Try 1 month for 99¢

Lance Leipold was still wet behind the ears when it happened.

It was 1984, and Leipold was a sophomore backup quarterback with the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater football team. He watched with glee from the sideline as quarterback Jim Stoppenbach — a fellow Jefferson High School graduate — threw a long touchdown pass at what was then called Warhawk Stadium.

The TD, caught by Kelly Silha, gave the Warhawks a 27-21 victory over UW-River Falls, and a share (with the Falcons) of the 11th and final Wisconsin State University Conference championship that Forrest Perkins earned as UW-Whitewater's football coach.

As Perkins, Stoppenbach and Leipold celebrated the last-minute victory, the UW-Whitewater boosters drove a new car onto the field, a gift for the coach.

That 1984 game was Perkins' last. He said at the time that he was retiring for health reasons.

On Saturday, more than 30 years after that game, Leipold was leading the Warhawks through pre-game warmups — at what is now called Perkins Stadium — before coaching his final home game at UW-Whitewater, an NCAA Division III semifinal against Linfield College of McMinnville, Ore.

And that's where he heard that his former coach, Perkins, had passed away a few hours earlier at the age of 94.

"I hope all of us can retire for health reasons and then live 30 more years," Leipold said after the Warhawks beat Linfield, 20-14, to advance to the Stagg Bowl national championship game for the ninth time in 10 years.

Perkins coached the Warhawks for 29 seasons, from 1956 through 1984, putting together a 189-89-7 overall record. His teams won 11 Wisconsin State University Conference titles, enjoyed 27 winning seasons and went 149-58-5 in league play. He coached 15 All-Americans and three conference players of the year.

Perkins led the Warhawks to a runner-up finish in the 1966 National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics championship game and was named that year's NAIA Coach of the Year.

Perkins was known for molding strong small-school quarterbacks, such as Stoppenbach and Leipold — and, earlier, Bob Berezowitz, an NAIA All-American who went on to coach the Warhawks to their first NCAA III championship appearance.

Perkins managed the school's transition to NCAA Division III membership, which was completed in 1981, and at the time of his retirement he ranked as the second-winningest coach in NCAA III.

Most of all, though, he was a coach.

"He'd come to our spaghetti dinners from time to time, and all he'd ever ask me or the players was: Are the boys ready for kickoff?" said Leipold, who is leaving Whitewater after the Stagg Bowl to become head coach at NCAA Division I University at Buffalo.

"He still had that mindset of a coach," said Warhawks senior defensive lineman Mykaell Bratchett. "He was very encouraging. We used that as a boost.

"He lived a full life, and it's been a blessing being part of the program he helped to build."

Perkins also served as the Warhawks' athletic director from 1971 through his retirement. He was the school's first track and field and baseball coach and led the early stages of the seven-year project that led to the 1970 opening of what is now Perkins Stadium, perhaps the most impressive football facility in all of NCAA Division III.

"Coach Perkins was way ahead of his time," Leipold said. "When you look at this stadium and what he did to get this started, and he started the Department of Safety (academically) and started the (Department of) Coaching minor, he did a lot of big things."

"Forrest was a great educator, a great coach, a great visionary and a great man," Director of Athletics Amy Edmonds said. "We owe much of the success we have today to his dedication to the university and his vision for athletics. We are deeply saddened by the news of his passing and send our condolences to the Perkins' family."

Perkins earned 13 letters as an athlete at Dodgeville High School and played football, basketball and baseball at UW-Platteville in 1944 while earning a bachelor's degree in education. He earned a master's degree from UW-Madison in 1950. He coached baseball at Fort Atkinson and Merrill and football at Racine Park before coming to Whitewater.

Born Nov. 13, 1920, Perkins served with the United States Marines during World War II (1941-1944) while enrolled at UW-Platteville.

The former Warhawk Stadium was renamed in his honor in 1996. It holds 13,500, the most of any NCAA Division III stadium.

"Between (Perkins) and Coach Berezowitz, nothing would be more fitting than to come here and see what we have now, the name Perkins on the stadium and the name Berrezowitz on the building next to it," Leipold said.


Wisconsin State Journal prep sports editor Art Kabelowsky has traversed the state to cover sports while working for daily papers in Fort Atkinson, Racine, La Crosse, Milwaukee and Baraboo.