 times, but that day we just didn't have it."
Members of the 1966–67 team remain close today, and get together every year for the UW–Platteville men’s basketball golf outing.
“That was a real special time because Wisconsin high school basketball was all one division back then,” added Osterholz. “It didn’t matter the size of your school, you had to play everyone and we just beat Madison West to go to state. And that year Platteville was on the same level as Milwaukee.”