Wednesday, February 1, 2017

Al Mancheski  Obit - by Janson Mancheski


Alvin “Doctor Al” Mancheski, the football coach who built winning programs at Sturgeon Bay High School in the 1950s, then at Green Bay East in the 1960s, passed away peacefully in his sleep Wednesday night at his home in Green Bay, Wisconsin. 

Dr. Mancheski (a former optometrist, as well as a high school teacher, wrestling, baseball and football coach), was 95 years old, and had been in failing health for the past six months. 

Born in nearby Denmark Wisconsin on February 23, 1921, the Mancheski family moved to Green Bay when Al was ten. Like East High’s Curly Lambeau before him, if there was one word that would summarize the next 50 years of his life, that word would be “Football.” Al became an outstanding athlete at East High in the late 1930s and 1940, where he was all-conference running back in both his junior and senior years, leading the Fox River Valley conference in rushing. He played under legendary East High and former Packers’ top assistant coach, Tom Hearden, whom he viewed as a substitute father figure.

Besides playing football, Al lettered in baseball and was an outstanding basketball player. He was also a champion pole vaulter, and placed second at the 1940 state high school track meet. Al went on to the University of Wisconsin, where his football coach was the former quarterback of Notre Dame’s fabled Four Horsemen, Harry Stuhldreher. When World War II broke out, Al joined the Army Air Corps, and spent most of the time in the Pacific Theater as a medic and physician’s surgical assistant.
Back from the war in 1946, Al was named the most valuable player on the Badgers’ JV squad. He joined Coach Stuhldreher’s Wisconsin football staff in 1947. Al’s coaching lineage was notable now, with two Hall of Fame coaches (Hearden and Stuhldreher) having served as his mentors. It was time for Coach Al to head a program of his own.

In a coaching career that spanned the following 25 seasons, Al Mancheski won multiple accolades as a great motivator. He was considered an innovator in his time, and among the first to implement weight training for high school players. He also taught his players “vision/quickness” training, and supplied them with contact lenses in lieu of glasses while playing. His teams at Sturgeon Bay won championships in 1948 – 50, and 1958 – 59, at one point going 20 – 1.

Al took over the reins at his Green Bay East alma mater in 1960 – 68, where his undefeated team won the Fox River Valley Conference championship in 1965. The Red Devils earned the state’s highest rankings in both the AP and UPI polls. That same year, Coach Al was named the Wisconsin Football Coach of the Year. He also won the Fox Cities Sports Award. His COTY award was presented by college football legend, Woody Hayes.

After leaving East High to devote time to his growing optometric practice, Al remained an assistant coach at Premontre High School for the next five years. He afterwards served as a long-time member of the WISAA Football Championship Selection Committee. In 1965, Al was honored as a charter member of the Wisconsin Football Coaches Hall of Fame.

A lifelong Packers and Badgers fan, Al often told stories of practicing on the East High field while Curly Lambeau’s Packers warmed up outside the Old City Stadium fence. The fact that Al’s long-time mentor and friend, Tom Hearden, played and coached with Curly Lambeau, allowed Al into the Packers’ inner circle. When Hearden was nearly named the team’s head coach for the 1958 season, he assured Al that he’d place him as an assistant on his new Packers coaching staff.

In his later years, having retiring from coaching as well as his optometry practice, Al turned to book authorship. He conveyed his personal story about Tom Hearden’s life to his son, Janson, and together they co-authored the novel Shoot For the Stars – The Tom Hearden Story. It tells the remarkable tale of one man’s life in football, much the same way Al’s own story reads. The book has received rave reviews since it's publication in 2015, and is considered by football and non-sports fans alike as one of the finest sports-themed novels ever written. 

Al is survived by his wife, the former Dawn Marie Trask, whom he married in 1951; his sons Janson, Mark, and Randall, all of Green Bay, daughters Nancy (DeCleene) and Amy (King), along with grandchildren Chase and Somer (DeCleene). 

A funeral has been scheduled for 10 A.M. Monday at St. Mary of the Angels church.

