Former West Coach Hable Passes Away

The Capital Times
Friday, February 13, 2004
By Dennis Semrau The Capital Times

Burt Hable often said his most impressive accomplishment during 35-plus years as head football coach at Madison West High School was not winning 199 games. Nor was it the state championship or 10 Big Eight Conference titles the Regents won during his tenure.

"Wins and losses are quickly forgotten," Hable said in a conversation a year ago after he wrote a letter to The Capital Times on the dangers of specialization in high school athletics. "What's most important are the relationships you make. The game is for the kids."

Those words rang true when Hable's youngest son, Chuck, called this morning to say that his father had passed away early today following a battle with cancer.

Hable, 72, died at his home, surrounded by his wife, Bernetta, and children.

"Dad was a die-hard Cubs fan. When Moises Alou had that ball ripped out of his glove in the playoffs last fall, he was crushed," Chuck Hable said.

"But he was also a big fan of high school athletics. He felt local schools should recruit local talent."

Otto Breitenbach, a former athletic director and football coach at Madison La Follette High School, said Hable was a "true competitor."

But Hable, who taught history and coached at West from 1953-93, also cherished the positive impact he had on hundreds of young people.

"Burt contributed much to the youth of our community," Breitenbach said. "He really stood out as a football coach. But he remembered all the intangibles that were more important than winning."

Hable often said the most important five minutes of a college or pro football game were when they announced where the players were from.

"He took a lot of pride in Wisconsin athletes and how they represented the state," Chuck Hable said.

The family has asked that to honor Hable -- who also coached wrestling, hockey and girls softball during his career -- donations be made to the Wisconsin Football Coaches Association in lieu of flowers for a memorial that will be established in his name.

Visitation and funeral arrangements are pending.

Hable led West to the WIAA Division 1 state football title in 1977 and a runner-up finish in 1981. He compiled a record of 199-113-5, retiring after the third game of the 1993 season for health reasons.

"He leaves quite a legacy," Hall of Fame coach and administrator John Olson said. "Burt set a standard of excellence, especially in football, and carried on a great tradition at West."

A native of Bloomer, Hable was an all-state football player and all-conference basketball player before heading to the University of Wisconsin. He was a member of the Badgers' 1953 Rose Bowl team and led the Big Ten Conference in interceptions during the 1952 season.

The Optimist Club of West Madison and a group of West High School alumni established the Burt Hable Scholarship Fund for West High students in 1994.

Hable was inducted into the Wisconsin Football Coaches Association Hall of Fame in 1996 and the Madison Sports Hall of Fame in 1997.

"He did everything he could to help kids," Olson said. "He never gave anything less than his best.

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