50 years later, WHS gym still packed with great moments, memoriesWORTHINGTON — Billed as the Lark, Studebaker’s brand new V-8 powered family car was selling for $1,925 at Swenson-Rayl Motors on Worthington’s Second Avenue.
By: Les Knutson, Worthington Daily Globe
WORTHINGTON — Billed as the Lark, Studebaker’s brand new V-8 powered family car was selling for $1,925 at Swenson-Rayl Motors on Worthington’s Second Avenue.
The Davidson/Johnson variety store was advertisng an “early shopper special” on Shirley Temple dolls — $7.95 for a 15-inch doll or $9.95 for a 17-inch model.
Worthington High School’s industrial arts class, instructed by Dean R. Nordell, made front-page news for its mass production of step ladders, building them “factory style.”
The top 10 college football teams in the latest Associated Press (AP) poll were Louisiana State University (LSU), Auburn, Oklahoma, Big Ten champion Iowa, Army, Wisconsin, Texas Christian, Air Force, Ohio State and Syracuse.
The new Our Lady of Good Council Catholic School was just completed in Wilmont, and a raging blizzard was working its way across the Dakotas into Minnesota.
It was late November of 1958 and boys’ high school basketball teams had just opened their seasons.
Fulda kicked off its campaign with a shocking 51-49 homecourt victory over defending District 8 champion Luverne on Friday, the 21st.
The trio of Dick Overlees (17), Dennis Lemburg (13) and Edward Kellen (12) all scored in double figures for the Raiders, while George McKay netted 20 points for the Cardinals.
The following Tuesday (Nov. 25), Jerry Matthiesen scored 26 points and LeRoy Visker tallied 13 to lead Ellsworth to a 63-46 win over Edgerton. Sophomore Dean Veenhof had 19 points for the Flying Dutchmen.
At Lakefield, the visiting Okabena Bluehawks had three players — Dale Peters (13), Dale Aden (12) and Lynn Schmidt (11) — score in double figures, as they claimed a 49-37 victory over the Panthers. Leon Sawyer netted 12 points for Lakefield.
And at Magnolia, the host Bulldogs defeated Round Lake by 20 points, 67-47. Future Nebraska football star Lloyd Voss scored 30 points for Magnolia, while teammates Warren Jansen and Steve Akkerman contributed 12 and 11 points, respectively.
Dennis Turner (19) and Craig Erickson (14) both tallied double figures for Round Lake.
The calendar in 1958 was exactly the same as 2008 and Thanksgiving Day was on Nov. 27.
The following day, a picture on the front page of the Daily Globe showed Mr. and Mrs. Robert Schnitker and their seven children — Karen, 17; Kenneth, 15; Kristine, 10; Kolene, 8; Korliss, 6; Kelly, 4; and Kirk, 2 — seated in a pew together at church services at St. Mary’s Catholic in Worthington.
That same day, sports columnist Corky Brace previewed the Worthington Trojan season-opener against Fairmont.
The column, known as “Brace’s Bits,” highlighted the projected starting line-ups for the game and also told about the Fairmont vs. Worthington series, which the Trojans held a slight 6-5 edge in.
After three straight Worthington wins, the Cardinals broke in their new gym in the ’57-58 season with a 67-51 win over the Trojans.
Now a year later, Worthington was ready for its inaugural game in its brand new gymnasium.
Under construction the previous school year, the spacious gym was big and its seating capacity would make it the site for numerous post-season tournament contests in the years to come.
After playing previously at Memorial Auditorium, Brace welcomed the move to the new facility, concluding his column with this:
“The new gym has plenty of seats. Fans shouldn’t miss the preliminary game. It is a good chance to see what is coming up in basketball. If you are unable to get there early, don’t stay away. The days of not being able to sit down if you don’t get to the game at least 30 minutes early are gone. There are plenty of seats, so that excuse for not attending the high school contests is gone.”
Corky was right about the gym having lots of seats. About 3,500 people would later crowd into tournament games in the 1960s and 1970s, as PA announcer Al Swanson would chime:
“Ladies and Gentlemen, we ask that you get to know your neighbor better and PLEASE SQUEEZE together.”
Yes, the place was packed — jam-packed — for many a tournament contest. And, Corky must not have envisioned how frenzied some of those tournament atmospheres would become. Because, yes, you did have to get there 30 minutes early or you would not get a seat.
