Cream rises to the top

Bruce High School graduate Darrold Wisherd stands beside the famed “Cream Can” that players on the high school teams played for each year against Cameron, starting with the 1936-37 school year.

When Bruce and Cameron boys basketball teams took to the court to play for the Abbotts Basketball Trophy, the cream always rose to the top. For parts of eight decades, the winner of these classic matches took home the coveted “Cream Can” that represented not only winning the game but also the lengthy dairy heritage of these two nearby communities.

Between 1936 and 2007, the Bruce and Cameron high school boys basketball teams competed on the court. To the victor went not only bragging rights until the teams met next time but also the coveted Cream Can trophy to proudly display at school.

Darrold Wisherd became the starting center on the Bruce High School boys basketball team in 1946, during his sophomore year. He recalls playing for “The Cream Can” six times with three of those games in Bruce and three others in Cameron before his 1949 graduation.

“That damn can. We fought hard trying to keep that Cream Can in Bruce. It was the trophy, and the winner got the can,” said Wisherd, now 90 years old.

Wisherd, who still proudly carries himself on a fit, lanky frame, won the center position because he stood 6 feet, taller than most other boys on the team. He needed little extra motivation in those games against Cameron. For him, there was one incentive to win.

“Because it was Cameron,” Wisherd said.

The honor of taking home the Cream Can added an extra incentive to the rivalry between the two nearby schools. Unofficially, the teams played 103 games with Cameron victorious in 55 contests versus 48 wins for Bruce.

School officials want to renew their rivalry, despite the schools now playing in different conferences. They also want to bring back a piece of history. The Raiders and the Comets take the court again on Jan. 28, when possession of the Cream Can will once again be on the line.

A good idea cannot go unnoticed for long.

The long way back

The Cream Can trophy originated about 85 years ago, when Abbott’s Dairy in Bruce was managed by Bob Schultz and the Abbott’s Dairy in Cameron was managed by Ted Schultz. To generate enthusiasm in the rivalry between the nearby dairies, schools and communities, the brothers came up with the idea for a basketball series and donated the trophy to the schools. During the years that followed, the winners names became forever etched into trophy’s gleaming exterior.

“They must have come up with this neat idea of having this traveling trophy,” Bruce resident Mike Newman said.

The first game in the Cream Can rivalry was during the 1936-37 school year with Bruce defeating Cameron in the first game, 18-11, and Cameron taking the second game, 17-14.

For decades that followed, the teams continued to tip off with the Cream Can on the line.

Bruce Class of 1969 graduate John Carr played varsity basketball and went on to coach the Raiders for many years. He believes the Cream Can is one of the longest running traveling trophies in the state.

“Things heated up in the 1960s with some strong athletes in both programs,” Carr said.

The last time the schools competed for “The Cream Can” was in 2007, when Cameron took home the trophy after a narrow 57-56 victory.

Renewing the rivalry was no small feat, as it took two years just to track down the whereabouts of the Cream Can that went missing after the last game. The trophy eventually was discovered, tipped over and hidden behind a picture in a display case at Cameron High School.

How Abbott’s got its name

George Abbott began his dairy business in 1876 from his farm in Salem County, N.J., initially selling bottled milk to locals and then to tourists on the Jersey Shore.

The popularity of the milk was its “freshness,” Abbott’s key principle was linked to health. In the same year Abbott started his business, he supplied milk to the Centennial Exposition in Philadelphia, testimony to the quality of his dairy milk. Abbott pioneered ways of keeping milk cooler as well as developing bottles with lids to package the product.

Routine pasteurization of milk was becoming widespread in the 1920s to minimize contamination and reduce human illnesses. It was deemed a crucial breakthrough in public health. In 1924, Grade A pasteurization became recommended federal policy and dairy companies such as Abbotts advertised their pasteurized milk accordingly.

