Round Lake, Ceylon share 1961 Southern Star grid titleROUND LAKE — Saturday night I enjoyed an evening of musical “blasts from the past” as the area “oldies” band Starfire capped off Round Lake’s annual fish house parade and winter kickoff celebration with a dance at the town’s legion hall.
By: Les Knutson, Worthington Daily Globe
ROUND LAKE — Saturday night I enjoyed an evening of musical “blasts from the past” as the area “oldies” band Starfire capped off Round Lake’s annual fish house parade and winter kickoff celebration with a dance at the town’s legion hall.
Back in the 1990’s, it was a big deal for baseball kids from the neighboring towns of Lakefield, Heron Lake, Okabena and Brewster to trek from the Round Lake ball field on the northeast edge of town to the Sather’s store on main street to “load up” on candy and other goodies, while the other team — either the Mites or Midgets — was playing their game.
A half a century ago — when the “Guns of Navarone,” starring Gregory Peck, David Niven and Anthony Quinn was showing at the Gay Drive Inn in Worthington and Dion’s classic “Runaround Sue” (which was played twice by Starfire, the second time by request, Saturday night) was climbing the charts before becoming Billboard’s No. 1 hit on October 23, 1961 — there was lots of exciting Friday night football action at that Round Lake ball field, which had just been tiled during the summer.
“They tiled the field that summer before my senior year,” recalled Worthington’s Roger Geertsema, who was a four-year, four-sport athlete (football, basketball, baseball, track and field) before graduating from Round Lake High School in 1962. “They left a mound of dirt on the field and it was very uneven. We always wanted to finish the game on the south side because then you were going down hill.”
The revamped — and tilted — field was the scene of five impressive wins for the Wildcats in the fall of 1961, as RLHS was undefeated at home — and away.
While Roger Maris and Mickey Mantle were involved in their legendary home run battle and the Philadelphia Phillies were increasing their near-record losing streak to 23 games, the Daily Globe ran a preview story about Round Lake’s football team on Aug. 23.
“Round Lake Expected to Field Strong Grid Squad” ran the headline.
The Wildcats (the school’s nickname was changed to the Thunderbirds or T-Birds a few years later) had 12 lettermen returning on a 20-member squad, which featured nine seniors, five juniors, two sophomores and four freshmen.
Geertsema and fellow senior Jerry Scherer — a hard-running halfback — were Round Lake’s co-captains for the upcoming ’61 campaign, while both Geertsema and senior guard Terry Hanna returned as all-conference linemen for the Wildcats.
Geertsema, who stood 5-foot-10 and tipped the scales at an even 200 pounds, was a Chuck Bednarik-type of player.
Bednarik played offensive center and defensive linebacker for the Philadelphia Eagles — one of the last two-way players in NFL history.
The 1961 season was just the third for the 10-team Southern Star Conference, which was formed in 1959 and played 8-man football.
The Sioux Valley Warriors, Round Lake Wildcats, Brewster Bulldogs, Okabena Bluehawks and Heron Lake Falcons made up the conference’s west division, while the Huntley Black Knights, Granada Eagles, East Chain Chainers, Welcome Wildcats and Ceylon Huskies were the five teams in the east.
The league had a rich heritage for more than two decades before disbanding in 1981.
Heron Lake, which returned a strong cast of seniors from an undefeated 1958 campaign, ran the table in the first year of the Southern Star, going a perfect 9-0 in ’59, ending the season with a dramatic 8-6 road victory over East Chain as the Falcons extended their winning streak to 18 games.
East Chain, which was undefeated in ‘59 until that season-ending loss to Heron Lake, rattled off nine straight wins in 1960, giving the Chainers an undefeated conference championship.
As the ’61 season unfolded, it quickly became apparent that a new champion would be crowned.
Heron Lake, which was senior loaded in ’59, never won a game in 1960 and would end up losing 36 straight before winning its season-opener (a 12-6 win over Sioux Valley) in 1964.
