Blast from the Past: Windom Eagles battled deep snow, Arrows and Wildcats in 1962 regionalWINDOM — As Gene Chandler’s “Duke of Earl” was being replaced at the top of Billboard’s Top 40 by “Hey, Baby” by Bruce Channel and hits like “Don’t Break The Heart That Loves You” (Connie Francis), “Johnny Angel” (Shelley Fabares) and “Good Luck Charm” (Elvis Presley) were waiting in the wings, climbing the charts to their future No. 1 position, a group of excellent all-around athletes were enjoying an exciting “run” through the District 7 and Region 2 high school boys’ basketball tournament.
By: Les Knutson, Worthington Daily Globe
WINDOM — As Gene Chandler’s “Duke of Earl” was being replaced at the top of Billboard’s Top 40 by “Hey, Baby” by Bruce Channel and hits like “Don’t Break The Heart That Loves You” (Connie Francis), “Johnny Angel” (Shelley Fabares) and “Good Luck Charm” (Elvis Presley) were waiting in the wings, climbing the charts to their future No. 1 position, a group of excellent all-around athletes were enjoying an exciting “run” through the District 7 and Region 2 high school boys’ basketball tournament.
Fifty years ago — in March of 1962 — when there were 14 schools in both Districts 7 and 8, tournament action was exciting and extremely competitive as basketball fans braved the recurring snowfalls and blizzards to pack area gymnasiums, especially the four-year-old Worthington High School gym on Clary Street.
Yes, after a bitterly-cold December and January, the area had endured a huge 21-inch snowstorm in late February — and then March was chock full of more snow, which was frequently blown by high winds, creating blizzard conditions on several occasions.
By the end of the long winter, Worthington had received a total of 75 inches of snow, breaking the record of 63 inches which happened in the notorious winter of 1936, which still holds numerous all-time low temperature readings for lots of January and February days.
But, despite the continual snows, the high school basketball tournament trail progressed.
District 8 was wide-open as two-time defending champion Edgerton was good — but not as good as the Flying Dutchmen had been in their back-to-back Region 2 championship runs in 1960 and 1961.
Slayton, led by all-state forward Dick Powell, was a strong favorite and Fulda had a good team, as did larger schools Pipestone, Luverne and Worthington.
Jackson was the defending champion in District 7 and perennial power Mountain Lake had another good team, as did Westbrook, Brewster and Jeffers.
Another emerging team was the Windom Eagles, who had not won a district title since 1956 and had just hovered around the .500 mark throughout the ’60-61 campaign.
But the Windom B-squad had been impressive — completing an undefeated season in 1961 and expectations were on the rise in the Cottonwood County seat, located on the Des Moines River.
“I remember how good our B-team was in ’60-61,” said Ed Maras, a Dale Township farm boy — who lived about eight miles north of Windom, near Delft. “I was a junior and started on the varsity, but we scrimmaged the B-squad often in practice and there was no doubt they were going to be good.”
Maras, who later became a two-sport star (football and baseball) at South Dakota State University in Brookings, S.D. and pitched in the Baltimore Orioles’ minor-league system for six seasons, joked that the sophomores were more popular with Eagle fans than the varsity.
“Our gym would be packed early and then some people would leave after watching the B-squad game.”
So, with Maras returning as a starting forward — and fellow seniors George Hase, Roger Stempfley and Bill Bentson providing varsity experience for fifth-year head coach Jed Dommeyer, the Eagles were ready to “fly” as the ’61-62 season approached.
Eight juniors — Rich Elness, Daryle Hanson, Dave Palm, Mike Ratzloff, Jim Silliman, Steve Baker, Mike Higley and Roy Orton — were up from that heralded B-team and Windom had lots of talent and depth as the campaign began.
“I always give Jed a lot of credit for not pulling any of those kids up early (to the varsity) the year before,” recalled long-time Windom basketball and baseball coach Jack Kelly, who was in his fourth year as Dommeyer’s assistant and had coached the undefeated B-team in 1961.
“He left them develop as a unit as sophomores, becoming very familiar with each other and forming a winning tradition — rather than splitting them by moving them up. You don’t see that happening much any more.”
