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The fall of 1969 brought the sports world “The Amazin’ Mets.”
The New York Mets, just a few years into existence, overcame a big September deficit to surpass the Chicago Cubs for the National League East Division title and went onto beat the Atlanta Braves for the National League title and, as heavy underdogs, beat the Baltimore Orioles in the World Series.
But before that, the summer of 1969 brought us another amazing story. The Kiel High School baseball Raiders.
Kiel baseball had been around for decades, but WIAA summer baseball was still in its infancy and like the New York Mets, the Raider story can be described as amazing.

High expectations

Coming off a second place finish in the Eastern Wisconsin Conference in 1968, the ’69 Raider baseball team was senior dominated and big things were expected. However, the regular season did not go according to those expectations.
Gordy Fox was in his first year as Kiel’s baseball coach. He presently resides in Cooks, Michigan (Upper Peninsula) and recalled that season.
“I took over for Mike Schroeder,” says Fox.
“I was just out of college. Kiel was my first job. I don’t recall if it was Will Mathes (then the Kiel athletic director) or Darrel Fifrick (Kiel principal at that time) that offered me the job. But I do remember that I was offered $6000 to teach and coach, and they threw in an extra $200 because I could teach physics,” laughed Fox.
“I remember preparing a 13-page pamphlet following that season with the Kiel Record newspaper articles and some stats that I gave to all the players and it helps me recollect things from back then.”

The turn around begins
One game turned things around.
Kiel struggled to a fifth place finish in the conference with a 4-5 record and things were looking bleak
heading into the post season. To make matters worse, Kiel’s opening opponent was traditional power New Holstein in a four-team regional at Chilton. Back then, pairings were pre-selected before the season as there was no seeding of teams. The Huskies were the luck of the draw for the Raiders.
“Definitely, the New Holstein game turned things around for us,” says Fox.
“I remember New Holstein had a standout pitcher and they handled us during the regular season. They were the power back then. But we beat them in regionals at Chilton.
The Raiders had a sophomore right fielder. His name was Mike Mathes.
Mathes agrees that the tournament opening win over New Holstein catapulted that team to a new life and adds a unique twist to that game.
“John Casper was New Holstein’s star pitcher and he could hit,” recalls Mathes.
“He was overpowering.”
Luck was definitely on Kiel’s side that night at Morrissey Park in Chilton.
Mathes adds, “We were scheduled to face Casper. We had the late game that night in Chilton and Casper was coming from his job and was late getting to the game. On top of that, he forgot his shoes. So coach Ken Anderson had to start Kenny Klapperich instead and he was very good too. But we managed to hit Klapperich and built maybe a five or six-run lead when they brought in Casper. We managed to hit Casper too and went onto beat North Fond du Lac to go to sectionals.”
Kiel drew Kewaskum in the sectional semifinal hosted by Valders. A 5-1 win over the Indians sent Fox’s squad into the sectional final against Campbellsport. The Cougars knocked off Valders, the conference champ, in the other semifinal.
Campbellsport had a well known player on its team as Mathes recalls.
“At the time, he was relatively unknown to baseball fans, but Jim Gantner was one of their star players.”
Gantner went onto a memorable college career at UW-Oshkosh and would find his way to the major leagues as the starting second baseman on the 1982 Milwaukee Brewers World Series team.
“But Gantner was Campbellsport’s catcher, not their second baseman,” states Mathes.
Kiel came from behind to upset the Cougars 6-4 and head to the state tournament.

Play of the year
If New Holstein was the game of the year, then the efforts of center fielder Jim Bruckner provided the play of the year according to Mathes.
WIAA State Summer Baseball Tournament took place at picturesque Regner Park in West Bend, still used today. Kiel drew a strong Bangor team in its state opener.
Mathes remembers the play of the year:
“We were up 5-0 in the final inning, but Bangor had finally gotten to Mike Fifrick and loaded the bases with nobody out. They hit a ball to deep center field. Jim Bruckner caught up to it to make the catch and in a continous motion threw home to Gary Stoeckigt, our catcher, to get the Bangor guy trying to tag up. A double play that got us out of a huge jam.”
The clock then struck midnight for Cinderella Kiel when they faced Brookfield Central in the state championship game.
“Brookfield was a huge school,” says coach Fox.
“Maybe four times our size.”
Brookfield Central was led by Fred Spytek who would later win a Big Ten Conference batting title for Wisconsin, and a player named Bill Carrollo. Carrollo went onto a future as an official in the NFL and now is the Big Ten Conference’s Commissioner of Officials. The Lancers beat Kiel 17-3.

Fox talks about the players
Gordy Fox agrees that the ’69 Raiders were built around their pitching staff led by Fifrick, Randy Freis and Roger Christel. Steve Austinson was the leading hitter, but the only Raider to hit above the .300 mark.
“As I recall, he was our left-handed left fielder and Steve loved to hit the opposite way. It’s so sad that he left us at such an early age. He was a great kid. He also threw some innings for us.”
Austinson lost his life in an auto accident shortly after graduating from KHS, but he is believed to be the only member of that 1969 team that has departed us.
Fox continues.
“Mike Fifrick was our senior leader and ace of the pitching staff and we had this freshman kid, Roger Christel, who really came on for us and was a key pitcher along with Randy Freis.”
The rest of the lineup included Craig Mey at second base. Mey is the uncle of current Kiel baseball coach Brad Mey, who led Kiel to its only other state tournament appearance in 2017. Gene Prigge was the starting catcher until an injury to his hand put him elsewhere on the diamond. Dave Schmitz, Gary Schwartz, Mike Baus, Tom Vorpahl, Mike Christel and Jim Sabel were other key members of the Amazin’ Raiders.
In closing, Mathes was asked what led to the late season turnaround.
“I think his team drew upon their success from other sports at Kiel. A lot of these baseball guys played on the 1968 conference championship basketball team.”