Don La Violette, who was one of Wisconsin’s top high school football and basketball coaches at De Pere Abbot Pennings, then moved next door to coach at St. Norbert College, died Feb. 12. He was 83.
The Green Bay native compiled a 140-89-6 record in 24 seasons at Pennings, from 1959 to 1982. The Squires were Wisconsin Independent School Athletic Association state champions in 1971 and advanced to the WISAA playoffs in 1972, 1977, 1979 and 1982. His teams were Fox Valley Christian Conference champions in 1971, 1972, 1977, 1978, 1979 and 1982. He was a five-time FRCC coach of the year and won the WISAA Man of the Year Award in 1982.
La Violette also was the Squires’ basketball coach for those 24 years, winning 324 games and making eight WISAA state tournament appearances. He was a seven-time FRCC coach of the year. Including two seasons at Beloit Catholic, his high school basketball record was 370-245.
Video: De Pere Abbot Pennings coach Don La Violette during the Squires’ game against Fond du Lac Springs in the 1979 regular-season finale at Minahan Stadium in De Pere. Pennings was undefeated; Springs had one loss. The game was televised on WLUK-TV with Lee Steele and former Green Bay Packers linebacker Jim Carter on the call. Source: YouTube via abbotpennings.com
When the wry, low-key La Violette was hired at St. Norbert in January 1983, he wisecracked: “It’s like going from Bo Derek to Ursula Andress. It’s not many times you can say life begins at 51.”
His St. Norbert teams went 59-43-1 in 11 seasons, from 1983 to 1993. The Green Knights won or shared Midwest Conference titles in 1985, 1987, 1988 and 1989 and made the NCAA Division III playoffs in 1989. He was inducted into the Wisconsin Football Coaches Association Hall of Fame in 1995 as a college coach and to the St. Norbert College Intercollegiate Athletics Hall of Fame in 1997.
He also coached basketball at St. Norbert for three seasons, going 36-30 from 1986 to 1989. At the time, he was one of only two college coaches in the nation to simultaneously serve as head football and basketball coach. He also coached men’s tennis for one year.
“Coach La Violette was truly one of the nicest people I’ve ever known,” said Russ Schmelzer, who worked closely with La Violette as St. Norbert’s athletics trainer since 1981. “Whenever you came in contact with him you’d always walk away with a smile on your face. And as much as football and sports in general meant to him, they were always put in the proper perspective with regard to the bigger picture of life. He taught thousands of men he coached every day in the St. Norbert tradition — by word and example.”
After retiring, La Violette moved to Florida, but he didn’t give up coaching. In 1999, at age 68, he took over as football coach at St. Andrew’s High School in Boca Raton, Fla., which had been on the verge of scrapping its program. He coached the Scots for five seasons until retiring for good in 2003.
La Violette graduated from Central Catholic High School in 1949 and from St. Norbert in 1954, then served in the U.S. Army. He taught and coached at Fond du Lac Springs and Beloit Catholic high schools before coming to Pennings in 1959.
He also taught at Pennings and was named assistant principal in 1979. He received a Distinguished Achievement Award in Education from St. Norbert. In 1992, he and his wife Anne received the Founders Award for Catholic Education from Notre Dame Academy in Green Bay.
La Violette is survived by his wife of 59 years and four children.
A memorial gathering will be from 9 to 10:45 a.m. Saturday, Feb. 21, at Old St. Joseph Church on the St. Norbert College campus in De Pere, with a funeral Mass at 11 a.m. at the church. A reception will follow at the Bemis Center on campus. A memorial fund has been established in La Violette’s name to benefit the St. Norbert football program.