Both Dommeyer and Kelly had been college basketball stars and were actively playing for the Heron Lake Lakers — a high-caliber collection of area coaches who formed one of the premier amateur basketball teams in the state for more than a decade.
Slayton head coach Bill Sexton, a 1951 Jasper High School graduate and a scoring sensation at St. John’s in Collegeville during the mid-50s, played with Kelly and Dommeyer for the Lakers, as did Estherville (Iowa) head coach George Hess, who had starred at Iowa State.
Kelly, a Pipestone native, played at St. Cloud State, while Dommeyer — who was from Slayton — started two seasons for the Minnesota Gophers, earning all-Big 10 honors in 1957 and being drafted in the fourth round by the NBA Cincinnati Royals.
“Jack was very good, but Jed was super,” recalled Maras about the playing ability of Windom’s two tall coaches. “They were both great coaches, too.
“Kelly was so good with fundamentals, I learned so much from him in both basketball and baseball — I probably learned more baseball from him than I did from anybody else.
“And, I liked Jed as a basketball coach. He was a lot of fun and I loved how feisty he was — he really cared about us and often pleaded his case with the referees.
“As a Minnesota Gophers fan during the ‘50s, I knew who he was,” Maras said. “I just couldn’t believe it when I heard that Jed Dommeyer was coming to coach at Windom.”
Two early-season losses in December, 1961
Dommeyer’s starting lineup during most of the ’61-62 campaign featured a pair of seniors and a trio of juniors, as Palm (6-5) and Silliman (6-1) manned the posts, Maras (6-1) was the right wing, the slick-passing Hanson (6-0) started at left wing (as the second guard) and the athletic Stempfley (5-10), was the Eagles’ starting point guard.
Both Maras (end) and Stempfley (back) had earned all-conference football honors in the fall of ’61.
Hase and Ratzloff were Windom’s top front-line reserves, while both Elness and Bentson were good guards, capable of playing either the point or on the wing.
“We had good depth, as I remember,” recalled Maras, who often guarded the opponent’s best player — regardless of position. “I know I needed to be subbed for a lot because I was usually in foul trouble. I felt fortunate if I could get to halftime with just two fouls, but I often was sitting out with four by the end of the third quarter.”
After playing a quarter against each Worthington and Jackson in the conference jamboree at Pipestone on Nov. 25, the Eagles opened the season for real on Friday night, Dec. 2, 1961.
In a game, which was close all the way, the host Pipestone Arrows — led by the double-figure scoring of Dave Dries (16), Doug Hart (14) and Dave Hudson (10) — edged Windom, 51-50.
Hase and Palm paced the Eagles with 16 and 10 points, respectively.
“George didn’t start,” remembered Andy Olson, who was a sophomore on the B-squad that season and rode the late bus home with Hase to the western edges of Windom’s school district in Springfield Township. “But he was a tough player and could really shoot. He was a key player on that team in many games.”
Palm, who was described by Kelly as a “self-made, hard-working player,” frequently scored in double figures and was Windom’s leading rebounder.
“Dave spent a lot of time playing basketball on the tennis courts across from the school in the off season,” Kelly recalled. “He developed a nice drop step, which helped him score down low and he became a good free throw shooter, which was important because he drew lots of fouls.”
Silliman, Maras and Ratzloff were all strongly built and both Hanson and Elness had excellent quickness.
“We had a nice mix of seniors and juniors,” recalled Elness, who made the game-winning shot in Windom’s second contest, a 73-72 triple-overtime victory over St. James.
Palm (20), Maras (16), Silliman (13) and Hase (10 all had double figures, but it was a 15-footer from the free throw line by Elness with 10 seconds left, which gave WHS the victory margin in a battle, which had been tied 56-all at the end of regulation.
Windom overcame an eight-point halftime deficit (30-22) to claim a 53-48 win over Worthington, as Palm (22), Maras (15) and Silliman (10) combined for 47 points.
Palm earned WCCO “Prep Parade” Team of the Week honors after his pair of 20-point games.