Friday, May 13, 2016


Here’s my radio script copy that I was too chicken to run: RADIO SCRIPT 
ANNOUNCER: Today we’re interviewing two ghosts of Packers past. Take it away, gentlemen:
BLOOD: Hi. I’m Johnny Blood. Hall of Fame running back for the Green Bay Packers.
CROWLEY: And my name’s Jim Crowley. I grew up in Green Bay. And I’m still remembered as one of Notre Dame’s all-time greatest ball carriers.
BLOOD: One of the Four Horsemen, weren’t you, Jim?
CROWLEY: You betcha. The Four Horsemen, Knute Rockne… those were the days, eh Johnny?
BLOOD: That they were, my friend.…. But the reason were talking to you today, is that you can read about many of our exploits—
CROWLEY: (Laughs): Both on and off the field—
BLOOD: — Along with Curly Lambeau, Tom Hearden, and many other great players in the entertaining new football novel SHOOT FOR THE STARS. It’s chock full of behind-the-scene stories many fans have never heard of.
CROWLEY: Where can folks get ahold of this book, Johnny?
BLOOD: Any bookstore can order it. Or Amazon. Or Barnes and Noble.
CROWLEY : So maybe we settle our long-time bet? Who the greatest running back in Green Bay history really was?
BLOOD: Let’s let the fans decide. They’re usually right.
CROWLEY: SHOOT FOR THE STARS. What football was like back when men were men, and their broken noses proved it.
BLOOD: By the way, Jim. You’d be a lot better looking today if you’d played with a facemask.
CROWLEY: At least I didn’t play with a constant hangover…
They argue as voices FADE: … I think I’ve still got a few loose teeth, Jim…. And likely still a hangover… Just a little tired, my friend… Remember that time against the Bears? 
ANNOUNCER: SHOOT FOR THE STARS… The perfect gift for every football fan you know. Order your copy today.

Monday, January 5, 2015


Are the FBI and NSA really watching us? Of course they are. Countless reports of mass-scale data collection—along with testimony from high-ranking security officials—tell us that there are “risk profiles” our government is keeping on every one of us. With sophisticated surveillance systems hoovering-up our personal phone, Internet, and e-mail details every minute of every day, I can’t help but wonder how my own file reads.
What brought this topic to recent light has to do with an early Christmas gift I decided to give myself, rather than any hint of criminality on my part. Please allow me to explain:
First off, as a fiction writer—one whose mind is continuously hatching plot-twists and fanciful characters—my concentration levels tend to briefly wander at times. It doesn’t mean I’m spaced-out, but only that my mind sometimes loses track of mundane things like checking accounts, stop lights, and grocery lists. This results in fleeting episodes of unfocused thought. Consider Einstein, as an example, forgetting to zip his fly while quantum equations pirouette in his head. When this happens, the results can at times be embarrassing; most often they are merely amusing.
Using this “mind drift” as my defense, here’s how things went south when I ordered my aforementioned holiday gifts. While at the same time setting off alarms in the dark corridors of some cavernous NSA data-harvesting lab. 
The set-up goes like this: Over the past two summers I’ve discovered that a troop of small rodents has taken up residence in my backyard bushes. They are field mice or voles, something of the sort, and seem to thrive on fresh grass. Finally I’d had enough of their destructive presence. I searched YouTube for tricks on how to get rid of them. My search lead to a product called Havoc, a “rodenticide” claiming to “Get rid of rats and mice.” The main ingredient is something called brodifacoum, which is essentially a sophisticated version of potassium cyanide.
Excellent. I typed in my desire for the 8 lb. tub of the stuff. Should do the trick, I snickered.
The problem is, I never finalized the shipment. Instead the order sat in my Amazon shopping cart for three months. Now speed forward to the last week of November. Halloween has come and gone, but I remembered receiving a Goodreads e-mail list called The Ten Most Frightening Ghost Stories of 2014. I decided to treat myself to an early holiday gift, and picked out six novels that I hoped would cause my bones to shiver at night. Then I logged into Amazon and ordered the books, not paying the slightest attention to the older items still sitting in my shopping cart.
I was pondering my order two days later, when it dawned on me. I looked up my order and sure enough…they had shipped my new scary novels, along with the other items in my cart. I tried to imagine who the Amazon order-takers really are. I assume they’re everyday people, folks with at least a bit of a sense of humor. And people being people, I imagined how much delight they might experience (boredom relief?) when comparing notes on the most ridiculous orders they receive. I pictured the order-taker on my account calling out to her co-workers, “Hey, get a load of this sicko. He just ordered eight pounds of cyanide and a half-dozen crime-horror books.”
I pictured the co-workers gathering around her screen, perhaps even bringing up my writer’s website out of curiosity. More laughter. My website (if one bothers to check) says I specialize in “suspense and terror, frightening scenes of murders and kidnappings,” et cetera. Having a photo of a graveyard as my site heading likely doesn’t help matters. Especially with this gaggle of Amazon employees staring at my order of cyanide (an 8 lb. tub, no less), and a half-dozen gruesome horror novels.
All right. So here’s my note in advance, offering a preemptory mea culpa: “Dear FBI. I’m not planning any crimes or dastardly doing with the rat poison. Please excuse me from any and all accidents or transgressions in my neighborhood. Especially those involving small pets. I wasn’t considering the ramifications when I placed my order. Sincerely, Jeffrey Dahmer.”
OK. Forget the last part. Just kidding, Mr./Ms. FBI agent. Just an attempt at a little dark holiday humor. Ha, ha. Anyway, Happy New Year. And to all my friends and readers: Please come and visit me at Leavenworth Penitentiary.

