Gross earns Falls athletic hall of fame honor

Sept. 7, 2010

Menomonee Falls Athletic Hall of Fame inductee John Gross just laughed and laughed when reminded of the stories of his hard-throwing, high-flying championship days as a quarterback in the old recreation department flag football league that was held at Falls North in the 1970s.

"I would go out on a fly pattern, and I'd be running and running and I'd say to myself, 'Is he ever going to let that thing go, because he's never going to get it to me'," said former teammate Steve ("Stuart") Shiley, "and then he would throw it, and I'd say 'Oh my God!' because I knew I'd have to kick it into another gear to catch up to it, but invariably he would hit me right in the hands."

"Sometimes I swear that ball would be in the air for 70 yards."

And Shiley loves to relate the story of another Gross receiver, former Falls basketball great Hal Moesch, who has Brett Favre-like memories of his former QB.

"We would be in the Honey Bucket (the now gone but formerly popular watering hole on Main Street) after games and Hal, who would always run these 10-yard buttonhooks (pass patterns), would pull up his shirt to show all the bruises from John's throws," Shiley said.

"Oh yeah, I remember Hal just complaining and complaining about those," laughed Gross, who will be one of six inductees in the seventh annual class of the Falls Hall of Fame this Friday, "but the really great thing about those days, is how good those teams we had were."

Gross was the fulcrum of it all. A 1965 Falls graduate and a graduate of UW-La Crosse (where he was a roommate for a time with fellow inductee and former Falls cross country and track coach Wayne Bohlmann), Gross was one of the great all-around athletes that came up in the wake of three-sport star Wolf.

In fact, he started on the guard line as a sophomore when Wolf was in the midst of his all-state senior year on Falls' great 1963 Braveland Conference championship squad. He won three letters in baseball (winning a league title in 1964 and earning first-team all league in 1965), claimed two letters in football earning two letters, earning all-league and all-county honors his senior year and was a three-year letter-winner in basketball.

He was the Falls High School athlete of the year in 1965.

Made a mark in softball

But it was his post-high school and post-collegiate work that Gross is best known for.

He was a star third baseman for the great Hart-Etzel softball squads that were always battling Weber Water squads for village softball supremacy, competing with great players like Dan Hart, John Jajtner and Wayne Franke. Gross was also on the powerful Bradley Washfountain Industrial League softball teams that won state titles in 1968 and 1974 as well as a regional title in 1974. He was MVP of the state industrial tournament in 1970 and 1971.

Gross credits Franke for creating the atmosphere that made the Falls a mecca for high quality slow pitch in the 1970s and 80s and for also creating the great football competition up on the field at Falls North.

All for the better of the athletic community in the Falls as Village Park (across from Falls North) would always be packed for high level Tuesday and Friday night softball leagues. It got so good, that in the halcyon days of the 1970s and 1980s, Falls All-Star teams would compete against the great Schlitz professional softball teams in front of overflow crowds at Village Park.

The home runs would be raining down over the leftfield fence down toward Krueger's.

Career took him south

Gross, who would also play rec league hoops for years with Shiley and others, was a big part of all that. He would eventually move on as his career in plant management took him first to the South Side of Milwaukee and then to Tennessee.

He's been retired and living in North Carolina a few years now and spends his time doting on his three children and six grandchildren. He's looking forward to catching up with old friends this weekend and is greatly humbled by this honor.

Gross recently took a tour of the newly refurbished school with Athletic Director Dave Petroff and was impressed, especially to be joining the ranks of all those other honorees who have plaques on the wall along the main hallway.

"I'm just tickled pink over this," he said. "I think about all those athletes at my old school, then all those when there were two schools (East and North) and now all the kids coming up. I'm just so humbled by all this."

"I pale in comparison.

There are others who don't think so.

"Oh, there's no question about it," said Shiley of Gross' inclusion in the hall of fame. "He (Gross) was just a great natural athlete."

2010 Hall of Fame class

WHEN: Friday at the Indians home football game with Brookfield Central that starts at 7 p.m. The group will be introduced at halftime and then there will be a plaque ceremony in the school afterwards. The public is welcome.

HONOREES: include John Gross (three-sport athlete at Falls and post-college softball star); former Falls cross country and track coach Wayne Bohlmann; Susan Jeanne Schneider-Momsen (swimmer and noted Paralympics advocate); Mike Osborne (state champion diver); Katie Rechlicz-Turtenwald (all-around athlete and basketball coach); and Angie Wildish (captain of NCAA champion volleyball team).

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