Abbott quickly expanded his business and relocated to Philadelphia Within a short period, he opened 16 milk stores within the city center area. They were named Abbotts Alderney Dairies Milk Stores, and business boomed. The name “Alderney” originates from a breed of cattle from the British Channel Island of Alderney.

By 1900, Abbott’s Alderney Dairies had corporate offices in Philadelphia, with branches in Delaware, Maryland and New Jersey. The company grew.

In 1919, Abbotts acquired a large ice cream business and the 1927 consolidation with Dolfinger Dairies gave way to the shortened company name of Abbotts Dairies, Inc. In 1950, the company merged with Fairmount Foods of Omaha, Neb., and the Abbotts name continued into the mid-1980s. The Abbotts dairies hit lean times during the mid 1980s and this signaled the end of the Abbotts name and its rich association with the dairy industry.

Dairy runs in village’s veins

The history of Bruce would not be complete without the story of the village’s largest manufacturing plant in its day, Abbotts’ Dairies. Started as the Farmers’ Cooperative creamery, it was bought by Abbotts in 1929. In 1931, the new, modern plant was built. Not counting truck drivers, who were their own employers, 31 men were working for the plant. The plant received milk sent by 380 patrons.

Their main product was “80 percent cream,” which was shipped to eastern states and used for the manufacture of ice cream by Abbott plants there. They also shipped “45 percent cream” used for bottling and non-fat dry milk solids.

Pioneering in the area in quality milk, they handled Grade A milk exclusively since 1931. According to Bob Schultz, longtime plant manager and employee, there were 41.24 million pounds of milk processed in 1950. Farmers in the area received $1.52 million for that milk, of which $77,457 was a premium because the milk was Grade A.

The former Abbotts Dairy in Bruce is now home to Dairy Farmers of America DairiConcepts, which continues to be a major employer in the area, producing cheese and dairy powders.

The main event

Game day became known as Red Raider Day in Bruce.

The Cream Can was carried to the middle of the gym floor prior to the varsity basketball game while the teams warmed up. It was placed on a milking stool at center court, where the teams would tip-off to start the contest. If the trophy was residing in the Bruce trophy case, it was prominently displayed at the pep rally held the afternoon before the game. It was capped with a dance afterward.

Gordie Malaise played forward for Bruce during the 1940s.

“Every game whether here or away was a good game, and we took them all seriously. Every game has fond memories. I made some good friends, even from Cameron. Those were good times,” Malaise said.

For Malaise, the games also had a little extra incentive.

“Oh, yes,” Malaise said, “That was the game of the year.”

The team was always trying harder in these games with Cameron, according to Malaise.

“Our team took it seriously,” Malaise said.

Several Bruce High School yearbooks prominently feature the Bruce-Cameron basketball games in their pages. The 1938 volume refers to the “Famed Abbotts Dairy Trophy” when Bruce defeated Cameron on the opposing team’s court, 10-9. The 1942-43 Bruce High School yearbook highlights the team beat Cameron for “The Coveted Cream Can.”

Bruce Class of 1961 graduate Judy Soyring, a cousin of Wisherd, corrects those who refer to the trophy as just a milk can or some other unsophisticated identifier.

“It has been known as the Cream Can forever,” Soyring insists.

The games were some of the biggest days in school, according to Bruce graduate Colleen Svoma.

“Everyone dressed up in homemade Native American outfits, all homemade. We had a powwow and the best outfits were picked. There was even a king and queen, a brave and princess,” Svoma said.

Bruce graduate Lynda Neisler-Krejcarek remembers the basketball team playing for the Cream Can when she was a high school cheerleader.

Bruce graduate Arlen Peters added, “The Cream Can never left Bruce between 1968-72!”

Maurice Woodmansee, the equipment manager for basketball and other sports most of his high school years, was never very tall and didn’t play basketball. He recalls the Cream Can game always being quite the competition.

“I always marveled at how the scores grew as basketball became less defense and more offense over the years,” Woodmansee said.

