Tom Neuenschwander wanted to join the Janesville Craig High boys basketball staff as a 21-year-old student-teacher in 1973, but there was no room on the bench for him.
Twelve years later, after he taught and was the head basketball coach at Parkview High in Orfordville, there was an opening at Craig as an assistant to Bob Suter.
The pair joined forces and along with several other key staff members, led a nearly two-decade run of success for the boys basketball program.
On Saturday, Neuenschwander will reap his reward when he is inducted into the Wisconsin Basketball Coaches Hall of Fame.
Mistie Bass-Boyd, who led the Janesville Parker High girls basketball team to two consecutive WIAA Division 1 state champions, also will be in the 2022 induction class.
It was Suter who nominated Neuenschwander and then told him he was going to be inducted into the WBCA hall. The induction ceremony is going to be held at Glacier Canyon Lodge at the Wilderness Resort in Wisconsin Dells with a cocktail hour at 4 p.m. Saturday.
“I was flabbergasted,” Neuenschwander said. “I didn’t know he was doing that.
“But if you hitch your trailer to the right horse, that’s what happens.”
Stan DuFrane, a 1981 WBCA Hall inductee, was the Craig head coach when Neuenschwander arrived at Craig as a student-teacher out of UW-Whitewater, where he graduated in 1974.
Suter was the sophomore team coach. DuFrane wanted Neuenschwander on his staff, but Craig didn’t have any teaching openings.
Neuenschwander instead found a job at his alma mater—Parkview High.
“Jobs were really limited,” Neuenschwander said. “I was lucky to get the job at Orfordville Parkview. There was 196 people who applied for that job.”
He taught at Parkview for 11 years. In 1985, DuFrane called and said Craig had an opening for at-risk social studies.
Neuenschwander wanted the job. His wife, Sue, was teaching at Harrison Elementary, a job she kept her entire teaching career. He joined her in the district, beating out another large field of applicants.
He joined DuFrane on the varsity bench in what turned out to be DuFrane’s last season.
Suter resigned as the Craig football coach, where he had gone 87-70-1 in 18 seasons, to succeed DuFrane. He asked Neuenschwander to be his assistant.
“I said, ‘Yeah.”
“We just walked into a team with studs all over the place,” Neuenschwander said.
Suter and Neuenschwander’s first team won their initial 19 games, which tied a school record. The Cougars were ranked No. 1 in the state in eight of the nine weekly polls and won the Big Eight title. But they lost to Beloit Memorial 66-62 in the regionals to finish 20-2.
“That was a fun year,” Neuenschwander said. “It just kind of ballooned from there because we could see what was coming up.”
The Craig balloon was airborne for many years. Among the many standout players that Suter, Neuenschwander and the rest of the staff coached were Jay Peters, Chad Cushing, twin brothers Jim and Dave Jackson, Ben Berlowski, Jeff Regez, Robb Logterman, Tony Huml, Ben Nickols, Danny Saunders, and Aubrey Lewis-Byers.
“It was one blue-chip kid after another,” Neuenschwander said.
The coaching staff still worked as hard as any in the state.
During most of those glory years, the boys team would practice from 7:30 to 9:30 at night twice a week because of the lack of facility space for all the winter sports teams.
Time at home was at a minimum.
“The wives had to hold down the fort,” Neuenschwander said of the many hours spent after school. (Sue) and Dorothy (Suter), we couldn’t have done what we did without the support of our wives. What they did deserved sainthood.”
Scouting took up many of the remaining hours not spent on the practice floor.
“Bob was one of the most organized people I’ve ever been around,” Neuenschwander said. “We would have a scout at five or six games.
“We would get done with practice, and then it would be, ‘OK, I’m going to see Madison West’. Another coach would go see La Follette play. That was for every opponent we played.”
Neuenschwander retired from teaching U.S. history and humanities in 2007. Suter retired as head basketball coach in 2009 with a 385-148 record. All seven of his state tournament appearances came with Neuenschwander sitting beside him on the bench.
It was a fun ride, and one that will result in a hall of fame spot for Neuenschwander.
“Twenty years later, here we sit with a career that was a blast,” he said.
He finally found his spot on the bench.