The second entry on the list of the top Monroe running backs comes from the 1950’s during the golden age of Bearcat football. After several mediocre seasons in the 1940’s, Monroe experienced a resurgence during the decade and returned to prominence. This era of winning seasons and county titles was powered not only by great coaches, but also the strong player corps working together. Though many players contributed to the rise of Monroe football, one player stood above the rest as a transcendent talent who excelled in every aspect of the game. Earning the title of “Mr. Monroe,” Norm Janke set school records on offense that still stand today.
Joining the Century Club
Norm Janke entered Monroe High School in 1954, catching the end of Coach John Stahl’s successful era of coaching. During his freshman year, the team went a modest 5-4 as Janke did not reach the varsity squad. In the offseason, Stahl handed the reins of the football team to his assistant coach, Cliff Gillies, for the upcoming 1955 season. Before the season started, Janke already was a highly-touted player and seen as a potential starting running back. Though the team ran an offense with multiple running backs, Janke quickly established himself as one of the best running backs on the team.
He displayed flashes of talent in the first few games of the season before breaking out against Granite Falls, gaining 170 yards in the contest. For this accomplishment, Janke became a charter member of Monroe’s “Century Club,” a group the running backs created for any Monroe player who rushed 100 yards in a single game. Two weeks later against Darrington, Janke displayed his defensive prowess when he picked off a pass and ran it back for a 101-yard touchdown before kicking the extra point. Though the team faltered towards the end of the season, Janke had an excellent year as he gained a total of 990 total yards of offense in his first campaign. Expectations were high for the next season, and Janke more than delivered.
Rushing To The 1956 Conference Title
The 1956 season was one of the best of the decade and Norm Janke was one of the key contributors on a solid squad of players. In the opening game of the season, Janke immediately proved his sophomore year was no fluke as he ran for 138 yards before leaving with an injury. Though the team stumbled against Bothell High School in the opener, the Bearcats ran over their conference opponents as Janke paved the way. After the fifth game of the season, Janke accounted for over 450 yards of total offense as the team met undefeated Oak Harbor for an important league showdown. The game ended in a scoreless tie as Janke was held to 52 yards, forcing Monroe to win out the rest of the season for a chance at the conference title. With the season on the line, Janke carried the team the remainder of the year.
The next week, Janke scored three touchdowns against Granite Falls in a 26-9 rout. In a do-or-die game against Langley, Janke scored two touchdowns, including the game-winning score with less than 30 seconds left. On the last game of the season, Oak Harbor lost and Monroe captured the conference title against Sultan as Janke played his finest game of the year. He scored four total touchdowns, running for 111 yards and receiving 66 more in a blowout of the nearby rivals. Though the local newspaper never reported his total for yards that season, Janke more than likely exceeded 1,000 total yards of offense in a season for the ages. With his final season approaching, Janke readied to one again exceed the highest expectations.
“Mr. Monroe” and the Race for the State-Scoring Title
Though the 1957 Bearcats lost key players from the championship team the previous year, it boasted one of the most impressive running back corps in school history. Janke headlined the squad, but the trio of Terry Blair, Jay Wagner, and Dave Weeks all helped power an elite offense. In the first game against Vancouver College, the Bearcats were blown out 47-0 as Janke still gained 182 total yards. Despite blasting Lake Stevens in the next game, Monroe’s high powered offense was shut down and Janke limited to 60 yards of total offense the following week against Concrete. After the rocky start to the season, Janke once again carried the team the rest of the season as the ‘Cats won five of the next seven games.
After scoring three touchdowns in a 32-7 blowout of Oak Harbor, Janke surpassed the feat two weeks later against Marysville. In a 46-13 rout at home, Janke scored 5 touchdowns and gained 241 yards in the finest game of his career. In an article describing Janke’s dominance, the Monroe Monitor joked that, “Marysville Coach Bob Bonjourni would only mumble after the game, “He’s all-state, he’s all-state, he’s all-state.” Though title hopes were out of reach for the Bearcats, Janke’s performance on the field gave the season all the excitement it needed.
As the season was coming to a close, Janke was among the top Washington football players in scoring, a fact not lost to a local Monroe fan. A combination of receiving, rushing, and point-after scores helped to put Janke near the top, though he needed one more high-scoring game to put him over the top. In the final game of the season, the Bearcats were crushing the visiting Sultan Turks 45-13 by the third quarter and looked to run out the clock. With a huge lead, Coach Gillies pulled Janke from the game after he had scored his fifth touchdown of the game. With three minutes left in the game and Janke still on the bench, a Monroe fan in the stands alerted Coach Gillies that Janke was not only one touchdown away from tying the state single-game record, but also in the running for the state-scoring lead. With the team now aware that Janke was close to glory, he returned to the field for one final score. The players rallied behind the teammate who had carried them throughout the season, allowing Janke to get one last touchdown to make the final score 52-13. Janke’s performance was record setting when it occurred and still stands to this day. Five of Janke’s six touchdowns were receiving touchdowns, a single-game record that still stands today at Monroe High School.
Norm Janke, East-West All-Star
Janke finished his senior season with 21 touchdowns, six point after conversions, and 1,846 total yards of offense. Thanks to his performance against Sultan, Janke had 132 total points scored for the season, good enough to take the lead late in the Washington football season. After the rest of the state season concluded, Janke was named the state’s top scorer as he edged out the next highest scorer by twelve points. The accolades for Janke did not stop there, as he was later selected to play in the Washington East-West All-Star game as a member of the West team. Played on the University of Washington field, Janke would be pitted against some of other great high school talents in the state. In March 1958, Janke was also named to the National High School All-American Team and even nominated to play in the National East-West game, though he only played in the state game. Despite the West team getting routed by the East squad and Janke not playing much during the game, his appearance in the contest is a testament to how dominant Janke was during his final season in Monroe.
It is unknown what Janke did after his time at Monroe, though he certainly had the talent to play at the college level. Though he was an elite running back, Janke was a versatile player who made an impact on defense and special teams as well. During his time at Monroe, Janke was the undisputed star of the team, earning several nicknames to reflect his ability on the field. Names such as “Fleetfeet Janke,” “Mr. Monroe,” “Our hero,” and simply “Master” show how much his presence mattered to the team and the town of Monroe. In the golden age of Monroe football, the Bearcats depended on no one more than Norm Janke.
All information and photos were found in the Monroe Monitor from 1955-1958