Celebrating 100 Years of Irish Football
BY CELIA HARRIS AND NICK DOERR
With football being born into Hackett in 1923, this year, 2023, Hackett Catholic Prep celebrates the 100th anniversary of Irish football by honoring the leaders, champions, and achievements in the 100 years of Irish football.
In 1923, Fr. John R. Hackett formed the first Hackett football team called the Gibbons Hall Gibbonites, whose home field was at Kalamazoo College. The Gibbonites played a seven-game season, with a record of 4-3. Two years later, the Gibbonites became the Fighting Irish, and being coached by Harve Freeman, won their first-ever state championship in 1929 and went on to win two more state championships under Freeman's coaching. Later, in 1965, Harve Freeman was inducted into the Michigan High School Coaches Hall of Fame, and (a certain number of years later), Hackett’s gym was renamed in his honor.
In 1939, the Fighting Irish moved their home field downtown to what is known today as the Soisson Rapacz-Clason Field. Irish football still plays on this field today. In 1941, Ted Pavelec was the first Irish alumni to play in the NFL, playing for the Detroit Lions, then in 1950, a second Hackett alum, Chuck Schoolmaster, got drafted by the Baltimore Colts to play in the NFL. In 1943, alum Norb Reisterer took over as the new coach, but only coached for three years before Bill Rajkovich took over the program in 1946. Under the leadership of Rajkovich, the Irish win their next state championship in 1949.
After coaching for nine years Rajkovich retired and Dick Soisson began coaching with the help of John Rapacz in 1956. The two coached together for 34 years until Soisson retired in 1990, and Rapacz passed in 1991. The Irish won two state championships under their leadership, the first in 1963 and then again in 1971.
Mike Jansen, a Hackett alum and member of the 1971 championship team, says that playing for Soisson and Rapacz was “exciting due to their reputation” and described winning the state title as a “very satisfying” experience. The two coaches installed a winning culture throughout the Hackett’s Football Program. Jansen explained how in 1971, the team was independent and didn’t belong to a conference. This inability to win a conference title made them hungrier for a state title.