Monday, December 8, 2014


Six book analysts decided to form a review group. They called themselves The Illuminators, with their goal being to shine light on excellent stories, thereby separating these from the quagmire of mundane books currently being foisted upon the public. Each expert was a professional, and each had consumed thousands of books of all types. The popularity of these experts was so keen that readers sent them hundreds of questions and queries every month, asking for their recommendations on a wide variety of novels. The experts were pleased to share their knowledge, especially with book lovers who asked them thoughtful questions.
One day, our six analysts were given a challenge by an assertive young writer. The writer, it seemed, had a dilemma: he couldn’t figure out how to define his recently published book. This writer had racked his brain in search of what should have been a simple answer. He had read about The Illuminators, and decided these experts possessed so much knowledge between them, that they could easily provide him with the solution. 
Most often a book’s theme is self-evident. Novels define themselves by structure or genre. Some stories are mysterious in nature; they construct a puzzle in the mind of the reader. Other tales follow logical patterns and reveal the rich tapestry of the characters within. Still other plots thrive on emotion and conflict. These episodes take the reader on a journey through the murky travails of everyday human life.
The Illuminators met monthly. Intrigued as they were by the young writer’s puzzle, they had taken up the challenge to assist him in defining his story. So they were gathered now after dark, sitting in a familiar parlor around a large oaken table. In the center had been placed a copy of Shoot For The Stars.
The group’s head, a thin man with a goatee, spoke first. “As you know, we’ve been tasked with defining the nature of this book sitting before us. I, Goatee, as group leader, shall start things off. He stretched his hand to the center, laying his palm on the cover of the book, like a witness does a bible. “This story,” continued Goatee, “is about the founding years of professional football. It is a story about Curly Lambeau, the man who built the Green Bay Packers from scratch. With so apparent a football theme, it is obviously a sports book.”
The reader to his left eyed him curiously. She wore horned rimmed glasses and bore the image of a librarian. “You must have read it wrong, my friend. While the story arc is about sports, the message conveyed is that of a love story. It spins the life of Tom Hearden, a Curly Lambeau protégé. And true, it reveals how he sets about on his lifelong dream to one day coach of the Green Bay Packers. Yet at its heart it is a tale about romance: Tom’s love of his boyhood team. The love of his life, however, is Marion, his wife. The primary narrative is about their journey together as a couple. Thus, it reads as a love story.”
She pulled her hand back from the center and leaned back with a satisfied smile.
Our third reader displayed a pinched face, and thus we call the diminutive man Prune. “My learned colleagues are both off base,” he said, thin arm extended. “To me this story is a memoir. Our young writer interviews his father, who is ninety-three-years old. From his wisened perspective, he reveals the journey of his personal friend and mentor, unveiling Tom Hearden’s life from his time as a young boy, his love for the Packers, and unmasking how Tom was almost—but for a health failure—named head coach of the Packers. Thus it is a memoir, I say. One which transports us on an amazing journey through our nation’s past century.”
“I have a different take on it,” said our fourth reader, a man in a gray fedora. “This reads as a motivational story to me. Tom is dogged in pursuit of his dream; so dogged, in fact, that the reader cannot help but cheer him along. Setting goals, self-discipline, perseverance. Even the title Shoot For The Stars emphasizes his journey.
“Poppycock,” proclaimed our fifth expert.” She had upswept hair in the fashion of Doris Day. She placed her dainty palm on the book. “I was a New York editor for fifteen years. I certainly know a mystery when I read one.”
“Mystery?” protested the Librarian. “Where is the conflict, my dear? Where is the crime?”
“Tension ripples beneath the surface.” Doris wafted her free hand. “Will Tom make it to the mountain top? Will he fulfill his dream to one day coach the Packers? Or will he be waylaid along his journey?”
Prune gave her a searching look. “Waylaid by whom? Who, pray tell, might the villain be?”
“The villain—my good fellow—is a most dastardly antagonist. One known to us all. He is none other than Father Time.”
Heads nodded and they became quiet, digesting the suggestion of the metaphore.
Goatee finally broke the silence. He extended his hand once more to the table’s center. “My good friends,” he said, with aplomb, “we have here before us an amazing book. When we each read the identical work, and each come to a different conclusion on how best to label it, we have a gem of a story sitting before us.”
His colleagues prompted him to continue. “Therefore,” Goatee went on, “our conclusion is solid: this story is not only a sports story, but a lesson in history as well. It is simultaneously a memoir, as well as being filled with motivational advice. Furthermore”—a quick nod to Doris—“it is a mystery in its own right, a tale filled with suspense to the very end.”
“Such being the case, how do we then define it for the writer?” asked Fedora. “Isn’t that the mission we took upon ourselves?”
Goatee roped them all with a look. “It is a blended plot, multi-dimensional, one that readers of all ages can enjoy. Anyone with a taste for a splendid story will be satisfied when they turn the final page of Shoot For The Stars. I will pass our critique along to our young writer friend. We score his novel with flying colors.”
It was rare, indeed, for these six savvy experts to agree that a book could be so many different things to readers, and still be the same story. Like the famous parable of the six blind men and the elephant, it took a truly wondrous tale to be so satisfying to them all.

