Howie Zien, class of 1967, was one of the great Bay athletes, a true Mount Rushmore type. He won an astounding 10 letters — three football, three basketball and four track and field. His senior year was as good as it gets: team captain on Suburban Conference champion football, basketball and track teams.
Howie’s well-deserved induction into the Whitefish Bay Athletics Hall of Fame as part of the eighth induction class will take place on April 13, 2019.
Zien was not a big guy as far as football players go. 5’9″ and maybe 165. But tough, quick and very, very fast. He could — and did — score from anywhere on the field, particularly in the return game. The three Bay teams Howie played on went 18-5-1 and tied for the Suburban title in 1966 with Waukesha at 7-1.
The biggest game in 1966 was the mid-season showdown at South Milwaukee. Everybody knew that game would be key in deciding the Suburban title. Rumor has it that during pregame warm-ups there were some comments from South Milwaukee players directed specifically at Zien and they weren’t of the “Red Rockets welcome you” variety.
It was a tough game, a real hard slog. One of the Bays key players, fullback Jeff Ehlenbach, was lost in the first half with a broken ankle. South Milwaukee scored in the second quarter and maintained a 7-0 lead into the fourth and the Bay simply couldn’t get anything going. Then, seemingly out of nowhere, on the first play after a Red Rocket punt, Zien started off left tackle, veered toward the sideline on a play that looked like it was going nowhere, then made one decisive cut, broke through and was gone. 60 yard TD. The dam broke and the Bay scored twice more for a 21-7 win, with QB Tommy Templin providing the go-ahead score.
South Milwaukee finished the season at 6-2, a game back of the co-champions.
Howie was named 1st-Team All-Suburban and 2nd-Team All-State.
At the start of the basketball season the Bay’s prospects were uncertain. They were coming off a disappointing 1966 season that had them in eighth place at 4-12 and had just three senior lettermen returning: 6-6 center Donn Wiese who had been named 2nd-Team All-Suburban in 1966, 6-2 forward Bill Smith and Zien at point guard. They were joined in the starting line-up by 6-3 senior forward Bill Humke (son of long-time Bay Math Department chairman Paul Humke), who had spent the previous season gaining experience with the JV’s and 5-10 junior guard Pete Bilgo.
Shorewood was picked to win the Suburban title and was expected to be challenged by South Milwaukee, Wauwatosa East and the Bay.
The Bay started out the season strong and never let up. Everything clicked. Bill Smith developed into one of the best players in the Suburban and with Donn Wiese and Bill Humke owning the paint on both ends and quickness at guard with Zien and Bilgo, the Bay rolled through the season.
The Bay and South Milwaukee were tied atop the Suburban with 6-0 records when the Red Rockets visited the Bay on December 22, 1966 for a mid-season showdown. The holiday break had started that afternoon and it was a festive, raucous, loud atmosphere in the packed-to-the rafters Memorial Gym.
The Bay made South Milwaukee cry for the second time in two months when they ran the Red Rockets off the floor from the opening tip on the way to an 82-68 win, with the game not being nearly as close as the score would indicate.
The Bay went 15-1 to easily win the Suburban title outright. Donn Wiese and Bill Smith were named All-Suburban.
Then came the WIAA Tournament. The Bay qualified for State for the first time ever. It’s difficult now to convey how big a deal that was. This was still the single class days. And the Bay had spent much of the previous ten years going through anguish and bitter disappointment. It wasn’t all washed away with the Bay making it to State in 1967, but it came close.
From 1958 to 1964 the Bay went 80-20 in Suburban play and won three titles, finished second twice and third three times. They lost in the Sectional final three times, twice by a point and one of those in overtime. They lost in the Regionals in 1961 and 1962 to eventual State champion Milwaukee Lincoln, with the 1962 game being especially heart-breaking. That era featured two players that rank right there at the top with anybody in Bay history in center John Stone and guard Dennis Berkholtz, who was a four-year starter in an era where that simply didn’t happen. There were a bunch of other great players and they were expertly coached by Nick Kuehl through 1961, who then selflessly turned over a great team to Jack Nagle for the 1962 season.
