Elk Mound Football History – part 1

by Marlys Kruger, Messenger Sports

With the departure of Dan Pederson from coaching Elk Mound football after  39 years, Dave Lew, an assistant under Pederson for many years will take over the reins this August. Lew will become just the fourth coach in Mounder history since the program started in 1965. Len Gilbert was the coach that first year, and after one season, Larry Plaszcz took over and coached from 1966-1973 before Pederson started his dynasty. This is a look at the history of the Elk Mound football program as they begin a new season.

 Details are sketchy in the Gilbert-Plaszcz era since The Messenger did not cover Elk Mound sports on a regular basis until the mid-seventies, and even then it was off and on for several years. The team won three games in its inaugural year under Gilbert, and one of the players on that team remembers that first season fondly.

“We were so excited to finally have a football team,” said Elk Mound resident Dave Dummer. “We had equipment that seemed like new to us and just having the chance to play in the Dunn-St. Croix Conference against local teams was fun. We didn’t have lights on our field so our home games were in the daytime but playing under the lights at other schools was exciting.”

The team went 1-7 in Plaszcz’s first year leading the team, losing to teams like Fall Creek and Prescott along with losing their first ever homecoming game to St. Croix Central who went on to win the D-SC Conference championship.  Named to the All Conference team as honorable mention for the Mounders that year were Randy Oas, Mike McNair, Mike Hase, Doug Sorenson and Dave Kopp. Oas and Sorenson were also named honorable mention All Northwest.

The team won just one game again in 1967 including a 68-0 loss to Colfax who had just moved out of the Middle Border Conference to the D-SC.  Tom Hase was chosen All Conference center and honorable mention on defense, and the team record improved to 2-6 in 1968 including a 38-7 loss to Colfax as  superstar Larry Knudson scored five times for the Vikings. Larry Werner, Steve Velie and  Tom Hase were All Conference selections for the Mounders. The 1969 record is unknown but the Mounders won their first conference championship in 1970 with a 7-0 record, defeating Colfax in one of those games, along with Plum City, St. Croix Central, Elmwood, Boyceville, Somerset and Pepin. They scored 52 points against Plum City and 50 in their win over Pepin. Plaszcz coached three more years and had several more All Conference players including Roger Kopp on offense and defense in 1972 and special mention that year Paul Falkner and Alan Scheffler. In his final year of coaching the team before accepting a teaching position in Boyceville, the Mounders finished 4-2-3 which included a 56-0 win over Pepin and a 20-0 win over Colfax. All Conference players from that team were Jack Harrison and Dewane Frase on defense and Steve Fox and Sid Ellingstad for honorable mention offense.

Reflecting on those years, Plaszcz had plenty of memories, many good ones and a few that were pretty interesting.

“It was a fiasco the first few years,” he said. “We had no budget but we got a good deal on equipment from Chippewa Valley Sporting Goods. I had to do all the organizing for practices, find assistant coaches, run the junior varsity program and even take care of all the homecoming activities. We had our first homecoming parade in 1973 and I had to take care of that too. Having a bonfire for homecoming was a big deal for the kids. We had fundraisers to get lights and a scoreboard for our field in 1968.We filmed the games on the old movie cameras and I would have to drive to Eau Claire every weekend to get them put on the reels so we could watch them on the projectors. It was quite an ordeal but the kids were so happy to have a football program it was worth the hard work,” he added.

And the Pederson years begin

You may remember from past writeups in The Messenger on Pederson that he was fresh out of college at UW-Eau Claire when he accepted his first teaching and coaching job at Elk Mound in 1974. Little did he know he would stay with the coaching job 39 years and eventually be inducted into the Wisconsin Football Coaches Hall of Fame in 2003 and also be named as the Green Bay Packers Coach of the Week in 2012.