Saturday, September 6, 2014


I was talking to my old friend Yak Smirnov the other day, and the conversation swung around to my newest book Shoot For The Stars. Smirnov, a critic by nature, kept defining the book as historical fiction. I listed it that way initially, I explained, but then switched the listing to “creative nonfiction.” This prompted a discussion, and as we were drinking vodka on the rocks, (tip: be careful trying to keep up with a Russian when vodka’s involved) we each kept reiterating our same points over and over. I tried to coax him over to my point of view by explaining the difference.
“Historical fiction,” I said professorially, “are stories taking place within an actual historical time period. Or based around true historic events. The characters can be real people from the past, or completely fictitious. At times a combination of both.”
“Like Planet of the Apes,” Smirnov said, pouring himself another drink. We were sitting at my kitchen table and the lights were off. Faint moonlight seeped in through the window. The room was quiet.
“I think that’s fiction.” I reached for the bottle after he’d set it down.
“How can you say that?” Smirnov protested. “‘Apes’ really happened. It happened in the past.”
“Or was it the future?” I winked at him.
Smirnov swallowed his vodka. If he knew I was pulling his leg, he didn’t let on. “It depends if you envision time as linear. Neither I nor Kierkegaard do.”
I decided to reel him back to our conversation. “Creative nonfiction, on the other hand, is a factual story about real people who are involved in real events. The history can be proven and verified.”
“What about dialogue?” he asked.
“Aye, there’s the rub,” I said. 
“Is that Shakespeare or Arthur Conan Doyle?” 
“What? The rub?” I thought about it. “Shakespeare, would be my guess. Maybe Hamlet? I think Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes was fond of saying, ‘Evil’s afoot’.”
“Wrong, jackass!” Smirnov laughed. “The game’s afoot is Shakespeare, again. Henry the something or other. Evil’s afoot is Doyle borrowing Shakespeare.”
“Forsooth?” I said, playing along.
“Sure as we’re drinking vodka together.”
This circuitous conversation needed to end, I decided. “So I hope this clears up your confusion on historical fiction versus creative nonfiction.”
Smirnov thought for a minute. “I suppose. But let’s see if I’ve got it right: you making up BS and setting it in a real time period…that’s historical fiction. You writing about real people and stuff that actually happened, then making up the crap they might have said about it—that’s creative nonfiction.” He smirked. “That about right?”
I shrugged.
“What about our conversation here? Right now? Fiction or nonfiction?”
“Well, you’re real, aren’t you? We’re talking actual words and drinking vodka together. So I’d say we’re in a nonfiction story.”
“Except for the part where your mind plays tricks,” Smirnov suggested, a glint near his label. “What if I’m just the bottle of vodka sitting here on your table? Nothing more?”
I sighed. “You’re giving me a headache.” I shoved my glass toward him. “Pour me another drink. Please.”
Smirnov filled my glass. “What about your hangover tomorrow?” he asked. “Is that going to be real or fiction?”
I closed my eyes and sipped my drink. A cloud passed over the moon and the room’s faint light grew a little dimmer.