The key game in the 1967 State Tournament run was in the Regionals at Bay against an underachieving, but dangerous Shorewood squad, whose strength was their size. There was a history of Bay beating Shorewood twice during the season, but then losing to the Greyhounds in the Regional. Well into the third quarter, things were going the Bays way, with a lead topping out at 15 points. Then Donn Wiese got called for a foul every time he breathed, he had to come out of the game and Shorewood rallied to get it to 45-38 after three periods. Wiese breathed again early in the fourth quarter and fouled out. Shorewood cut the lead to 50-46 lead with five minutes left and had all the momentum. And then Howie Zien suffered a broken nose on a drive to the basket. It’s difficult to confuse a nose for a basketball, but Shorewood was up to the task. Howie didn’t come out of the game, though play was stopped for quite awhile to wipe the blood off the floor. Howie then went to the line and calmly swished two badly-needed free throws. The game was then stopped several more times to wipe more blood off the floor. Bill Humke also fouled out and Shorewood got it down to two points, but the Bay held on for a knee-shaking 58-56 win. If the Bay had lost that game, many Bay old-timers would have been questioning the meaning of life.
The Bay rolled through the Sectional and then went 1-2 in the State Tournament at Madison, with Zien playing with a protective mask on his face. At Madison the Bay dropped the opener to Appleton 66-55. The Bay had a 35-23 half-time lead and then some Appleton guy who had done nothing in the first half or the Sectional final turned into frickin’ Dollar Bill Bradley in the second half throwing in shots from everywhere, including seemingly the parking lot, while scoring all 23 of his points. The Bay then beat Barron 62-58 in the Consolation bracket before dropping the final game to Green Bay West.
And oh yeah, that’s right, Howie Zien was pretty good in track, too.
Howie had a good sophomore season, placing fourth at the Suburban Outdoor in both the 100 and 180 Low Hurdles. And then he had a total breakout junior season. You name it, he did it.
Things started off at the Suburban Indoor at the Waukesha Field House. Howie won the 65 Low Hurdles in a Suburban record time of 7.6. That time would never be tied or broken, despite a bunch of eventual State hurdles champions coming out of the Suburban in the next 15 years. Howie also won the 65 Dash, beating the great Bob Baker of West Milwaukee.
The Bay was in the team title hunt, but fell just short with Waukesha winning it. Waukesha had two huge advantages in 1) having their Field House to practice in and 2) being way bigger than all other Suburban teams. They were three times as big as Bay and almost four times as big as Shorewood and West Milwaukee.
At the Suburban Relays, Howie ran on the 440, 880 and 540LH relays that finished 2nd, 1st, 2nd and helped Bay win the team title. At the Suburban Outdoor, Howie ran 19.2 in winning the 180 Low Hurdles. That time broke the Suburban record and like Indoor, would never be broken despite a lot of quality guys coming through the Suburban after him.
At the State Meet at Monona Grove, Howie anchored the 880 Relay team that finished second and won the 180 Low Hurdles in a State record time of 19.1. He made a quality field look silly.
Howie’s senior track season seems almost boring in comparison. He successfully defended his 65 Low Hurdles title indoors and then ran on winning 880 and 540 Low Hurdles Relay teams, helping the Bay take the Suburban Relays title.
At the 1967 Shorewood Relays:
Unfortunately, Howie pulled a muscle leading up to the Suburban Outdoor and couldn’t compete. The Bay dug deep, picked up big wins from Steve Coerper in the Pole Vault and Donn Wiese in the High Jump, as well as seconds from Bill Humke in both the High Jump and Long Jump and Mike Lindemann in the High Hurdles and was able to win the team title.
Howie was able to run at the Sectionals and then State, but was nowhere near 100%. He repeated as the State 180 Low Hurdles champion and it took everything he had to hold off Beloit’s Joe Poston. It was a gutty race to cap arguably the best athletic career in the Bay’s great history.
It’s taken a lot of words to attempt to say what Zien’s classmate and teammate Jim Rumack said very eloquently and succinctly in the Whitefish Bay Herald in June, 1967:
And no, we’re not done.
Howie was a member of the National Honor Society, won the Princeton award and the “W” Club award. And if there were 10 more awards, he would have won about seven of them.
He was also in the Honor Ten.
Howie attended Princeton and graduated in 1971 with a degree in Philosophy. He then earned an MBA at NYU’s Stern School of Business and had a long, successful business career in New York City.
Here is a podcast that Howie did in Princeton Alumni Weekly that was published in 2017 regarding student unrest at Princeton back when he was a student in 1970. Interesting stuff.