Ring it up

The early games in the series were low-scoring affairs with Bruce victorious on an 18-11 score in the first ever Cream Can contest held during the 1936-37 school year. Cameron took the second game in the rivalry that season, 17-14. These games were played during the early era of high school basketball when there were no rules governing holding onto the ball for minutes at a time or standing under the basket for long periods. It also was a time before the 3-point shot that today help hot-shooting teams drive up scores at a faster pace.

Because Wisherd was one of the tallest players on the team and could jump, he played the key center position.

“I could just camp under the basket and wait until someone tossed the ball to me. Then I just threw it in,” Wisherd boasts.

It was also a time when players were allowed only four penalties before fouling out, and Wisherd feels officials focused on him due to his aggressive style of play.

“When you are standing under the basket and fighting for the ball, it isn’t very difficult to get four fouls because that is a rough place to be. You are always nudging other people’s elbows a little bit,” Wisherd said.

It’s in the books

Unofficially, there were 103 Cream Can games played between the two teams based on scores permanently etched into the exterior of the trophy. Cameron emerged victorious 55 times and Bruce in 48 of the games. In question is the 1971-72 season when both scores listed on the trophy are exactly the same with Bruce winning, 70-49. A review of a Bruce yearbook shows the teams played only one game that year with Bruce winning, 70-49. Records also show no scores between 1976-83.

Cameron was the last school to take possession of the trophy after eking out a 57-56 win during the 2006-07 school year. As the last winner in the series, Cameron has retained possession of the trophy ever since.

One for the history books

With the Bruce Historical Society seeking to renew interest in the Cream Can series as part of a summer exhibit at its museum in the village’s downtown, Cameron school officials agreed to an overture to donate the trophy for the historical society’s display.

With the trophy now on loan, historical society members also sought to revive the rivalry. They began making phone calls to officials at both schools to secure their involvement.

Many of the games were played when the schools were both members of the Lakeland Conference. Typically, both schools no longer play each other due to differences in enrollment sizes and conference alignments. Now, the Comets play in the Heart O’North while the Raiders play with smaller schools in the Lakeland East.

For the Cream Can, school officials are making an exception to bring the teams back together and renew the rivalry.

“Because of the interest in the Cream Can, then the athletic directors at the schools realized people are interested in the trophy and both schools are competitive. They thought maybe there should be a game,” said historical society member Leah Newman.

Mike Newman added strong local interest in the dairy industry and as a major local employer also helped revive interest in the Cream Can.

“We got to thinking, well there is the Cream Can,” Mike Newman said.

Break in the action

 

The teams continued to play at least one game every year with the only notable breaks in the action between 1976 and 1983 and the current hiatus.

In the mid-1970s, Cameron was really good and Bruce was average. At that time, there were a few really good teams in this area, including Prentice, Prairie Farm, Colfax and Cameron.

About this time, a really good Cameron team came to Bruce to face its rival that was struggling, according to Carr, who coached Bruce from 1986-2002, including numerous Cream Can contests.

“There was a smoke bomb or a stink bomb that was set off in the gym in the middle of the game. Cameron was ahead by a solid amount,” Carr said. “They cleared the gym of spectators for an hour or so, according to legend and hearsay.”

When players finally were allowed to return to the gym, Bruce stormed back and beat Cameron, 72-67.

“And Cameron was outraged and refused to play Bruce. That was the reason for the hiatus to my understanding,” Carr said.

The series resumed from 1985-2007 when the Cream Can was put out to pasture.

David Gerber has a unique perspective, having graduated from Bruce High School in 1982 and has taught or been the athletic director in Cameron since the 1990-91 school year. He has experienced the rivalry from both sides of the court.

