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BLAST FROM THE PAST: Three-year project by Tyrone Wacker is fascinating reading

STEWART -- It's been about a month since I visited with Jackson's Tyrone Wacker and learned about a fascinating project which he worked on for about three years.

Wacker, a multi-sport athlete and highly-successful multi-sport coach, is a true history "buff" and apparently also likes to do research.

That combination -- a love of high school athletics, a fondness for history and the ability to research -- led Wacker, a 1962 graduate of Stewart High School, to compile a detailed history of the 212 athletic conference over a 27-year period, from 1947-1974.

While the 212 Conference is far north of the Daily Globe coverage area, looking through --scanning --and reading some of the information on this website is an enjoyable time.

According to Wacker's research the 212 was "born" on April 14, 1947 at a meeting organized by LeRoy Henning of Sacred Heart and Dale Aaseth of Bird Island. Both men were principals and basketball coaches (boys) at their respective schools.

Eight small towns -- all located on Highway 212 -- formed the league, without any changes, for those 27 years in Wacker's historical report.

From west to east, the conference members (town's 1950 population) were Sacred Heart (745), Renville (1,323), Danube (437), Bird Island (1,333), Hector (1,196), Buffalo Lake (724), Stewart (695) and Brownton (696).

Olivia, which is between Danube and Bird Island (at the junction of 212 and Highway 71) wanted in, but its 1950 population of 2,012 was considered too large compared to the other eight towns.

So, the league flourished from '47-74 with the exact same eight teams -- no changes, no additions.

It was pure small-town (each town had its own high school) athletics in a simpler, more free-spirited time in history.

"Back in those days, just about every garage had a basket on it," recalled Wacker, who remembers how kids gathered together at the city park in Stewart and created their own games. "We just got together, chose up sides and played. We didn't have everything organized for us like it is now.

"Our own freedom and creativity was a big part of the fun -- and we enjoyed playing at the park."

The 212 existed for another 30 years before folding in 2004, but beginning with the '74-75 school year the league went through several changes and realignments as school consolidations and "pairing" arrangements became the norm in rural Minnesota.

Today, Sacred Heart, Renville and Danube are all together as Renville County West; Bird Island is joined with Lake Lillian and Olivia as BOLD; Stewart -- which used to be with Brownton as McLeod West -- has went with Buffalo Lake-Hector as another case of three towns forming one school.

Brownton no longer has a school. Its students either go east to Glencoe-Silver Lake or travel south to Gibbon-Fairfax-Winthrop (GFW), another three-town conglomeration.

The same scenario, of course, has happened throughout the rural areas of the United States as the "good old days" seem to be gone forever -- a "Blast-From-the-Past."

"We were really lucky," emphasized Wacker. "Those years from the end of World War II to the mid-60s -- I'd say from 1946-1965 -- were the peak years for small-town, rural America.

"Why, a little town like Stewart -- about 700 people -- had four car dealerships when I was growing up in the '50s and, I think, maybe five places to buy tractors and farm equipment.

"It was the best of times. All the small towns had businesses and were booming. Most farmers worked 160 acres and made a living without having another job."

Wacker is certainly not alone in his remembrance of the first two decades following the end of WW II.

Bruggers, Trongard were products of the 212 conference

For me, coming across the names of Bob Bruggers (Danube, Class of '62) and Rod Trongard (Sacred Heart, '50) were interesting.

Bruggers -- as I've mentioned several times before -- was a standout at the state basketball tournament in both '61 and '62. He later was a star linebacker for the Minnesota Gophers before playing five years in the NFL with the Miami Dolphins and San Diego Chargers.

Trongard became a sports broadcaster, covering football action for both the Gophers and Vikings.

I remember well Trongard's voice on fall afternoons in the mid-60s when we were playing pickup (self-organized) football games on our farm in Springfield Township (Cottonwood County). We had a big radio -- turned up loud --in the grainery, which was on the northeast corner of our somewhat slanted, "makeshift" field that utilized some open space between a row of apple trees and the main farm buildings.

"Coming in to punt for the Gophers is Walt Pribyl," boomed Trongard's voice a few years later -- in the fall of 1969 -- when Heron Lake's Wally Pribyl was the U's punter and was Jeff Wright's backup in the defensive secondary.

Wright, who played basketball for Edina in the Hornets' 60-59 opening-round victory over Windom in the 1966 state tournament, later played defensive back for the Vikings for several seasons in the '70s.

Another well-remembered Trongard call came a season or two later when he quipped:

"For the Minnesota Gophers, Bob Bailey comes in, as King goes out."

An unforgettable voice -- which orginated from the early years of the 212.

So what about that 212 Conference during those first special 27 years with its eight original teams?

Can you match up the nicknames (alphabetical order) to the correct school?

Bears, Bison, Bulldogs, Gophers, Hawks, Indians, Panthers, Vikings.

There you go, eight nicknames for eight schools (towns).

