EagleHerald Sports Editor
Editors note: Seven new members will be inducted into the Marinette High School Hall of Fame Oct. 2 in a ceremony at Little River Country Club in Marinette. Each week, the EagleHerald will highlight one, with this week spotlighting John LaCourt, former Marinette baseball coach.
MARINETTE—There’s an excellent chance that you’ve seen John LaCourt at an area baseball game.
Perhaps he’s standing in the dugout, keeping stats for the Marinette Redbirds. Maybe he’s tending to the grounds at Pedersen Ball Park. He may even be there to take in the sights and sounds of a day at the ball park, but for the man whom locals affectionately refer to as Marinette’s “Mr. Baseball”, LaCourt’s connection to the diamond runs deep.
LaCourt skippered the Marinette baseball team throughout its dynastic heyday of the 1980s through 2005, spending 26 years shaping the minds and skills of the some of the best talent the area had to offer. His track record in terms of wins and losses speaks for itself, but it’s his dedication and passion for baseball and those who play it that has earned LaCourt enshrinement into the Marinette High School Hall of Fame.
“I’m very humbled,” LaCourt said. “I’ve been to every Hall of Fame ceremony and those are a lot of excellent athletes that I have so much respect for. I’m not really sure I’ve accomplished enough to get in.”
Based solely on his win-loss record, LaCourt’s induction is long-overdue.
LaCourt won 311 games as the skipper of Marinette, which was the 13th-most all-time for Wisconsin coaches upon stepping down after the 2005 season. His career record at Marinette is 311-188 and his Marine teams averaged 12 wins per season.
For LaCourt, who was born March 3, 1947, his love of baseball developed at an early age.
“The Marinette REC department had a midget league and that’s where I started playing and I fell in love with it,” he said. “I was a fan of the Milwaukee Braves and when they moved while I was in college, I was devastated but I still couldn’t get enough.”
LaCourt graduated from Marinette Catholic Central (now Saint Thomas Aquinas Academy) in 1964 and attended the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse, becoming a school teacher. After spending two years in Rhinelander, LaCourt accepted a position as a counselor at Marinette High and moved back to his hometown, also to accept a job as the coach of the Marinette JV squad.
When Marines’ head coach Sam Hogan stepped down after the 1979 season, LaCourt was tabbed as his successor. It may seem odd now, given his success, but LaCourt said that he initially had no desire to enter the coaching realm.
“I had no aspirations to coach, but I got into because of Dick Francour,” he said. “Dick coached me for 12 years in amateur ball and I respected his coaching style. After playing for him, I felt that coaching was something I wanted to do.”
Marinette entered the Bay Conference in 1973 and the thought of helping the Marines compete in such a tough conference appealed to LaCourt.
“Marinette was the last team to get into the Bay Conference, so I knew that it would be a challenge with all the tough teams that were in the conference at the time,” he said. “Luckily, I was fortunate to have a lot of talent that year.”
LaCourt coached Dick’s son, Jim Francour, in the 1980 season and the Marines rode their star pitcher to a 14-5 record and Marinette’s first trip to the state title tournament. While the Marines fell to La Crosse Central 15-6 in the state semifinals, the groundwork had been laid for the Marines to experience consistent success throughout the decade.
“That team meshed together so well,” LaCourt said. “Jim was such a talented pitcher and Dennis Meynard was a great catcher and they formed a good battery. I started four sophomores who played JV for me, so they knew how I coached and I knew that they could play. Then we had Mike Messenger starting for us as a freshman. Just a really talented group of kids.”
1990 was a banner year for Marinette Marines athletics with five teams capturing Bay Conference crowns, and the Marines’ baseball team was at the heart of that unbelievable run.
LaCourt’s best season as coach of Marinette came in that year, when a loaded lineup featuring Jeff Messenger, Jedd Bradley, Pat Konyn, Casey Doyle and Scott Sitek powering the Marines to a 19-4 season and a berth in the state championship game.
Marinette battled Madison Memorial for the state championship and came one strike away from claiming the title, only to see Madison tie the game with a groundball single before winning 8-7 in nine innings.
At the time, LaCourt told the Marinette Eagle-Star that “being the number two team in the state is better than being nothing at all.” Three decades later, LaCourt admits that coming up short in the final game of the year was a letdown.
“Of course it was disappointing. It was a great feeling to get to the state championship game but it stung to lose the way that we did.”
LaCourt continued to helm the Marines throughout the ‘90s and the first half of the 00’s but by the time 2005 rolled around, he knew that it was time for a change.
“Twenty six years is long enough,” LaCourt told the EagleHerald after Marinette fell 15-3 to Ashwaubenon in the WIAA Regional opener. “It went fast. It feels like it was two years ago.”
“I had Dave Francour as my assistant coach and I didn’t want the program to go to someone that didn’t have a passion for baseball,” LaCourt says now. “Dave was willing to take over and I knew then that it was time to step aside. Dave is a baseball nut like I am, so I knew that I was leaving the team in good hands.”
LaCourt remains active in area baseball and was honored with the Wisconsin Baseball Coaches Association (WBCA) Distinguished Service award in 2017. He says that today, when a former player greets him and introduces him to his son that plays Little League, it brings everything full-circle.
“It’s great when someone I coached sees me years later and comes up and strikes up a conversation,” he said. “The best part about coaching was being able to teach all those kids how to be better ball players. I always told the team after a season that I hoped they learned to play the game of baseball a little bit better. It was fun coaching.”
Thanks to LaCourt’s dedication and passion, generations of baseball players and fans alike have had plenty of fun.