Wednesday, July 9, 2014


My fourth novel, Shoot For The Stars, is now out on Amazon/B&N/and for order via national bookstores. It’s always a slow process when you’re an independent writer, but the positive reviews and remarks have been pouring in from early readers, so I’m quite encouraged. 
I’d also like to thank my dad, Al Mancheski, who we listed as “co-author.” I told the story in my father’s voice and it’s his story, so why not? This makes him the only 93 year old first time novelist in the nation. So congrats to Coach Al!!
Last Wednesday I did an interview on WNFL’s Maino & Nick morning sports talk radio show. (Might be available on their podcast) I’d like to thank John Maino for the concise and spot-on questions regarding the story. One of the questions was: What prompted me to turn away from writing crime fiction and write a non-fiction football book? Easy answer: having grown up in Green Bay and having a father as a football coach, and having played football at old East High/City Stadium, I have always wanted to write a sports novel. When I searched for topics, the Packers and old Packers’ history just naturally fell into place. But I didn’t want to write anything about my own experiences with the team (1990s), or the done-to-death Lombardi Era. So I decided to go way back in Green Bay football history and emphasize the Curly Lambeau era, instead. Then I decided that instead of a simple sports story (full of facts and figures and game highlights), I wanted to focus more on characters and personalities. This then became the genesis of Shoot For The Stars.
The story is more about the people involved, than a mere football book. Curly Lambeau comes to life as a character; and the relationship between Tom Hearden and his wife, Marion, becomes a thread throughout the book. This is how people evolve through the years, couples make decisions together, and I wanted to emphasize the loving side of their family and marriage rather than simply the football side. Also, Tom Hearden’s rise through the coaching ranks could not have happened without Dominic Olejniczak and Jim Crowley (his old high school friends), so I enjoyed the way the interplay of their relationships played out. 
All in all, I’m pleased with the story. I wanted it to read more like the basketball novel “Hoosiers,” than a facts and figures book. With the excellent reviews beginning to pour in (see Kirkus Reviews on What’s New yellow link on left), and with the help of my father, I think we’ve accomplished that. 
Hope you enjoy Shoot For The Stars. I’m always happy to answer questions about the Packers—old time or new—or the book, or writing questions in general. Always remember to be good in the huddle, Janson.

Sunday, April 13, 2014


My fourth novel SHOOT FOR THE STARS — (The Tom Hearden Story) is a work of historical fiction. It is not affiliated with The Chemist crime trilogy. Shoot For the Stars is a story that recounts the early years of the Green Bay Packers, covering the decades from Curly Lambeau’s founding of the team in 1919, to the hiring of Vince Lombardi in 1959. But this story is far from a mere football book. I attempted to bring life to the characters involved, and the result is part historical fact/part love story. The premise is simple: What if the Packers had hired a coach other than Vince Lombardi? How would the course of history have been changed? Not just for the Packers, but for the entire National Football League? It’s not as far-fetched as it sounds. The team was in turmoil after a decade of none-winning seasons. There were many credible names being bandied about after Lisle Blackbourn was fired after his (3 – 9) 1957 season. And one of the names which rose to the forefront of possible new coaches was Blackbourn’s head assistant, a coach named Tom Hearden.
Over the years, my father, Alvin Mancheski, used to tell me the story of how his old high school football coach (Tom Hearden) almost was hired by the Packers to be their new head coach for the 1958 season. Three years ago, I interviewed my dad for the purpose of writing this book. And the story evolved into something much more than a football book: it became, instead, about how one man’s dream can challenge him throughout his lifetime. Tom Hearden’s story is one of successes and failures, one of joy and tears. But throughout the story one thing never changes: Tom’s driving desire to attain the goal he set for himself when he was just a boy: to someday become head coach of his favorite team, the Packers.
As this is my father’s tale, and it’s about a man he knew and respected. I elected to allow him to tell the story in his own words. I also did a brief interview with Al Mancheski about his mentor and friend, Tom Hearden, which I’ve enclosed in this blog. Enjoy. And remember: never lose sight of your dreams.
9 Questions for Dr. Al Mancheski about Tom Hearden

