Roger Schelper could see Bob Zender was going to be something special. The Edina Hornets were, relatively speaking, in the nascent stage of creating a high school boys’ basketball powerhouse when Zender was called up to the varsity rather late during the 1965-66 season.
“He could jump,” Schelper said recently. “He was pretty fluid. Had a decent jump shot. I mean, for a 6-8 guy, he was really a leaper.”
Fifty-two years ago this week, the Hornets ended a remarkable three-year run with a 70-45 victory over Moorhead in the 1968 state championship game. It was a rematch of the 1967 final. Led by Zender, Edina became the first team to win three state titles in a row and ended a run in which the Hornets went 79-1, including a 69-game winning streak.
And while that day — March 23, 1968 — is the exclamation point, it was really the culmination of three March title runs, the first coming with a 26-0 season in 1966 that ended with an overtime victory over Duluth East.
Schelper was on that ’66 team; he and center Tom Jones were its seniors. Schelper went on to play at the University of Minnesota, Jones to Montana. The other starters on that first title team were Jay Kiedrowski, Kurt Schellhas and Jeff Wright, who went on to play in three Super Bowls as a Vikings safety.
“People always thought Edina kids were rich and spoiled kids,” Schelper said. “Well, we had a three-bedroom house and four boys. We were always in better shape than the kids we played. The coaches pushed us. We had guys who just didn’t want to lose.’’
This was back when the old Lake Conference was an absolute power. Wayzata was state champion in 1959, St. Louis Park in 1962, Minnetonka in 1965, then three in a row by Edina, giving the conference six titles in 10 seasons.
Schelper remembers playing the tourney games at Williams Arena, where he went on to play under Gophers coaches John Kundla and Bill Fitch. “Toughest ticket in town,” he said. “You could not get tickets. It was huge back then.”
Edina went 26-0 in 1966, 27-0 in ’67 and 26-1 in ’68. Starting with that 1966-67 season, Zender began his ascent to stardom. In that ’68 final — the rematch with Moorhead came in front of an announced 18,677 — Zender had 19 points to lead the Hornets.
Staff writer Joel Rippel contributed to this report.