A few things happened in the 2006-07 school year that caused the series to end, according to Gerber. The Lakeland Conference added several teams, including St. Croix Falls, Webster, Grantsburg, Frederic, Luck and Siren in the previous years. Cameron’s enrollment was also increasing while the Bruce enrollment was dropping. Cameron and Bruce were no longer in the same WIAA postseason division. 

With the increase in the number of Lakeland teams, each team had more conference games. The majority of conference opponents Cameron was playing were in the division below, so to try help with postseason seeding and increase competition, Cameron scheduled larger non-conference schools. 

When Gerber first started teaching in Cameron in the 1990-91 school year, Cameron’s enrollment was 232 and the Bruce enrollment was 225.  Last year, Cameron’s enrollment was 284 and Bruce’s was 143.

Gerber grew up in Exeland and entered Bruce School in the seventh grade. He vividly remembers the excitement leading up to the Cream Can game, seeing the trophy for the first time.

“I was surprised at how plain and small it was,” Gerber said. “I guess I just expected it to be much larger and more decorated because I had heard so much about it.”

Gerber now realizes the rivalry wasn’t so much about the trophy as it was about the tradition and history of the teams. 

“It was about more than just winning a game as it was about bragging rights for a year. It was a sense of accomplishment and pride,” Gerber said. “I remember Bruce people often saying that anytime Cameron won it was an upset. The Cameron people talk about how it was often frustrating to play Bruce because Bruce always had their best game of the season against them.”

There were times Cameron felt the games shouldn’t even be close, according to Gerber.

“Cameron felt they had too much talent for Bruce to compete with, but somehow Bruce players would rise to the occasion every year,” Gerber said.

Gerber believes it is possible for the teams to start the tradition of playing for the Cream Can again. 

Cameron has joined the Heart O’ North conference and now plays a competitive schedule against many larger opponents. The school has a lot of traveling in the conference with trips to Hayward, Northwestern and Ashland. 

Gerber would like to play a close local opponent. 

The WIAA has also allowed teams to play two more games next season, which could open the door for more non-conference games against closer teams.

“I think it would be very possible for us to start the tradition of playing for the Cream Can again,” Gerber said.

On borrowed time

Once time runs out on the historical society’s display, the Cream Can will be returned to the Cameron High School trophy case until the big game next January.

“They have been very gracious in letting us borrow it,” Mike Newman said.

Bruce Historical Society President John Cameron called the return of the rivalry and the Cream Can “great” for both schools and their surrounding communities.

“Cameron was our bitter enemy in high school,” said Cameron, who played high school football and baseball in Bruce before graduating in 1959.

Wisherd hopes returning the trophy (after the museum’s display ends) is only temporary until Bruce can win it back this winter.

Museum members have such reverence for the Cream Can, they remove it for safe keeping before locking up the building at the end of every day.

Friendly competition

Carr, who played varsity basketball for Bruce three of the four years he was a student from 1965-69, said, “In the 1960s, the Cream Can game was really big.”

“It was the big game of the year unless there was the exception of a conference championship on the line. It goes back to the dairy in Bruce and the dairy in Cameron,” said Carr, who also served as the Bruce school athletic director from 2002-09.

Carr is somewhat saddened by the breaks in the on-court rivalry over the years. He also notes the old Abbotts Dairies are no longer in operation, perhaps also lessening interest in the series comeback. The schools also are further separated into two different conferences and no longer competing for the same conference championship.

“When I was coaching, I would tell the story about the Cream Can before the game because the kids weren’t aware of the history of it. Nobody talked about it anymore. When I was a player, it was the big game of the year. In the 1960s, it was the big game,” Carr said. “Weyerhaeuser was a rival because they were close by. Flambeau wasn’t as much a rival. Cameron was the big rivalry. That was the big game in basketball every year. It was the big game of the year.”

There was one thing that made the games between Cameron and Bruce rise above all others, like cream rising to the top, according to Carr.

“It was the Cream Can game. There was this big rivalry,” he said.

