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Reusse blog: Old Robbinsdale High to honor all-time greats

  • Blog Post by: Patrick Reusse
  • September 27, 2013 - 6:02 AM

Robbinsdale was founded in 1893 as the first suburb for Minneapolis. I was going to suggest this was long before people had an idea of what to call the villages and neighborhoods attached to large cities, but then Wiki told me that English scholar John Wycliffe used the term "suburbis'' in 1380.

Robbinsdale continues to be a first-tier suburb with a distinct downtown of several appealing blocks. The bride and I actually had dinner there on Wednesday night, at the Italian restaurant Nona Rosa's, after seeing the usual overflow crowd at Pig Ate My Pizza.

There are a couple of other restaurants in downtown Robbinsdale. The space has cleared to start construction on the new Travail, the small-plate phenomenon that used to be in the building occupied by The Pig. There's a meat market, a bakery, a hardware store and a few other businesses on the main drag.

Robbinsdale High School opened in 1936. The school district covered a large area, including all of Golden Valley north of Highway 55. That's me. I've been paying taxes for the benefit of the Robbinsdale school district since 1988.

The enrollment in the Robbinsdale schools grew so large that a second high school opened in New Hope in 1964. It was called Cooper, in honor of E.J. Cooper, the superintendent of the Robbinsdale school district.

The growth continued and a third high school opened in 1970 in Plymouth. The name chosen was the non-provincial Armstrong, in honor of Neil, the gentleman who had been first to step on the moon 13 months before the school opened.

As I recall, Neil showed up for a ceremony, which caused quite a stir in what existed as local media.

As happens everywhere in "suburbis,'' the neighborhoods fill with young families and broods of urchins, and then the kids grow up, and many of parents stay put, and the enrollment wanes. That was happening with the Robbinsdale schools in the late '70s and it was a time to drop a high school.

Over the boisterous protests of Robbinsdale residents, the original Robbinsdale -- right there off 36th, on the east side of Hwy. 100 -- was chosen to close. This took place in 1982.

The compromise was to attach Robbinsdale to the titles of Armstrong and Cooper, even though neither is located in the city. It is to remind us that this remains the Robbinsdale school district.

Cooper's athletic teams are the Hawks and Armstrong's are the Falcons. Those athletes of prey have had their moments, but nothing to compare with the prowess of the gently named Robins of Robbinsdale, who were an athletic powerhouse -- particularly in football with Irv Nerdahl as coach.

The old high school reopened some time ago as Robbinsdale Middle School. I drove past on the way to downtown Robbinsdale on Monday and there was huge activity of football and soccer and something else -- maybe la crosse -- taking place around 7 p.m.

The vacation scam known as "MEA Weekend'' takes place for Minnesota's teachers and students from Oct. 17-20 this year. In the midst of that, on Friday the 18th, there will be a ceremony at the Robbinsdale Middle School at 7 p.m. to honor the first group of inductees for the Robbinsdale Athletic Hall of Fame.

There are the Robbinsdale Robins of 1936 to 1982. The Hawks and the Falcons will have to take care of their own business. Here are the 12 inaugural inductees, indicating to me there are going to be more:

IRV NERDAHL: He coached football from 1942 through 1973. For much of that time, the Robins kicked hind end and took names. His overall record was 174-66-11.

DOC SPURRIER: He was a football assistant to Nerdahl, a trainer, an equipment manager, an athletic director and all-around Robbinsdale legend.

VERNE GAGNE (Class of 1943): Football star and wrestling legend. Verne's still with us, but in ill health and won't make the ceremony.

DON DALE (1950): Star of the Robins' 1950 state basketball tournament team and the school's first 1,000-point scorer (1,299), back in the day when a regular-season schedule was 16 games, maybe.

TOM LOECHLER (1958): Football standout -- basketball and track, too -- and was a kicker for the Rose Bowl Gophers.

DENNIS CLARIDGE (1959): Star quarterback of the 1958 Robins that were named "mythical state champions'' by the Minneapolis Tribune's Ted Peterson. Was first QB for Bob Devaney at Nebraska and went 19-3 as a starter. Sid's still mad at him.

JULIAN HOOK (1959): Wrestling superstar at Robbinsdale; also standout in football and baseball. Went to Minnesota and was the toughest, undersized linebacker you ever saw. As a Gopher fan of the day, I loved him. So did Sid.

LEN LILYHOLM (1959): Hockey Great. Cap G is intentional.Totaled 10 letters for Robins in pucks, football and track, back when you had to do more than show up to get a letter.

LARRY PETERSON (1961): He was an outstanding all-around athlete and quarterbacked Robbinsdale to another mythical state championship in 1960. He also was a starting quarterback for the Gophers.

TOM HEINONEN (1963): Pheonomenal distance runner, for Robins and the Gophers. Can't make ceremony, because he's being inducted into the University of Oregon (where he was a long-serving coach) Athletic Hall of Fame on the same day.

RANDY SONNENFELD (1976):Outstanding all-around athlete. Was on the 1975 Robins team that finished second in the Class AA boys basketball tournament. Played three years of tooball for the Gophers.

CINDY SNEDDON (1976): Robbinsdale High was around for less than a decade of Title 1X, and participation in sports for girls.The Robins' only state championship in girls sports was 1976 in gymnastics, and Sneddon was the captain.

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