On Dec. 12, the Eagles were defeated for the second time, evening their record at 2-2, as Jackson — paced by the 25-point performance of junior all-around athlete Kent Borchard — claimed a 55-51 win at Windom.
Palm (17), Silliman (12) and Hase (10) had double figures for the Eagles.
Silliman, nicknamed “Ruby,” scored 12 points to lead Windom to a 47-45 win over Luverne on the Cardinals’ court on Dec. 15 and the Eagles finished the ’61 portion of their schedule with a 63-49 victory over Lakefield on the Panthers’ court on Dec. 22, as Palm (21) and Silliman (12) both netted double figures.
After loss to Westbrook in mid-January, Eagles soar through February
After opening with a 61-25 victory over Okabena in a preliminary game at Gustavus Adolphus College in St. Peter — where the Region 2 tournment would be be played — the Eagles picked up wins over Mountain Lake (63-51) and Pipestone (57-52) to improve to 7-2 for the season.
A 57-50 loss to Westbrook came next, but a 64-45 victory over Lakefield turned out to be the start of an 11-game winning streak for Windom.
After trailing by as much as 12 points, the Eagles rallied for an impressive 66-52 non-conference win over Redwood Falls (the Cardinals didn’t join the league until the following season).
With five seconds left, Palm scored the game-winner for the Eagles in a 62-60 victory over Mountain Lake and conference wins over Luverne (72-58) and Worthington (68-55) built momentum for the rematch with Jackson.
Playing at Jackson on Friday evening, Feb. 23, Windom led most of the way and earned a hard-fought triumph, 56-53, giving the Eagles the conference championship with a 6-2 league record.
Maras scored 18 points for Windom, while Hanson and Palm both netted 17.
Borchard and Dean Doyscher paced the Bluejays with 20 and 18 points, respectively.
A 60-51 victory over a good Fulda squad (13-5) concluded Windom’s regular season with a 14-3 overall record.
March of 1962 — tournament action packs Worthington gym
In the District 8 quarterfinals — all played at Worthington on Friday March 2, “Super Friday” — Pipestone, which had come through sub-district action with wins over Adrian (67-45) and Magnolia (46-42), knocked off Edgerton, 47-42, setting the stage for a new district and regional champion.
Luverne, Fulda and Slayton were the other three quarterfinal winners and in the semifinals, Pipestone claimed a 58-52 win over the Raiders and the Cardinals defeated Slayton, 72-60, setting up a Pipestone vs. Luverne championship game.
Meanwhile, in District 7 action, Windom beat Lakefield (53-37), Westbrook edged Jeffers (52-48), Jackson defeated Okabena (74-43) and Mountain Lake eliminated Brewster (67-53) in quarterfinal action at various sites.
In the semifinals, Jackson won over Mountain Lake (67-55) and Windom avenged its loss to Westbrook, claiming a 51-43 victory and putting the Eagles and Bluejays into the title game — where they would tangle on Worthington’s neutral court.
In an overtime thriller, Pipestone won the District 8 championship, 76-74, over Luverne, as the Arrows won five straight games in the tournament.
On Saturday night, March 10, 1962 — with snow blowing across the area prairies — high school basketball fans packed the Worthington gym to see rivals Jackson and Windom play for a third time.
The two squads treated the fans to a well-played game, with Windom — following a jump shot by Hanson midway through the first quarter — holding a slight lead the rest of the way.
The Eagles, who shot an amazing 84 percent (21 of 25) at the free throw stripe, led at the quarter stops by margins of 15-10, 32-24 and 43-39, holding on for a 59-54 victory and the school’s first district title since 1956.
Maras (15), Palm (12), Hanson (12), Hase (10) and Stempfley (nine) gave Windom a balanced scoring attack, while Hase (eight-of-eight) and Palm (six-of-six) were both perfect at the line.
Borchard and Doyscher were Jackson’s leading scorers with 18 and 12 points, respectively.
The Bluejays had more field goals than the Eagles (21-19), but made just 12-of-23 free throws.
“I know our fans were happy and so were we,” remembered Maras. “We hadn’t won the district for awhile and it was always special beating Jackson.”