1) How well did you know Tom Hearden?
AM: Quite well. I grew up in Denmark, Wisconsin. We lost our family farm during the Depression and moved to Green Bay when I was ten-years old. I was an only child, and my dad passed away a few years later. So Tom — my high school football coach — became like a second father to me.
2) What was Tom Hearden like as a football coach? His strengths? His weaknesses?
AM: Being a Navy man, he was always well organized. And he had his own experience playing multiple positions at Notre Dame as a two-way player: everything from defensive lineman to blocking and running back. So he understood the game inside and out. He told me once that he learned strategy from Coach Rockne, and the passing game from Curly Lambeau.
3) In Shoot For the Stars: The Tom Hearden Story, Tom gives some very effective pregame and halftime speeches to his teams. Was he really a good motivational speaker?
AM: Tom was very passionate as a speaker. Sometimes to the point where his face and neck would redden as he became more and more stirred up.
4) Do you remember Coach Curly Lambeau and the Packers at the old City Stadium? Back when you were playing for East High in ’39 – 40? 
AM: The Packers practiced on the same field, but at different times. We’d watch them warming up beyond the fence. But it wasn’t that big a deal back then. Most often, both of us used the east side practice field, to help preserve the turf on the real field. But occasionally we practiced inside the stadium. 
5) Do any players or coaches stand out in particular? That you remember from back then?
AM: Two of them that I remember most. For a time as a young boy—maybe 11 or 12—I picked up the nickname “Mike” after Mike Michalske. He and Hank Brouder would sneak a few of my friends and me into the games, rather than us climbing the fence or sneaking through a cut hole on the bottom. During cold games, they’d sneak us into the stadium sometimes tucked beneath their long cold-weather coats.
5) You knew Dominic Olejniczak quite well. Do you recall any specifics about him as a person? Or stories about him relating to the Packers?
AM: Ole was a good friend of mine, and he followed my own East High teams as an alumnus. He was always interested in how we did. And he was also exceptionally kind to my mother (Frances), and helped her get a maintenance job at Washington Junior High.
6) Did Tom Hearden ever mention any stories about Curly Lambeau? Or back at Notre Dame playing for Knute Rockne? Or of Jim Crowley at East High, or with him at Notre Dame?
AM: Not very much. And as high schoolers, we weren’t smart enough to ask him. But everyone knew it back then. Once in a while, when he’d give his fiery speeches, we used to kid among ourselves that he was impersonating “Knute Rockne again.”
7) Did Tom Hearden ever mention being close to getting the Packers’ head coaching job for the 1958 season? Was it close, or really only a long shot?
AM: I talked to Tom quite frequently in those days. Every two or three weeks or so. I examined his eyes (I’d become an optometrist by then) a few times over the years, and had him come up to Sturgeon Bay to speak to my football team. (Sturgeon Bay High School). Tom told me that he’d been hired by the Packers. That they had a verbal agreement. This was right before he suffered his stroke.
8) What made Tom Hearden so exceptional as a football coach? 
AM: He was a winner, and could out-think most other coaches. He seemed to run circles around them intellectually. And he was great in the locker room. I remember hearing stories about him as a Packers’ assistant coach: all the Packers’ players loved him. So I think he’d have done quite well as a head coach. 
9) Is there anything else you’d like to add about playing for Coach Hearden? 
AM: As I said earlier, Tom was like a father to me. He helped me out by suggesting I go to Wisconsin to play college football, instead of my initial desire to go to Notre Dame. And back then, the war was screwing everything up for everybody. But Tom was a great guy to have as a friend and advisor for all the years that I knew him.

Shoot For the Stars — The Tom Hearden Story is available now through Amazon Press.