An added motivator

Carr compared the Cream Can to legendary traveling trophies in college football that make countless headlines each time those teams meet each fall.

“It is like playing for the ‘Old Oaken Bucket’ between Indiana and Purdue or the ‘Paul Bunyan’s Axe’ between Wisconsin and Minnesota,” Carr said.

Fueling the early years of the Cream Can game was the likelihood that many school parents had children and family members that worked at either of the dairies.

Carr added Bob’s Schultz’s son, Butch, played basketball for Bruce.

“It was the only game you were playing for a trophy all year unless you were playing for a conference championship, and those conference championships, those opportunities, only come around once or twice a decade,” Carr said.

Carr called the Bruce-Cameron contests important events for him as both a player and as a coach because he knew the tradition and tried to pass along that tradition to the players.

“I think it had significance because there was a trophy in the locker room after the game if you were lucky enough to win,” Carr said.

Carr believes the series eventually faded after the last game was played in 2007 due to the increasing enrollment at Cameron compared with Bruce. He said Cameron wanted to play teams that offered three levels of play at varsity, junior varsity and freshmen. He thinks being 20 miles apart, the schools should play regularly.

He lists many reasons. Players socialize with each other. Parents know each other. Families work at the same businesses. Everyone hangs out together.

“Some of the kids I see today, we are really friendly with each other. When we run into each other we have a good time talking about the old games,” Carr said.

The effort to pull the Cream Can out of retirement has been talked about for years, according to Carr. He believes the trophy might be an added enticement to attract more fans to a high school athletic event.

Attendance at school sports generally has been on the decline as families have more demands on their time and more options for entertainment.

“The gym in the old Cream Can games would be packed. It would be crowded. I can think of games where there was standing room only in the hallways,” Carr said.

Wisherd called Cameron “a good adversary” for those Bruce teams he played on 75 years ago, noting the Cream Can was only a basketball trophy, no other sport.

“I think we played them pretty even most of the time. Cameron was a good adversary for us,” Wisherd said.

Wisherd will be rooting hard for a Bruce victory.

“We gotta win it back to keep it here,” Wisherd said.

A good fit

Wisherd proudly wears his red letterman’s sweater with his signature sewn into the lining. He credits his daughter, Kathryn Chapman, of Ladysmith, for keeping the garment “well preserved” all these years.

Wisherd notes the strong stitching and lining of the fabric. Three stripes on the sleeves note how many years he lettered at school.

“It’s a beautiful sweater. No moth holes or nothing,” Wisherd said.

Bruce High School teams are no longer referred to as the Red Raiders. They now go by the abbreviated nickname, “Raiders.” Gone are the Native American mascots and dress-up days. The school spirit endures and so does the spirit of the Cream Can.

The upcoming game will be a true David vs. Goliath contest, Soyring believes, as Cameron has grown in size considerably.

“I would wish Bruce all the luck in the world because it would be the underdog beating a bigger school. They are a much bigger school than they were back then. I don’t want to give up the trophy,” Soyring said.

But Wisherd recalls the days he played, beating Cameron in both basketball and football some years. With the schools then in the same conference and in such close proximity, these contests were all about  hometown pride.

Wisherd is pleased the Cream Can rivalry is making a comeback, even if now there is only this one game on the schedule during the upcoming school year.  He hopes his “David” can beat their “Goliath” similar to the story of the Milan High School team in Indiana that participated in the 1954 state championship and became the basis of the movie, “Hoosiers.”

The 1954 Milan High School Indians won the Indiana High School Boys Basketball Tournament championship in 1954. With an enrollment of only 161, Milan was the smallest school ever to win a single-class state basketball title in Indiana, beating the team from the much larger Muncie Central High School in a classic competition known as the Milan Miracle.

 Wisherd expects to attend the Cream Can game in-person with his red letterman’s sweater on full display. He’ll be rooting for a Bruce victory.

“I got to be,” he said. “It’s Cameron.”

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