Pederson’s career started on a positive note with a 10-0 win over Boyceville and the team ended up with a winning record of 5-4. In a 12-7 loss to Colfax, John Steen scored on a 19 yard run with a Terry Zielie extra point kick for the only Mounders points. Steen ended up rushing for 81 yards on 22 carries in that game and  Bruce DeRusha caught four passes from Zielie for 37 yards, and Zielie stopped a Colfax drive by intercepting a pass just inches from their goal line.

After an opening game 19-12 loss to Boyceville in 1975 with one of the scores coming on a DeRusha 68 yard run, the Mounders lost to powerhouse Spring Valley 34-0 but came back with a 7-6 upset win over St. Croix Central. DeRusha scored on a four yard run with Zielie again booting the extra point kick in the first quarter and the difference in the game was a blocked extra point kick attempt by the Mounder’s defense. Pederson came up with his first win over Colfax that year 24-2 as DeRusha ran for a pair of TDs and Zielie connected with Larry Hanson for two scores, from 40 yards and 76 yards out. That connection worked a few more times in later games including twice in a 42-20 win over Plum City in which DeRusha rushed for 151 yards and four scores. The team finished 3-6 for the season and All Conference players were Dave Curry for offense and defense as a lineman, Mark Malnory, offensive line and DeRusha as a linebacker and honorable mention running back.

1976 was the first year the WIAA began  playoffs leading to a state tournament with A, B and C classes. Malnory was named an All Northwest player as an offensive lineman and was All Conference on both sides of the ball in the line for the Mounders that season. Bob Falkner was also All Conference as an offensive lineman and honorable mention on the defensive line and Lee Simonson earned All Conference as a running back and honorable mention linebacker. They ended the 1977 season with a 19-8 loss to the Vikings with Simonson hitting pay dirt from two yards out and quarterback John Brawford passing to Don Gruber for the two point conversion. They just missed scoring a pair of touchdowns when Dan Kopp was caught from behind on the opening kickoff return and after Kopp intercepted a Colfax pass, Simonson carried the ball and was dragged down from behind on his way to the endzone. Simonson ended his career with the most rushing yards for a Mounder player with 2,004 total yards (in three years I believe) and was named second team All Northwest as a running back and was All Conference both as a runner and linebacker. Also named to the team were Mike Rud as a defensive lineman and honorable mention offensive tackle, and Cory Svee and Craig Timm, both honorable mention guards.

The Mounders recorded a conference record of 3-5 in 1978, and in a 28-14 loss to Colfax, Kevin Bjork, Brad Redwine, Jon Solem and Bruce Myers combined for 277 rushing yards with Bjork scoring twice, on a 90 yard sprint and from 54 yards out. (Just one week later, Bjork was involved in a farming accident and had to have his arm reattached at the University of Minnesota Hospital). Named to the All Conference team that year were Bjork, Redwine and Jeff Hill for offense and Randy Falkner on defense while honorable mention went to Bjork, Redwine and Hill for defense and Falkner for offense.

The seventies came to a close on a successful note as the Mounders finished 7-2, a game behind both Prescott and Glenwood City who tied for the conference title. Highlights of the season were a 50-0 homecoming win over Pepin as Scot Miller and Solem both scored three TDs with two of Solem’s scores coming on passes from Myers and Miller also snagged a scoring pass. Miller rushed for 111 yards on 11 carries in the win. They had to come from behind to beat Colfax 18-14 with Myers connecting with Dan Molitor for an eight yard score and Solem running in from four yards out. Miller and Solem combined for 186 rushing yards in the game. All Conference selections were Falkner for both offense and defense and Miller honorable mention offense and defense and Myers honorable mention offense.

(Note: This is the first part of a four-part story. Information was obtained through yearbooks, past Messengers and former players and coaches. If anyone has information they would like to add, please contact me at The Messenger office at 715-962-3535 or email me at messenger@dewittmedia.com). Up next: The eighties bring three 1,000 yard rushers and first state championship berth for Pederson and the Mounders.