“I remember well playing in a packed house in the 1961 District 8 semifinals against defending state champion Edgerton,” recalls Gary Ridge, who retired in 2001 after 32 years as a mathematics teacher, varsity level football coach, head girls’ track and field coach, and athletic director at Owatonna High School. “The gym was a tremendous facilty — one of the top in the whole state — and the atmosphere was electrifying.”
Ridge, who starred for the Trojans in football, basketball and track before graduating from WHS in 1961, was a sophomore starting center for veteran head coach Ken Thompson in that first Trojan home game in the new gym on Friday evening, November 28, 1958.
Ridge netted eight points that night — one of nine Trojans who scored — in a game that was close all the way.
On a free throw by Jim Wibbens, the Trojans took a 16-15 lead at the end of the first quarter.
A hook shot by Joel Lieske gave Worthington a three-point lead early in the second quarter, but Fairmont held a 32-28 halftime lead and took a 48-43 advantage into the fourth quarter.
The Cardinals stretched the margin in the last eight minutes to a final 63-53 victory.
Worthington’s three returning senior lettermen — Wibbens (15), Gary Kallsen (11) and Lieske (9) — were the top three Trojan scorers in that first game.
Four nights later, the Trojans played at home again and were edged in a very close game by Fulda, 51-49.
Ridge and junior guard Gene Puhl scored 14 and 13 points, respectively for Worthington, while Overlees (15) and Lemburg (14) each notched double figures for the Raiders, who won their third straight game of the new season.
“It was fabulous playing in the new gym,” remembers Puhl, who lives in Jamestown, North Carolina and is a retired engineer from General Dynamics after completing a 20-year career in the Air Force. “In the old gym everything was so tight. It was a good thing that we had pads along the walls, because we used to smash into them after shooting a lay-up.”
Puhl remembers that the team had to move back to Memorial Auditorium for a couple of games after a backboard was smashed — in a college game (the Bluejays played there too) — at the new gym.
He also recalls an amazing steal made by Jasper’s Lloyd “Butch” Raymond in the 1959 Region 2 Tournament — the first of many regional tourneys held in the new gym.
“That was the smoothest steal I ever saw,” said Puhl. “Raymond knocked the ball away, slid on his back, somehow controlled the ball, dribbled to his feet and passed to a teammate for a score. That was so slick.”
In addition to Wibbens, Kallens, Lieske, Puhl and Ridge, the other members of Worthington’s 13-man roster for those first games in the new gym were seniors Kelly Sorem and Bob Hanson, along with juniors Dave Minge, Les Voss, Bill Jafvert, Dennis Klute, John Simons and Dick Voth.
Minge, who graduated from WHS in 1960, later became a U.S. Congressman and currently serves in St. Paul on the Minnesota State Court of Appeals.
In the first official game ever played in the new gym — the B-squad game — Fairmont edged the Trojans, 41-39.
Vince Hollaren and Claytom Marsch scored 12 and 11 points, respectively, to lead coach Danny Regnier’s “Bombers” — as B-squad players were called then.
Thompson was Worthington’s head basketball coach for 11 seasons and guided the Trojan boys to the 1957 state golf championship. He was the WHS athletic director during three decades and was a key player for several years on the Worthington Cubs amateur baseball team.
“He was a great guy,” said Ridge, who won a pair of Minnesota Intercollegiate Athletic Conference (MIAC) hurdles championships at Macalester College in 1965. “I have a great deal of respect for Mr. Thompson. He was respectful of his athletes and treated us very well.”
“He could demonstrate with enthusiasm,” said Puhl, who remembers ducking one time before getting struck by a Thompson elbow. “He was a good coach. He got right in there with us and mixed it up. He taught you how to protect your space.”
Before coming to Worthington, Thompson had played at Hamline University. He was a senior for the Pipers when future Minneapolis Laker star Vern Mikkelsen was a freshman.
“I had a lot of fun as a player, once getting a chance to guard George Mikan,” Thompson recalled. “My years coaching in Worthington were enjoyable. I always had such good kids. The move to the new gym was really special, we had so much more room and the fans really packed the place for lots of the games.”
This winter, I will attempt to highlight a couple more great games, but for now — you know a little more about the first game that was played there 601 months ago.