June 22, 2017
By David Nordby
The Brillion News
REEDSVILLE – Harold Wenzel thumbs through his many scrapbooks almost as if he is refreshing his own memories of players, games and awards. It is understandable why a few memories might escape his mind. The man coached in more than 1,000 basketball games and organized hundreds of tournaments throughout six decades.
“It’s hard to say what really motivated me,” Wenzel said. “I love the game of basketball.”
Dorothy, Wenzel’s wife of 57 years, is the love of his life. His three kids and six grandkids are just behind. But basketball might win the title of his first love.
“I use to go into the barns at night … The ball would be black from the floor. My fingers would be solid black,” Wenzel said. The 1953 graduate of Brillion High School went into the service in 1954. His time served included 18 months in Hawaii, but he eventually found his way back to his home roots and a life dedicated to family, farming and basketball followed.
The stretch of his basketball coaching career that holds some of his fondest memories, and the time period that a reunion took place for earlier this year, was when he was coaching Reedsville’s city team in the Eastern Wisconsin Amateur Basketball League, as it was known back then. Wenzel had a brief stint playing for the Brillion city team before joining Reedsville’s.
He made the transition from player to head coach in 1956, and stayed until 1975. Seasons were typically comprised of 18 game seasons and every team played each other twice. Area teams in addition to Reedsville and Brillion included Chilton and Hilbert.
“It was good competition,” Wenzel said. “It was kind of a family thing … Everyone looked forward to doing it.”
Players were high school graduates, many of whom came home each weekend from UW-Oshkosh or UW-Green Bay to participate in the Saturday night games.
“I looked forward from one Saturday to the next,” Wenzel said. Wenzel’s teams had a 251-87 total record during his first stint as head coach of Reedsville. He returned from 1983-1989 and went 53-18.
By the late 1980’s the league had dwindled down to eight teams and less involvement, but during its peak, Wenzel says the league was the real deal. Some players stayed for more than a decade and got the chance to build a camaraderie with teammates and coaches. There was also a league commissioner during the glory years. Players had to sign contracts ensuring that they would only play for one team and were within seven miles of the team they played for.
Eventually college life kept some players away from the games back home, which frustrated Wenzel at the time. “I always wondered why they’d want to play four years in high school then not play,” Wenzel said, who added that the nights after games were a lot of fun in their own right.
The Reedsville team would scrimmage against the high school athletes, and even played against Marques Haynes’ Harlem Globetrotters squad.
Now, such a league sounds foreign to younger area athletes. “You just don’t have it like this anymore,” Wenzel said. “It was good basketball.”
The recent reunion with Wenzel and alumni was special, but only touched the surface of Wenzel’s career.
Please see the complete story in the June 22, 2017 edition of The Brillion News.