Try matching them up. Then get on your computer and go the 212 athletic conference history website and find the answers.

The page is truly fascinating, beginning with an introduction -- which includes a map and tells how Highway 212 replaced the old Yellowstone Trail as an east to west travel route through Minnesota.

Wacker's "intro" is great reading -- interesting and informative. Then, he has facts -- lots of facts -- and pictures, broken down by town, by sport and by year.

It is really an amazing site.

Allow yourself plenty of time because there is a lot of information and I'm betting that you learn something that you didn't know before -- but may kind of a "ring a bell."

Best of luck and let me know what you think of Wacker's project.

Molitors' 39-game hitting streak highlights MLB Summer of 1987

While researching for my preview story about last Saturday's "old-timers" game at Hadley, featuring the Lake Wilson Bison vs. the Slayton Rockets, I spent some time scanning through the Daily Globe issues from July and August of 1987 -- 25 years ago.

One of the interesting items was the ongoing hitting streak of Milwaukee Brewers' infielder Paul Molitor -- who played shortstop for the Minnesota Gophers before Slayton's Tarry Boelter (a Sleepy Eye native) manned the position in the mid 1970s.

Molitor, who finished his career with the Twins in 1998, was on a roll in the summer of '87 -- when "Walk Like an Egyptian" by The Bangles was at the top of Billboard's Top 40.

Starting on July 16 and lasting through August 26, Molitor hit safely in 39 consecutive American League (yes, the Brewers were in the AL then) games -- which at the time was the fifth-longest streak in MLB history.

Molitor, who fell just a game short of matching Ty Cobb's 40-game hitting streak (1911), batted .405 over those 39 games, going 68-for-168.

Remember, those '87 Twins who were surging to the front of the American Leauge West?

How can that be 25 years ago already?

So, what about the '87 All-Star Game?

The game was played on Tuesday evening, July 14 at Oakland's Alameda County Coliseum.

The starting pitchers were Houston's Mike Scott for the NL and Kansas City's Bret Saberhagen for the AL.

The game was a pitcher's duel -- lots of pitchers -- until Montreal's Tim Raines won the game for the National League in the top of the 13th inning on a two-run triple, scoring Atlanta's Ozzie Virgil and teammate Hubie Brooks (both of whom had singled), giving the NL a 2-0 victory.

Sid Fernandez pitched a scoreless bottom of the inning to record the save for the NL, while Lee Smith who pitched three innings of two-hit ball with four strikeouts picked up the win.

Kirby Puckett, the only Twins' player on the AL roster, was hitless in four trips to the plate.

Another interesting national sports item -- in the same issue as the All-Star Game write-up -- was the story of Auburn's Bo Jackson ('86 Heisman Trophy winner) signing to play for both the Royals (Kansas City, baseball) and the Raiders (Oakland, football).

If I remember right, Jackson was good at both.

Can you think of some other two-sport professional athletes?

There have been a few other football-baseball combinations, like Deion Sanders.

Chuck Conners (Rifleman, Lucas McCain) and Dave DeBusschere were a couple who played both basketball and baseball.

Connors played back in the late '40s and early '50s (Celtics, Dodgers, Cubs), while DeBusscher did his thing a little more than a decade later (Pistons, Knicks, White Sox) in the early and mid-60s.

Pirates, Bison meet in '87 regional playoffs

Locally, the Lake Wilson Bison and the Windom Pirates won respective Gopher League and First Night League titles in the summer of '87.

Keith Doeden's grand slam home run highlighted a five-run fifth-inning for Lake Wilson in the Bison's 9-2 clinching victory over Adrian, sweeping the Gopher League championship series on Sunday, Aug. 2.

Bud Schelhaas and Ted Lane each had two hits for Lake Wilson, while Dave Overbeek and Joey Konkel handled the pitching for the home-team Bison, who drew a large crowd for Game 3 of the series.

The Pirates, who came into the regional with a sparkling 23-3 record, utilized a 3-for-3 hitting performance from former Worthington Cub Steve Rogers (four RBI, solo home run in the fourth and three-run inside-the-park homer in the eighth) to claim an 8-1 victory over Lake Wilson in the opening game of the double-elimination tournament, which also featured Minnesota Lake.

Who was Windom's left-handed pitching ace in that game?

With the victory, he improved to 10-0 that summer, notching his fourth complete-game win, while striking out seven Lake Wilson hitters.

A 1982 Windom High School graduate, he has the same name as a famous singer, who had lots of hits in the '80s.

His ERA was a remarkable 1.00 and he only walked 15 batters, while yielding just 36 hits over 72 innings on the mound for the Pirates.

Oh yeah, he struck 88 hitters during those 72 innings.

Eighty-eight strikeouts and only 15 walks in 72 innings -- that's pretty impressive!

So, give me a call at 507-822-2053 if you know the name of this Windom Pirate pitcher who was a dominating force in area amateur baseball action in the summer of 1987.

The first 10 callers may get some "ink" in next week's "blast."