Snow delays regional games, Eagles stay overnight in St. Peter
Wells defeated Ceylon, 61-51, in overtime to claim the District 5 championship and St. James emerged from District 6.
The four-team Region 2 tournament was scheduled for three days at Myrom Field House at Gustavus in St. Peter.
Wells and St. James were to square off Monday, the 12th and familiar oppponents Pipestone and Windom would clash on Tuesday — with the championship set for Thursday night.
But, another March blizzard changed all of that.
First, Monday’s game was snowed out and moved back to Tuesday.
“Massive Blizzard Isolates Area for 24-Hour Period” ran the banner headline on the front page of Tuesday’s Daily Globe.
“Snow Piled into Huge Drifts by 45-Mile Hour Winds” was another headline.
Yes, the long winter of ’62 just continued to roar.
In a game in which 56 fouls were called — with four St. James players fouling out — Wells, led by Ron Meyer’s 23 points, pulled away in the fourth quarter and defeated the Saints, 65-56.
Windom, meanwhile couldn’t get through the massive Highway 60 snowdrifts — 30 semis were “stuck” and clogging up all traffic near Butterfield — and the Eagles vs. Arrows game was postponed until Wednesday.
“That was so typical of that winter,” recalled Maras. “It seemed like we always battling the snow. I missed the bus for one of the district games when we got stuck in a drift trying to get to town. My brother, Joe, finally got us out and drove me to Lakefield in time for the game.
“The same thing happened trying to get into town for the regional game. We got stuck and had to walk about a mile-and-a-half to Highway 71 where Jack Kelly picked me up and brought me into town.
“It was an unbelievable winter, it seemed like the weather affected every road game, either getting there or getting home.”
The Eagles did get to play on Wednesday and edged Pipestone, 55-54, despite an 18-of-21 free throw performance by the Arrows.
Late baskets by Maras and Palm had given Windom one-point leads — offsetting a Pipestone field goal by Jeff Pitts.
Then, with seven second left, Palm clinched the victory by sinking a pair of free throws.
Doug Hart scored a game-high 20 points to lead the Arrows, while Dave Dries netted 16.
Palm (15), Hanson (13), Maras (12), Stempfley (nine) and Silliman (six) did all of the scoring for Windom.
With the roads still snowpacked and more in the forecast, the Eagles stayed overnight at a hotel in St. Peter, while the Wildcats rested at home — with a full day of rest in between.
“We were able to go home after our game on Tuesday,” recalled Meyer, who would later become a teacher and coach at Windom. “We didn’t have the adventure of staying overnight, but were probably better rested than the Windom players were.”
The championship game — for the right to advance to the prestigious one-class state tournament — was played on Thursday evening, March 15, as scheduled.
Meyer — who was of the premier all-around athletes in the state — scored 25 points in the title game, giving him 48 for the tournament and a hard-fought, 54-49, victory over the Eagles.
“I know I guarded him most of the game,” recalled Maras, about his future friend and collegiate teammate. “But, he was so good, I just couldn’t stop him.”
Windom had a 30-25 halftime lead, but Wells won the third quarter by a 13-3 spread, opening up a five-point edge.
Meyer played the entire fourth quarter with four fouls and sank two clinching free throws with four seconds left to help the Wildcats overcome a strong Windom rally, led by a trio of late field goals by Hanson.
Palm (15), Hanson (11) and Stempfley (10) scored double figures for the Eagles, who finished a great season — one game short of the state tournament — with an 18-4 overall record.
“We had a fun season with a lot of excitement,” concluded Maras, who along with Palm and Hanson earned all-conference honors that winter.
Wells, meanwhile, played a trio of game at Williams Arena. The Wildcats defeated Lyle (44-36), lost to South St. Paul and then defeated Danube (68-62) in the third-place game, finishing the season with a 23-3 record.
Meyer and Danube’s ace Bob Bruggers each made the all-tournament team and both later played in the National Football League.
There’s a look back at some of the basketball action from the cold, snow-filled winter of 1962 — 50 years ago.