Judge Veglahn died Tuesday. He was 92. He coached boys’ basketball for 29 years at St. James High School. Memorably, Judge coached the Saints in 1972, when they defeated Melrose and Mark Olberding 57-55 in the Class A title game, and defeated Mounds View and Mark Landsberger 60-52 in the overall title game.
You have to be a golden-ager and a follower of high school basketball to recall those five years — 1971 to ’75 — when the state tournament was first played in multiple classes, with the add-on of a championship playoff game to try to retain the magic of the one-class tournament.
Here was the problem for the Minnesota State High School League: It was making a huge increase in time demand from the tournament loyalists who had filled Williams Arena from after World War II through 1970.
Through that quarter-century, there were four championship sessions: two for the quarterfinals Thursday afternoon and evening, the semifinals Friday night and the title game (with consolation prelims) Saturday night.
You could bring the family in from Fosston or Fulda, spend Thursday in the arena, shop energetically at Dayton’s on Friday afternoon, eat dinner at Murray’s on Saturday evening and still make tipoff to the title game.
And then came two classes: eight championship sessions, afternoon and evening, Wednesday through Saturday, followed by the overall title game.
In 1971, Melrose defeated Red Wing 64-53 in Class A, and Duluth Central defeated North St. Paul 54-51. That first year, the MSHSL tried bringing back the two winners for the championship playoff a week later — Duluth Central won 54-43 — and announced a Saturday night attendance of 15,735.
Outstate residents complained about being forced to drive back to “the Cities” for a second straight weekend, and the overall game was moved to Monday.
Nothing topped 1972. On Saturday, St. James’ Jeff Nessler heaved in a midcourt shot at the buzzer to beat Melrose. Two nights later, the Saints’ pressure defense led to 22 turnovers by Mounds View.
“I wanted to make them play our ballgame,” Judge Veglahn said. “We wanted to get out there and run.”
PLUS THREE FROM PATRICK
Three items from the experiments with crowning an “overall’’ champion:
• Class AA (Duluth Central, Anoka, Little Falls) had a 3-2 advantage over Class A (St. James, Melrose) in 1971-75 playoff games.
• Attendance for the playoff game deteriorated from 15,735 in 1971 to 4,537 in 1975. Total tournament attendance fell from 140,313 to 107,439.
• There was a “Sweet 16,’’ two-class, one-champion format in 1995-96. Fans didn’t respond and the current four classes started in 1997.