1981-82 Premontre Cadets championship season: The story of Green Bay’s only state boys’ basketball champions
By Greg Bates
GREEN BAY – At 83 years old, Roy Smits, the former head coach at Green Bay Premontre, said he knows his mind is slipping a bit when it comes to remembering some things.
But one memory he’ll never forget is the boys’ basketball team he coached at Premontre in 1981-82.
That group accomplished something no Green Bay area school had done before or has done since: win a boys’ basketball state title.
“It was a fine group of boys, and the whole season was exciting, starting from day one until everybody was jumping around the court in Milwaukee,” Smits said.
Smits was the varsity head coach for 15 seasons at Premontre – which became Notre Dame Academy in 1990 – from the 1975-76 season to the 1989-90 season.
He finished with a career record of 216-126, and his teams advanced to the state tournament eight times.
Smits played high school ball at Central Catholic – which later became Premontre – and graduated in 1955.
He then played at St. Norbert College, earning a diploma in 1959.
He’s been retired for almost 21 years and admits he doesn’t think about his coaching days too often anymore.
Smits said when someone jogs his memory, he loves talking about the glory days on the court.
“As I got older, my granddaughters played on the Notre Dame teams that won the championships,” he said. “That’s become more important to me because it’s more current. Two of them played college ball and did well. The family ties have become more important than the state title.”
Smits said he knew he had a good squad coming back for the 1981-82 season after a successful previous year.
Premontre had one of the area’s top players as a junior, Pat Daul, returning.
Daul finished his career with 1,335 points and is currently sixth on the all-time scoring list in Green Bay city history.
“I knew he was going to be a main part of the year, and then we had a good supporting cast,” Smits said. “The rest of the players fit in. The whole team was close, and they hung around each other as basketball players and were friends before the season started.”
There was a surprise before the season, too.
Foreign exchange student Gordy Skagestad came to Green Bay for a year and had planned to play at Bay Port.
However, the Wisconsin Interscholastic Athletic Association (WIAA), which governed the public schools at that time, ruled him ineligible.
Instead of not playing at all or moving back to his homeland of Norway, the 6-foot-5 Skagestad transferred to Premontre.
Because Premontre was a private school, it played sports through the Wisconsin Independent Schools Athletic Association (WISAA).
Before Skagestad came to Premontre, Smits said he had no idea what kind of player he was getting.
Skagestad ended the season averaging 19 points and 12 rebounds.
“It was a gift you don’t expect,” Smits said.
Daul and Skagestad formed a solid duo that wreaked havoc when the postseason rolled around.
“They needed to be coached, and they needed to be guided,” Smits said. “It was good talent that fit together, and I was lucky to coach them. I’m sure part of it was me, but I can’t claim lots. It was a combination of everything.”
The Cadets started the season 6-3 when Christmas came around.
After that, Premontre won 16 straight to capture the WISAA Class A state title.
Premontre was 17-3 entering the playoffs.
Back then, it took teams in the WISAA two wins to advance to the state tournament.
“Getting to state wasn’t as hard,” Smits said. “Winning state was extremely hard.”
In the regional opener, Premontre knocked off De Pere Abbot Pennings, 41-28.
The regional championship game was against Manitowoc Roncalli in Green Bay, and the Cadets scored a 64-60 victory.
The state tournament was held at the MECCA Arena in Milwaukee.
In the quarterfinals, Premontre beat Wisconsin Rapids Assumption 58-39, as Daul pumped in 18 points.
Racine St. Catherine’s was the opponent in the semifinals, and it was the Daul show again, as the senior scored a game-high 35 points.
Smits said there was an instance from that game that still sticks out in his mind.
He called a timeout late in the game to talk strategy and aimed his question at Daul.
“I said, ‘How are we going to win this?’ And he said simply, ‘Give me the ball,’ which we did,” Smits said.
Premontre earned a 64-59 victory and advanced to the final game of the season.
The championship game pitted Premontre versus fellow northeastern Wisconsin foe, St. Mary’s Springs.
“It was unusual in itself that us and Springs got to the final,” Smits said. “Then the transfer Gordy Skagestad had a fantastic game.”
The foreign exchange student poured in 33 points, and Daul added 23.
For the three-day tournament, Skagestad had 56 points and 25 rebounds.
The game was tied 57-57 before Premontre scored the next six points, and the Cadets never trailed the rest of the way.
Up 77-72 with 17 seconds remaining, St. Mary’s Springs tallied the final four points.
However, Premontre hung on for a 77-76 victory.
“There was lots of celebrating,” Smits said. “When we came back to Green Bay, we celebrated in our gym. There were some speeches, lots of jumping around and the band played.”
Smits coached the Cadets for eight more seasons before moving on.
He taught at the Green Bay vocational school until retiring in 2000.
“Shortly after retiring, you think back of all the good times,” Smits said. “I kind of retired from coaching when I retired from my teaching job. Both of them gave me lots of good memories.”
Smits said he’s still proud of what his state title team accomplished almost 40 years ago.
“It was important and fun,” he said. “I’ve started friendships with many of the players. Unfortunately, a couple have passed away already. Looking back, it’s a great memory. It’s something nobody can take away from you.”