There were nearly 500 public high schools in Minnesota in the late '50s. Scholastic athletics were limited to boys and the major statewide activity was basketball.

The schools were divided strictly by geography into 32 districts and eight regions. District 8 was located in the state's extreme southwest corner. The largest town was Worthington, followed by Pipestone, Luverne, Slayton and then my hometown of Fulda, with its 1,200 residents and surrounding farm families.

District tournaments started in 1925. Luverne was the dominant force, winning 17 of the 34 district titles entering the 1958-59 season.

That was a winter when several District 8 teams had big hopes of displacing Luverne. This included Fulda, which had been reinforced with the arrival of 6-5 Stretch Lemburg as a transfer. He teamed with outside shooters Dicky Overlees and Eddie Kellen, and they put together Fulda's best season in years.

The locals weren't sure how excited to get until our Raiders knocked off Luverne in the quarterfinals. Now, we had visions of a district championship (Fulda's only previous was in 1945), a place in the Region 2 tournament and, what the heck, a trip to the state tournament.

The junior high delegation crowded onto student buses, and we headed 18 miles to Worthington for the semifinals. The opponent was Edgerton, which had upset once-beaten Ellsworth in the quarterfinals.

We assumed victory, since Edgerton was one of the district's "small schools." Plus, it had that goofy nickname, the Flying Dutchmen, and was starting mostly sophomores.

Heartbreak followed. The scrawny Dean Veenhof gave Stretch all he could handle inside. Darrell Kreun and Dean Verdoes matched shots with our marksmen. We glumly headed back to Fulda, losers to Edgerton's mismatched collection of mopheads and flattops with their drooping sweat socks.

A couple of nights later, some Fuldans returned to Worthington and watched Edgerton take on Jasper, which was led by the outstanding Butch Raymond and his co-star, Jimmy Cragoe. There was respect gained for these Edgerton ragamuffins, as they battled to the buzzer before losing 65-64.

Entering the winter of 1959-60, Edgerton was on our radar in the southwest corner. Raymond was gone from Jasper, and that left Pipestone's Sid Bostic as the player to watch in District 8.

Edgerton was unbeaten against the collection of tiny schools in the Tri-County Conference. Then it closed the regular season with decisive victories at Slayton and at Luverne.

The Pipestone-Edgerton matchup came in the district semifinals at Luverne. A friend had a driver's license. We loaded a car full for the drive across country roads. There was snow and wind, but Bostic vs. the Dutchmen was worth some treacherous travel.

Our group wound up in a couple of rows of fans that were allowed to sit under a basket in the crowded gym. This was 50 years ago, but memory insists there was a one-camera, closed-circuit telecast of the game shown in the Luverne cafeteria for the overflow of spectators.

Pipestone came out on fire, rattled Edgerton with defensive pressure and jumped ahead 9-0. Coach Richie Olson called a timeout, and when the Dutchmen came to the huddle, the starters sat on the floor with legs sprawled. Olson addressed them in the same high-pitched squeal that two weeks later could be heard over the din of record crowds inside Williams Arena.

Venhoof, Kreun, and LeRoy Graphenteen, the juniors, and Verdoes and Bob Wiarda, the senior starters, came from the timeout and started drilling shots. We Fuldans lost our neutrality and started cheering for the Dutchmen.

It was a reaction that continued through that 66-52 victory over Pipestone, and then a trouncing of Worthington in the District 8 final. From there, the Dutchmen blitzed Mankato and defeated Mountain Lake in Region 2, and came to Minneapolis as a phenomenon -- the small-town wunderkinds of the state's No. 1 annual sporting event.

There was a record crowd of 18,436 on Thursday night to cheer Edgerton's 65-54 victory over Chisholm. One night later, the record was upped to 18,812 as Edgerton outlasted the Twin Cities power, Richfield, 63-60 in a foul-plagued overtime game.

The opponent for the 9:30 p.m. tipoff Saturday was Austin, coach Ove Berven's perennial power from Region 1. The crowd grew to 19,018 and the fans were so in favor of Edgerton that they offered full-throated boos when the Austin starters were introduced. The Dutchmen put on another shooting clinic in a 72-61 victory.

A half-century later, Edgerton's title remains the greatest moment in the history of Minnesota prep sports, as well as the source of a very different view of our Fulda Raiders' loss in the 1959 District 8 semifinals than was initially the case.

Patrick Reusse can be heard noon-4 weekdays on AM-1500 KSTP. •