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Blast from the Past: Burns family had huge sports impact on Heron Lake

Pictured here is the Ray and Marilyn Burns family of Heron Lake in October of 1970. In the front row (left to right) are Bob, Scott, Bruce, Tom and Pat. In the second row are Colette, Marilyn, Ray, Jean and Betty. In the back are LuAnn, Dick, Brian and Colleen. A son, Gary, died of leukemia at age 8 in April of 1966 and Ray --who coached Mites and Midgets baseball in Dundee for several years and was a positive supporter of high school athletics -- died in November of 1992 of a heart attack while deer hu...

It was the second month of the third season for the Minnesota Twins, JFK was in his third year as the 35th President of the United States, "Surfin' U.S.A." by the Beach Boys was No. 7 on Billboard's Top 40, "Pipeline," a surf-like instrumental by the Chantays, was at No. 4 and "I Will Follow Him" by Little Peggy March was finishing up its third week at the top of the charts.

Yes, it was the middle of May, 1963, and I was a sixth-grader at the Heron Lake Public School with only a couple weeks remaining in my elementary career.

And as a sixth-grader, I was given the chance to be a captain of a combined fifth/sixth-grade team for the annual school-year-ending softball tournament, organized by Mrs. Tatge --fifth-grade teacher/elementary principal.

This was quite an honor and something that I had hoped could happen, as there were only four teams and four captains.

So, obviously, I was happy to be chosen as a captain.

I was even happier when I saw the list of who was on my team.

Fifth-grader Brian Burns --the best player in the whole elementary --was on my list.

Brian was new to our school that year, having moved with his family in November from a farm in northern Southbrook Township of Cottonwood County to another farm just 1.3 miles south and east (also in Southbrook), leaving the Westbrook school district and joining us in Heron Lake.

Brian could hit the ball. He frequently banged the ball off the wall of the school --sometimes breaking windows --which was a pretty good poke for a right-handed pull hitter.

He could also field the ball and throw. My, did he have an arm.

I found that out more later that summer when Brian, who was pitching for Dundee (coached by his dad, Ray) struck me out time after time when I was playing baseball for the Heron Lake Mites.

But back to the school softball tournament.

I remember well walking through our grove on the farm the day after the list of teams was released and planning our lineup and batting order.

Strange, I really don't remember who else was on our team.

I just remember that I had Brian Burns and because of him, we were going to win.

I don't remember the scores or who we played in the first round or in the championship game. But I know that we won both games and we were the champions.

After all, we had Brian on our team --and he was the best all-around player in the entire elementary school.

Coming back to town

and getting to

coach Brian's sisters

As I mentioned, Brian was a major factor in my first "coaching" championship in 1963.

Years later, his sisters were huge factors in several others.

Ray and Marilyn (Kuehl) Burns were married in 1947 and raised 13 children, seven boys and six girls, living eight of those years on that farm in Section 10 of Southbrook Township, which according to oldest child Colleen was "11 miles from anywhere."

"We loved growing up together as a large family on that farm with the mulberry trees and crab apple tree," remembers Colleen. "But we lived 11 miles from Dundee, 11 miles from Heron Lake and about 11 miles from both Storden and Westbrook. We were not close to any towns."

Actually, the farm was just a bit under 11 miles to Dundee, but was --taking the shortest route, mostly on gravel --a little more than 12 miles to downtown Heron Lake and measured 12.2 miles to the school.

Colleen graduated from HLHS in 1966 and later married Ed Freking, who farms in LaCrosse Township (Jackson County), and they live only three miles from Heron Lake. Colleen is our highly-efficient secretary at the Southwest Star Concept (SSC) High School in Okabena, which serves the Heron Lake-Okabena school district.

Following Colleen and their year of high school graduation are Dick ('67), Brian ('70), LuAnn ('72), Jean ('74), Colette ('76), Betty ('77), Bob ('80), Pat ('82), Tom ('83), Bruce ('85) and Scott ('87).

HL-O consolidated in 1978, so Colleen, Dick, Brian, LuAnn, Jean, Colette and Betty all graduated from Heron Lake, while Bob "Trog," Pat, Tom, Bruce "Hook," and Scott were HL-O graduates.

Gary, who died of leukemia two months shy of his ninth birthday in April of 1966, would have been part of the HLHS Class of 1975.

Colleen, LuAnn and Jean each went through high school before girls' athletics became a part of the sports scene in southwestern Minnesota.

But, Colette, Betty and Pat were all outstanding athletes, excelling especially in basketball.

More on that later.

Dick, who had exceptional leaping ability, was a big part of Heron Lake's upset of Jackson in the 1967 District 7 quarterfinals.

Two years later, Brian helped the Falcons to the same thing in the '69 tournament and then --that fall --quarterbacked HLHS to a remarkable undefeated football campaign, outscoring eight opponents by a 406-94 margin.

In November of 1970, Ray took a job at the Heron Lake Co-Op Elevator and the family moved to town --just a couple of blocks from the new elementary school.

"I remember moving to town on Halloween," remembers Colette, who was a seventh-grader that year. "We got to go trick or treating in town that night and then we were able to walk to school every day, instead of riding the bus for so long."

Five years later, I returned to Heron Lake --after three years of high school in Windom, four years of college and two years of working and teaching part-time in Windom.

Pat Burns was a sixth-grader in my elementary physical education class. She was athletic, to say the least.

Here's what happened one day:

We were playing a game called "Capture the Football" --two balls on each side, 10 yards apart, 35 yards from the midfield line. The object was to "capture" a football from the other team and return it to your side without getting your flags ripped off.

When your flags were torn off --you went to "jail." A teammate, with flags still on, could get you "out" of jail.

The game was very active and involved lots of running, but not that much scoring.

Getting a football across the line with a flag still on was not easily done.

But, Pat did it --and then some.

In a maneuver seldom accomplished, Pat scooped up one football and then snatched the other one and zigzagged her way back through the opposing defenders with one ball under each arm, scoring two goals on the same play.

I knew for sure that she was Brian's sister.

She was, after all, the best player in the whole elementary school.

That next summer, Bob and Pat both played on the Midgets' baseball team and younger brothers Tom and Bruce played for the Mites. We won both tournament championships that summer of 1976, as again the Burns were factors in winning.

Then, in March of 1977, Betty was an all-state basketball player who led the Heron Lake Falcons --the "Thumbodies" --to Southern Star Conference, District 7 and Region 2 championships, taking a 20-0 record into the state tournament.

After playing an incredible game to knock off defending state champion Redwood Falls, the Falcons were edged (42-40) by Mayer Lutheran in the semifinals, but came back to trounce Minneapolis Marshall University in the third-place game, 53-30.

Betty's patented jump shot was way ahead of her time and her passing was brilliant, as evidenced by a pair of state-tournament assists records -- single game (eight) and three-game total (18) --she set in those three memorable days at the Met Sports Center in Bloomington.

Pat was a seventh-grade student manager on that team, but four years later as a junior, she became the Twin Cities Media "darling" when she starred in the 1981 state tournament, impressively won by the Scarlet Knights, capping an undefeated 26-0 season.

So, as I have mentioned earlier --a common denominator in several of my coaching championships has been a Burns.

Brian was a big factor in my first and Pat was remarkable --her incredible performance against Austin Pacelli in the '81 semifinals was absolutely amazing --- in my most memorable championship experience.

There are lots more memories I could share about the Burns' family, but I will just say a huge thanks to Marilyn, who still cheers for the Minnesota Twins in her apartment on main street in Heron Lake --very near to where the "old" school was and right where Brian used to "wrestle me down" on the elementary playground 50 years ago.