East Chain, which was 17-1 in the first two years of the league, was defeated by Granada, 20-7, in the 1961 season-opener.
Round Lake, Ceylon roll to perfect 6-0 records
Ceylon traveled to Heron Lake for the ’61 season-opener and trumped the Falcons, 32-6.
The Huskies followed that up with impressive shutouts over Welcome (39-0) and East Chain (24-0) before becoming 4-0 with a hard-fought 26-20 victory over a Brewster squad, which would run the table the next year, winning the 1962 Southern Star title with a perfect 9-0 mark.
Meanwhile, the Wildcats had also bolted out of the gate impressively, opening with a 20-6 home victory over Okabena, which had finished as conference runner-up in 1960 (only loss to East Chain) with an 8-1 record.
Round Lake’s starting offense was laced with veteran, experienced players.
Geertsema (center) Hanna (guard) Dick Huehn (guard), Jim Fink (end), Bob Geertsema (quarterback) and Scherer (halfback) were six senior starters, while juniors Jack Spessard (end) and Tony Boyer (halfback) completed Round Lake’s explosive offensive unit, which scored 26 touchdowns in five games on the home turf.
Scherer rushed for a pair of touchdowns (four yards, 45 yards) in the season-opening win over Okabena, while Boyer dashed across the goal line from 35 yards out.
Bob Geertsema completed extra-point passes to both Spessard and Fink to complete Round Lake’s scoring (all PAT’s were worth one point in those days).
The Wildcats hosted Huntley in Game 2 on Sept. 8 and posted a 39-21 victory.
Next came an impressive 46-7 win at Welcome, followed by a 32-12 triumph over arch-rival Sioux Valley at home.
The Monday, Sept. 25, 1961 edition of the Daily Globe sports page ran a headline wich ran:
“Round Lake, Ceylon Boast 4-0 Records”
A week later, as the calendar turned to October, the paper ran this heading:
“Round Lake, Ceylon Pace Southern Star Pigskin Race”
Then on Monday, Oct. 9, the headline was:
“Ceylon, Round Lake Remain Undefeated”
Ceylon had edged Okabena, 14-13, on Sept. 29 and became 6-0 with a 52-19 romp over Huntley on Oct. 6.
Round Lake, meanwhile, rolled to a 27-13 victory over Granada Sept. 29 and then won its fourth straight home game with a 48-0 thrashing of Heron Lake on the first Friday in October.
Friday, the 13th, Oct. of 1961 at Ceylon
Through the first six games, both teams had been impressive.
Ceylon had outscored its opponents by a margin of 187-58, averaging 30.2 points per game, while allowing a mere 9.7.
Round Lake was averaging 35.3 ppg, having outscored six opponents by a 212-59 margin and was giving up just 9.8 ppg.
The Wildcats were scheduled to play Game 7 at Ceylon on Friday, the 13th.
Worthington’s Dennis Turner, a long-time resident of Storden and highly successful basketball and track coach at Storden and Storden-Jeffers through the ‘60s. ‘70s and ‘80s, was a four-sport athlete for Round Lake before graduating in 1960.
While Turner was in college in the fall of ’61, he remembers playing at Ceylon in 1959.
“I just about drowned at the bottom of a pile,” Turner recalled. “It was a wet fall and the field at Ceylon was really soaked with water.”
While field conditions were not a factor in the Ceylon vs. Round Lake showdown in 1961, cold, wind, rain and snow flurries were.
“It was so cold and windy,” recalled Geertsema, who had an incredible 17 tackles in the game from his linebacker position. “There were some snow flurries along with some drizzling rain and my cousin Bob, who was normally a very good quarterback, couldn’t complete a pass that night.”
With difficult weather conditions that evening, Worthington and Luverne battled to a 0-0 tie a Southwest Conference defensive struggle at Worthington on Homecoming night for the Trojans.
