By Ron Buckli
Published in the Eau Leader-Telegram, September 14, 2011
Former first-team all-state lineman Tom Garnett died last
week in North Carolina.
He was the third outstanding Eau Claire Memorial football player of the
1950s to pass away in the last month.
The others were running backs Al “Jet” Perry and John Zurbachen, who died
within a couple weeks of each other in August.
Garnett, 70, graduated in 1959 and in his career played baseball and some
basketball besides football. As a senior in 1958, he led the way for
Zurbachen and others with sharp blocking from his guard spot. Defensively,
he led the team in tackles with 61. He ranked third in tackles as a
Garnett also was a catcher on the Old Abes’ 1958 state championship
baseball team as a junior and signed with the Washington Senators, playing
in their farm system.
After his playing days, he settled in the east and died in Cary, N.C.
In 1958, the Old Abes went 6-2 and were unbeaten in Wisconsin, ranking No.
7 in the state, losing only to Menominee, Mich., and Sioux Falls (S.D.)
Perry broke in as a junior in 1956 on the first Memorial team, a
powerhouse. The Abes lost the opener to Marinette, 19-14, then swept past
Chippewa Falls, 39-0, Duluth Denfeld, 32-7, La Crosse Central, 40-0,
Menominee, Mich., 39-20, Wausau, 21-13, Wisconsin Rapids, 27-6, and
Stevens Point, 38-0.
He teamed in the backfield with Tom Hessler, giving the Abes a devastating
1-2 attack. Perry rushed for 532 yards and eight touchdowns at an average
of 9.0 yards per carry.
He was back on the 1957 team that went 4-4, rushing for 609 yards and six
TDs at a 6.6 average.
Perry, 71, was nicknamed “Jet” for his blazing speed and the nickname
stayed with him throughout his life.
He died in Edina, Minn., on Aug. 4.
Zurbachen, 69, played in the backfield with Perry as a sophomore and then
led the team in rushing the next two years.
As a junior in 1958, he rushed for 554 yards and six TDs at a 5.9 average
and came back on the 5-3 1959 team for 593 yards and eight TDs at a 6.1
pace. He also led the team in tackles with 60.
Zurbachen went on to play the 1962 season at what is now UW-Eau Claire.
His son Jesse became an outstanding running back at Elk Mound.
Zurbachen and Perry, who played under coach John Gallagher as did Garnett,
still rank high on the Abes’ career rushing list. Zurbachen is 11th with
1,367 yards and Perry not far behind with 1,141. And it must be remembered
that they did it in eight-game seasons.
In that four-year span of the late 1950s, the Abes posted a 22-10 record.