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Patrick Reusse has been covering sports in the Twin Cities since 1968.

McKee still one-on-one champion of 'Noon Ball'

David Kundla, Dennis Fitzpatrick and Bill McKee were done playing college basketball in the mid-’70s, but the urge to hoop remained strong. They started meeting at noontime at McCarthy Gym, the little gym on the south end of the University of St. Thomas campus.

“We came up with a three-man, one-and-one game,’’ Fitzpatrick said. “There would be 10 games and if I won two, it was a good day. Kundla and McKee were better players, although I wouldn’t admit it then.’’

The games evolved into “Noon Ball,’’ an activity of mini-legend among the basketball fanatics of St. Paul.

Rick Majerus, full-figured but competitive as a rattlesnake, was an occasional visitor to Noon Ball. Tom Otterdahl, Shelly Anderson, Eddie Cassidy, Mike Peterson — on goes the list of Noon Ball greats.

Occasionally, Noon Ball still reverts to a one-and-one tournament. “The idea in one-and-one is to be the champion,’’ Fitzpatrick said. “And the champion is the guy who won the last game.

“I played Kundla when he was wearing a halo for a broken neck and beat him 15-0. Last game. I was champion.’’

McKee was the player who was impossible to beat. “The greatest 62-year-old basketball player in America,’’ Fitzpatrick said.

McKee coached basketball for decades in the Twin Cities. His latest job was as the women’s coach at Augsburg. He was going to coach his daughter Allison this season.

He started feeling poorly this spring. It turned out to be terminal kidney cancer. He died Thursday at 62.

McKee didn’t spill the full details to his buddies, but by May they knew something was wrong. Fitzpatrick promptly scheduled a one-and-one game.

“Billy had been beating me for 40 years, but this was my chance,’’ Fitzpatrick said. “Then, he hit some shot that only McKee makes and won the last game.’’

A few weeks later, Dr. Tom Masterson, hoops fanatic, called Fitzpatrick and said: “Billy wants to tell you that his headstone is going to read, ‘I beat Fitz with Stage 4 kidney cancer.’ ”

Fitzpatrick heard noise in the background. It was Bill McKee, laughing.

PLUS THREE FROM PATRICK

What Noon Ballers had a chance to hear from Bill McKee:

• ”I was open,’’ a teammate would say; “There’s a reason you were open,’’ McKee would respond.

• McKee, after making an outlandish 28-footer, would say wide-eyed: “Did that go in?’’

• McKee to his teammates: “It’s time to get back to the Formula.’’ The Formula? McKee shoots.

Happy Chef in Mankato for sale, full of fastpitch softball memories

– The Happy Chef restaurant and adjoining property are for sale. It’s the original and surviving restaurant from a collection of 63 that were once operated in the Midwest by the Fredrick brothers.

“We’re still in business,” said Tom Fredrick, 81. “We’re going to stay in business.”

Mention Happy Chef and many people think of the towering, round Happy Chef figure that stood in front of numerous restaurants — and remains smiling today next to Hwy. 169 as you enter Mankato. Mention Happy Chef to others and they think of something else near extinction: men’s fastpitch softball.

There was a group of fast-pitchers that played out of Mankato starting in the late 1960s. They played Class AA (major) fastpitch through 1990. You could bring in players from anywhere and pay outsiders, if necessary.

The team had a variety of sponsors in the 1970s. Happy Chef took over sponsorship for the Class AA team from 1980 through 1990, and then for five more years with a Class A team.

“You could never work with a better sponsor than Tom,” said Marley Lloyd, an outstanding center fielder and promoter for Happy Chef. “We could fly to national tournaments while other teams took a bus.”

Happy Chef competed at the highest level in the International Softball Congress. If it happened to miss the ISC World Series (unlikely), the fallback was the ASA national tournament.

“We had Dale Root from Sheffield, Iowa, as our pitcher earlier in the ’70s,” Lloyd said. “Dale was one of the five best pitchers in the country. When he went back to Iowa, we brought in Leroy Jolstad in 1977. There weren’t many better pitchers in the world than Leroy.”

There was a home doubleheader on most summer Wednesdays and it would draw big crowds at Caswell Park.

“In the ’70s, Bob Darling from the [Mankato] Free Press would go with us to weekend tournaments,” Lloyd said. “We always made sure there was a brandy and Coke for Bob. He gave us great coverage. And our games were on KTOE radio.

“Fastpitch was the summer attraction in Mankato.”

Plus Three From Patrick

Happy Chef fast-pitchers noted for other athletic achievements:

Wayne Haefner: “Lefty” was an outfielder on the Gophers’ 1960 national champions. He coached and taught at Mankato Loyola and was a fastpitch standout.

Vernon Schoolmeester: A basketball scoring machine for Edgerton from 1962 to 1965. Second baseman for Happy Chef.

Jeff Nessler: Famously, threw in a half-court shot to give St. James the 1972 Class A title over Melrose. Shortstop for Happy Chef.

TV Listings

Local Schedule

< >
  • Gary at Saints

    7:05pm on 1220-AM

  • Chicago White Sox at Twins

    7:10pm on FSN, 96.3-FM

  • Indy at Minnesota United FC

    7pm on Ch. 45

  • Gary at Saints

    7:05pm on 1220-AM

  • Chicago White Sox at Twins

    7:10pm on FSN, 96.3-FM

  • Chicago White Sox at Twins

    12:10pm on FSN, 96.3-FM

  • Live racing

    6:30pm

  • Vikings at Tennessee

    7pm on 100.3/1130

  • Gary at Saints

    7:05pm on 1220-AM

  • Live racing

    6:30pm

  • Indiana at Lynx

    7pm on 106.1-FM

  • Gary at Saints

    7:05pm on 1220-AM

  • Twins at Houston

    7:10pm on FSN, 96.3-FM

  • Live racing

    12:45pm

  • Twins at Houston

    6:10pm on FSN, 96.3-FM

  • New Jersey at Saints

    7:05pm on 105.1-FM

  • Live racing

    12:45pm

  • Twins at Houston

    1:10pm on FSN, 96.3-FM

  • Minnesota United FC at Edmonton

    3pm

  • New Jersey at Saints

    5:05pm on 1220-AM

  • New York at Lynx

    6pm on FSN, 106.1-FM

  • New Jersey at Saints

    11:05am on 1220-AM

  • Live racing

    12:45pm

  • Twins at Kansas City

    7:10pm on FSN, 96.3-FM

Today's Scoreboard

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  • Arizona

    Colorado

     

    - F

    6

    4

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    Baltimore

    6:05 PM

    MLB

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    6:07 PM

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    Atlanta

    6:10 PM

  • NY Yankees

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    6:10 PM

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    6:10 PM

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    Chicago Cubs

    7:05 PM

    WGN

  • Seattle

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    7:10 PM

  • Detroit

    Kansas City

    7:10 PM

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    7:10 PM

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    Minnesota

    7:10 PM

    FSN

  • Washington

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    7:15 PM

  • Arizona

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    7:40 PM

  • LA Angels

    Oakland

    9:05 PM

  • San Francisco

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    9:10 PM

  • Texas

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    9:10 PM

  • Connecticut

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    6:00 PM

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    6:00 PM

No games for MLS