Those who grew up with Jim Haluska, who quarterbacked the University of Wisconsin football team to its first Rose Bowl appearance and went on to a Hall of Fame high school football coaching career, remember the Racine native as an exceptional three-sport athlete.
Haluska, a 1950 graduate of St. Catherine’s High School, died Thursday of a heart attack. He was 79.
Haluska began his collegiate career at the University of Michigan, but transferred to Wisconsin and led the Badgers to the 1952 Big Ten title and a berth in the Rose Bowl, which they lost 7-0 to Southern Cal.
Haluska represented Wisconsin in the 1955 Blue-Gray Game and 1956 Senior Bowl, and played in the 1956 Chicago Tribune College All-Star Game.
Nicknamed “Bombo” in his youth, Haluska was selected by the Chicago Bears in the 30th and final round of the 1954 NFL draft and played five games in the 1956 season, completing one of four passes for eight yards.
But a professional football career wasn’t in the cards for Haluska and he went on to a successful coaching career.
His high school teams won three WISAA state titles and 12 conference championships. He finished with a career record of 206-60-4 coaching at Milwaukee Don Bosco, Milwaukee Thomas More, Milwaukee Pius XI and Waukesha Catholic Memorial.
Haluska quarterbacked St. Catherine’s in the late 1940s, teaming with fullback Jim Feest, receiver Don Penza and halfback Joe Bado to lead the Angels to an unbeaten season in 1949 under coach Eddie Rice.
Played with Ameche
At Wisconsin, Haluska teamed with Kenosha native Alan Ameche, the former Kenosha Bradford standout who went on to win the Heisman Trophy in 1954. Haluska set UW records during the 1952 season by passing for 1,552 yards and 12 touchdowns in leading the Badgers to a 6-3-1 overall record and 4-1-1 Big Ten Conference mark.
Haluska was inducted into the UW Athletic Hall of Fame in August and was a 2001 inductee of the Wisconsin Football Coaches Association Hall of Fame.
Bado played football, baseball and basketball with Haluska at St. Catherine’s and remembers Haluska as having a “very good throwing arm.”
“That’s probably why he gravitated to football (in college),” the 80-year-old Bado said, adding that Haluska probably could have competed at the major collegiate level and possibly professionally in baseball or basketball as well.
“Jim was a very dedicated person in terms of developing his skills in all the sports he participated in,” Bado said. “He probably could have gone a lot further if his career wasn’t interrupted by a broken leg (suffered during a baseball game). That leg did not mend properly and had to be re-broken. It was never right.”
Bob Stanton, another neighborhood childhood friend, also lauded Haluska’s athletic abilities.
“He was a very good friend,” the 75-year-old Stanton said of Haluska. “Growing up, I always looked up to Jim. I always wished I could be the athlete he was.”
“He excelled at everything,” Stanton said. “He was a very hard worker and played the game very seriously. He was a no-nonsense type, although he did have fun.”