MARINETTE—The Peshtigo Alumni Scholarship Fund got a boost from a Badger legend on Friday.
Dick Bennett, the patriarch of Wisconsin men’s basketball, was on hand at the organization’s 10th annual Pepper “Fore” Peshtigo Scholarship Golf Outing at Little River Country Club.
Bennett cemented his legend status when he coached the University of Wisconsin men’s basketball team to three NCAA Tournaments including a Final Four appearance in 2000. He had already coached UW-Stevens Point to an NAIA National Title game in 1984 and brought the UW-Green Bay program to prominence with NCAA Tournament bids in 1991, ‘94 and ‘95.
Bennett passed his coaching abilities on to his children. His son Tony, who starred for Bennett at UW-Green Bay and went on to play three seasons in the NBA with the Charlotte Hornets, is making a case for the best coaching career in the family having recently led the Virginia Cavaliers to an NCAA title in 2019.
Meanwhile his daughter, Kathi, enjoyed head coaching stints at Indiana, UW-Oshkosh, Evansville and Northern Illinois and is now an assistant at Edgewood University. His brother Jack coached at Marinette High School before going on to lead UW-Stevens Point to back-to-back NCAA Division III National Championships in 2004 and 2005.
Bennett spoke fondly of his close ties to Northeast Wisconsin. A Pennsylvania native, Bennett moved to Clintonville at the age of 12 and was a three-sport star for the Truckers. He went on to play basketball, baseball, and football at Ripon College as well.
Bennett remembers well a run-in with Marinette High School in 1988 while he was coaching at UW-Green Bay and Tony was playing at Green Bay Preble High School. Marinette and Preble both sported undefeated records before locking horns in the first round of the WIAA playoffs.
“Marinette had a really good team. They played really tough for a half, and I think Tony got going in the second half,” Bennett said.
“They were good,” he said of Marinette. “I think Bruce Parkovich was the coach, and he was the assistant coach at Clintonville for quite a while.”
Parkovich is now the girl’s head basketball coach at Peshtigo High School.
Tony averaged 27.6 points per game that season on his way to being named the AP Player of the Year in the State of Wisconsin while leading Preble to the State Quarterfinals and a 24-1 record.
Bennett credited much of the rise of UW-Green Bay basketball to Tony’s prowess on the court.
“Tony was Mr. Basketball for the State and a number of kids committed when they knew he was coming,” Bennett said. “That group turned the whole program and got us into the NCAA (Tournament).
“Tony always worked hard and works hard at his profession now. I have trouble watching his games, but I was at the Final Four, and I was at the Sweet 16 game when they had a miraculous victory against Purdue. I don’t know how they won that one, the Lord had to just bless them to win that one.”
Northeast Wisconsin holds some fond memories for Bennet and he was pleased to help an organization that has a track record of success.
“I don’t go out and speak much, but I felt this group reinforces something that I’ve learned to really believe in and that is the notion of quality,” Bennett said. “Quality isn’t doing something wonderfully one time or two times, but the ability to do it over and over. I don’t know how many times I’ve tried to reinforce that notion to athletes. You can make a great decision once, but you will be a quality player when you make sound decisions regularly. This strikes me as an event of real quality.”
The event, behind lead organizers Jack May and George Ochs, is in its tenth year, and the fund awards six to eight scholarships annually to Peshtigo graduates. With over 60 scholarships granted, the program boasts a 100% success rate with every recipient completing or on track to completing his or her program of choice whether that be a two or four-year degree.
“Think about that,” Bennett said. “This has a record that they can point to that is pretty remarkable.”
May and Ochs started the fund with the idea of providing aid to students who are likely to remain in the area.
“We want to give scholarships to students that have provided service to the community and have some economic need,” Ochs said. “Academics is important, but it’s not high on the list of criteria. We are interested in students that are going to have an inclination to remain in the area.”
“When George called me about starting this, we thought we could help keep people in the area,” May said. “So far it’s working really well. It’s a credit to the school and the applicants themselves, the success we have seen.”
This year, the fund gave out $17,500 in eight scholarships. May and Ochs hoped to bring in around $30K with the golf outing in player fees as well as generous support from area sponsors in order to continue to grow the fund and expand its ability to aide Peshtigo students.
“We started last year doing some learning programs like speed reading at the high school,” Ochs said. “In the future we might do a little more of that. It’s about seeing that these students get well educated and are able to make that step outside of town to see the world a little bit before they come back.”