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Genealogy: Family Histories

Norma Day / Mona Kemthorne Family

Last Revised 11/24/2008

Retrospect: Local man has ties to worst basketball team in state

Posted: November 12, 2008, Sussex Sun


 
Norm Day is connected to the worst high school basketball team ever to play in Wisconsin.

Norm and his wife, Mona, moved to Sussex in 1973, providing a son and two daughters to the Templeton and Hamilton basketball teams.

Today they live in retirement on Oak Court next to Village Park. Both are active in the Friends of the Pauline Haass Library and the Sussex-Lisbon Area Historical Society.

Norm Day played for Rewey High School for six years, 1944-50, four as a starter. How was that possible? It seems Rewey was such a small high school that seventh- and eighth-graders could play on the junior varsity.

Rewey is a small farming community a little west of the Pecatonic River in the Platteville area in southern Wisconsin. It had a population of 232 then.

How bad was the Rewey High basketball team? Its losing streak began in January 1943 and didn’t end until the team had lost 92 or 93, maybe 100 games. There’s some disagreement about the final total, but it was definitely the longest losing streak in Wisconsin, and possibly U.S., history, according to a story by Dion Kempthorne published about 25 years ago.

Norm had an older brother, John, who was on the team in 1943 when the losing streak started. Norm joined the team three years later. The two brothers did not win a single game for the next two years. After John graduated, Norm’s team continued the streak for yet another year.

How bad were the losses? Cobb High School was the area’s basketball powerhouse at the time. One year Cobb beat Rewey High twice by identical scores, 92-5. Another opponent hung a 61-2 loss on Rewey.

Day said the team was so bad because the local population was so small – only 40-45 kids, and only half of them were eligible to play on the varsity level.

The team changed coaches every year, too. The school employed only three teachers, and one year just one of them was a man, so he was made coach by default. Another year, the new coach insisted on a jump ball after every basket during practice. The players had to explain to the new coach that the old rule had gone out of fashion back in the 1930s.

“The scores we lost by were disgraceful,” Day said with a chuckle. “The other teams didn’t have to do much to beat us. We didn’t know how to pass, shoot or anything else about the game.”

The basketball court was in the Rewey Community Hall. Day estimated that the floor was 24 feet wide and 60 feet long. The side walls were out of bounds. The stage lip where the spectators sat protruded out to just under the backboard, so players driving to the basket for a layup were taking their lives in their hands.

As bad as the gym was, the basement showers were even worse. The floor was just hard-packed dirt. Players had to wash your feet off after leaving the shower.

Then Rewey finally found a coach who stuck with the team during Day’s junior year, just as he was maturing into a 6-foot l-inch rebounding center who could hold his own.

Coach Eastman started to make something of the team, but it remained a loser for his entire first season.

Then as the 1949-50 season started, Rewey finally broke its losing streak, winning a game, 31-20, with Day playing a starring role. The team actually won more games than it lost that year, including one in which Day scored 40 points.

A hardworking farmboy, he was a rebounding bull in the paint, and led the Iowa County Conference in scoring that year with 210 points.

Rewey made it as far as the WIAA district championship game, but lost to Cobb, 55-42. The team did earn the Sportsmanship Award in the tournament.

The team returned home to a big community celebration. “We sat around in the only restaurant in Rewey, a front room in the local tavern, and the coach bought us all a malt milk,” Day recalled. “Car horns were beeping, and church bells were rung.”

Day went on to graduate from the University of Wisconsin and worked many years for Miller Brewery in a quality-control position. The rest of the starting five were also well educated and earned good incomes at quality jobs.

Day went into the service during the Korean War, but wound up in Austria with the post-World War II occupation army countering the Russian bear.

Rewey High School closed a year later, in 1951. Its students moved to Platteville High at first, then later, closer to home, to Iowa-Grant High School, a good Division 3 athletics school.

Norm married Mona Kemthorne, whose father, Pete, was the greatest basketball player Rewey ever had. He had played at Carroll College with a basketball scholarship during the 1920s. He was so good that after college he caught on with the Milwaukee Bright Spots, a professional team that was ahead of its time for Milwaukee.

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