Over at Ceylon, the Wildcats mounted a couple of solid first-half drives — but failed to reach the end zone either time.
Round Lake, which picked up 11 first downs in the game and had 194 net yards rushing, marched to the Ceylon two-yard line in the first quarter before the Huskies came up with a big defensive stand.
Bob Geertsema — after intercepting a pass on Ceylon’s first possession — engineered that sustained 60-yard drive for the Wildcats, which included several strong runs by Scherer.
“Jerry ran his butt off that night,” recalled Roger Geertsema, who blocked five punts that season and recovered a muffed Ceylon punt return at the Huskies’ 12-yard line late in the second quarter. “We had great folllowing from Round Lake at the game and our fans were totally into it and were really cheering when we made a big play.”
But, Round Lake was unable to capitalize on its outstanding field position and the first half ended in a scoreless tie.
Ceylon, which had eight first downs in the game and gained a total of 210 yards of offense — 99 rushing and 111 passing (completing nine of 24), drove inside Round Lake’s 10-yard line in the third quarter.
But the Round Lake defense, which was led by Huehn and Roger Geertsema stopped the drive and the shutout continued.
Then in the fourth quarter, the Huskies nearly won the game.
According to Ceylon end John Hovick, who is an insurance agent in Fairmont and officiated high school football for many years, the Huskies came very close to scoring.
“I remember it very well,” recalled Hovick, who — like Roger Geertsema — was later named to the Minneapolis Tribune’s All-State 8-man football team in 1961. “We had driven all the way to about the three-yard line and then we ran a trick play — a center eligible — but we dropped the ball in the end zone.”
Ceylon’s golden chance came midway through the fourth quarter and Round Lake — behind the hard-running of Scherer — moved the ball towards Ceylon’s goal line.
But time expired with neither team scoring.
Overtimes were not played in those days and the game ended in a 0-0 deadlock, keeping the conference title chase also deadlocked.
“I was so mad about not winning,” recalled Roger Geertsema, who for 15 years (1986-2001) worked as a sports reporter for the Daily Globe, including writing the popular “Big Cahuna” column. “We had four chances to score, coming very close twice. We could have won, but both teams were very good and played hard, it was a great defensive game.”
Geertsema was touted in the Globe’s game story on Monday, Oct. 16 in a quote by Ceylon coach David Thayer.
“That Roger Geertsema played a terrific defensive game for Round Lake,” Thayer said.
“I was lucky to be in the right place at the right time,” Roger said about his performance that night. “I did have the knack to know where the ball was and being able to get there and fight through blockers to make tackles.”
Both teams finish 8-0-1
Following the 0-0 tie, both Round Lake and Ceylon closed out the season with victories, ending the campaign as conference co-champions with identical 8-0-1 records.
Ceylon, which couldn’t score against the Wildcats, rolled offensively in its final two games, posting a 33-6 victory over Sioux Valley and a 47-7 win over Granada.
The Huskies (267-71) finished the season by averaging 29.7 ppg, while allowing just 7.9.
Round Lake hosted East Chain and earned a 33-12 win before finishing the campaign with a 27-13 victory at Brewster — the last time the Bulldogs would lose for more than a season.
The Wildcats (272-84) averaged 30.2 ppg over nine games and gave up an average of 9.3 ppg.
On the home field, Round Lake outscored five opponents by a 172-51 spread (34.4 to 10.1).
“What I remember most about that season was how much the older people of Round Lake came out and supported us,” concluded Roger Geertsema. “They really followed our team and were proud of us — and that made us feel good.”
Geertsema, who grew in Round Lake just south of the Presbyterian Chuch, remembers that his parents were among those loyal Round Lake fans.
“My folks were nightworkers at Campbell Soup Co. and came to the games dressed and ready to go right to work.”
That was high school football in Round Lake 50 years ago, the fall of 1961 — the first year of the Minnesota Vikings.