Denfeld Hunters named after school’s greatest coachWalt Hunting is the second man that Denfeld High School honored by taking his name.
By: Joe Vukelich, Duluth Budgeteer News
Walt Hunting was one of the greatest coaches in America from 1927-1955. He won city, district, region and state championships in golf, basketball, baseball and football, but made himself a legend coaching football at Denfeld.
In 28 years as Denfeld’s football coach, he had close to a 70 percent winning percentage, 14 city titles, six undefeated teams, four unofficial and one official state championship. In 1935, fans would yell: “Here come “Hunting’s Hunters!” which became the permanent nickname of the school.
Walt was an All-Conference football player at Lawrence College, a World War I veteran and coached Stevens Point High School basketball team to a state title.
In his first year as coach here, we went undefeated, outscored our opponents 131-12 and won the state title. For many years, the seasons reflected similar statistics, a success also reflected in many of the statistics of other Denfeld Hall of Famers. His teams were undefeated in (the autumn of) 1927, 1935, 1942 and 1948. Undefeated with one tie in 1938 and 1943, the 1943 team went 4-0-1 (probably because of the war) and outscored our opponents for the season 79-0.
Walt’s teams rolled up such impressive records and statistics by the late 1930s that Denfeld had to schedule two to three games a year (out of an 8-game schedule) against out-of-state teams. He attended Knute Rockne’s football clinic and then moved the traditional “T” formation backfield to a “Y” formation. The success of that lead to his being asked to write for a
national publication, the “Athletic Journal.”
At the end of his career, he was asked by Duluth newspaper journalist Runcie Martin about naming a Denfeld all-star team. Hunting was, “Hesitant … he compromises by saying ‘I’d like to match my
mythical team — at the same age and in peak form — against any college team in the country.’” This is known as his “Dream Team” or the Denfeld all-star team from 1927-1955. In addition to current Denfeld Hall of Fame members, he added Cliff Holmes, “Fat” Johnson, Earl Thorpe, Dave Piering, Kenny Sorenson, George Sommers, “Slish” Anderson and John Cameron.
While his sports honors are legendary, it is the
personal comments about Walt’s character that truly stand out.
Denfeld football legend Wally Smith called coach Hunting “probably the finest man I ever met” in 1954 and in 1993 added “like a father to me.”
His obituary by the Duluth newspaper stated that “his former pupils and athletes rose to prominence and, without exception, all of them gave Walt Hunting much credit for building the foundation of their success.” Two men told the DAA that they remember their fathers near tears at Walt’s death and another stood to attention at the mention of his name and made it clear he’d be honored to pass long Walt Hunting stories … and that was 50 years after Walt’s death.
Perhaps the most fitting was the assembly for his 25th anniversary of coaching at Denfeld in 1952, when it was said: “It isn’t championships won that make Walt Hunting great. Nobody could be associated with him and not be better for it. Walt Hunting symbolizes everything great about America.”
Ironically enough, if Walt’s wife, Ilene, hadn’t been a Central graduate who wanted to return to Duluth to raise a family, Denfeld would never have been named the “Hunters.”
~ Written by Denfeld Economics teacher, alum and president of the Denfeld Alumni Association, Joe Vukelich. Find out more at denfeldalumni.com.