Reusse: We're living in the best of times for prep athletes

  • Article by: PATRICK REUSSE , Star Tribune
  • Updated: March 6, 2014 - 12:46 AM
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East Grand Forks winger Tanner Tweten celebrated his first first period goal on Orono to put the Green Wave ahead 2-0. At right was his teammate Taylor Brierley.

Photo: Jeff Wheeler, DML - Star Tribune

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Luverne was in the field for the first-ever state basketball tournament in 1913 and was making its fifth appearance in 1964. The Twin Cities dailies were in full hysteria for this 52nd annual event, sending reporters and photographers to the towns of the eight participants for feature stories, and running a full page of team photos on the Thursday morning of the quarterfinals.

It was also a must to run an eight-team bracket daily so that every office worker, bar visitor and bridge club member in Minnesota could clip the bracket, fill it out and toss their dollar or five into a pool.

The afternoon session called for Benson (Region 6) vs. Proctor (Region 7) at 2 o’clock, followed by Luverne (Region 2) vs. Hutchinson (Region 3). The night session had Rochester John Marshall (Region 1) vs. Anoka (Region 4) at 7:30, followed by Edina-Morningside (Region 5) vs. Bemidji (Region 8).

The headline across the top of the sports section that morning declared that Proctor and Edina were “unanimous’’ favorites to escape their brackets and meet in Saturday’s 9 p.m. title game in a packed Williams Arena.

The apple cart was upset, as the scribes liked to write 50 years ago. The headline on the front of the Minneapolis Sunday Tribune’s main news section took up six of the eight available columns and carried this news:

“Luverne Downs Rochester to Win Tourney.’’

On that Sunday, the Morning Tribune had reporter Dwayne Netland and photographer John Croft make the 220-mile drive to Minnesota’s southwest corner to be there for the Cardinals’ triumphant return to Luverne.

Luverne’s victory was again the main story on the front of the Morning Tribune on Monday, beating out Americans fleeing violence that had broken out between Hindu and Muslim foes in New Delhi.

There are Minnesota sports fans of my generation who can look back at our amazing interest in the one-class basketball tournament as the best of times for high school athletics.

And we can try to blame the decline of that tournament to an afterthought on the decision in 1971 to split into two classes.

We would be wrong. I have romanticized the one-class basketball tournament as much as anyone, but what we’re living now are the best of times for the people that count: the high school athletes.

On Wednesday, Luverne was back in another state tournament in March, but this time it was in hockey, for the opening game of the Class 1A bracket vs. Hermantown.

When the Cardinals were basketball champs in 1964, there was hockey in Duluth, the Iron Range and the northwest corner. Bemidji had just started high school hockey in 1963. Hockey had been dropped in St. Cloud and was getting started again after a long absence in Rochester.

The state’s southwest corner might as well have been downstate Indiana. Basketball was the source of wintertime frenzy. Hockey didn’t exist. And we were not alone.

The state hockey tournament was little more than a rumor to occupants of 75 percent of Minnesota’s land mass.

The hockey teams numbered in the 40s and the eight-team field included an entry from what was called the “backdoor game’’ between the Region 7 (northeast) and Region 8 (northwest) runners-up.

The hockey tournament was played Feb. 20-22 at the St. Paul Auditorium — played that early to clear the way for a month of basketball: two weeks of district play, one week of regions, and then the state tournament.

So were those good old days, or is it about opportunity — the chance for a bunch of kids from Luverne to start skating in a youth program and work their way from the southwest prairie to the arena where the NHL plays in St. Paul?

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