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Blast from the Past: Backyard track and field in the summer of '64

For the third time in eight years, the Minnesota Gophers won the NCAA baseball championship, claiming a 5-1 victory over Missouri in the finals at Omaha, and Worthington’s Dickey Pharmacy was promoting a three-day special at its soda fountain, selling extra thick shakes and malts for just 13 cents.

It was a leap year, a presidential election year and an Olympics year. It certainly does not seem possible, but it has been 50 years ago since five youngsters organized and competed in their own backyard track and field meet on a farm in Section 19 of Cottonwood County’s Springfield Township, six miles north of Heron Lake, 11 miles west of Windom and 11 miles south of Storden.

The day was Wednesday, June 10, 1964. After several cool days, warm sunshine graced the afternoon and four boys who had just finished the seventh grade — and a younger brother who had completed fourth grade — squared off in six events, which were timed, measured and scored by older brother, Dane, who had finished up his junior year at Heron Lake High School.

My nearby neighbor, Carl Hallum — who lived less than three-fourths of a mile to the north, along the east side County Road 5 — was a classmate of mine, while Gery “Twinkie” Henkels — who lived a mile straight west of Carl (across the township line in Southbrook) — rode our bus, but went to school at Sacred Heart Catholic in Heron Lake.

Bob Haken lived on a farm just over three-and-a-half miles north of us on the west side of CR5, like us. He had lived just south of Highway 62 until moving north in third grade and spending the rest of his school years as a Storden Tiger.

Carl, Gery, Bob and I were all going to be eighth-graders in the fall, while my younger brother, Kyle, would be a fifth-grader in elementary school.

Our farm place was the scene of many afternoon and evening softball games in the summer and lots of Saturday afternoon football games in the fall, along with so many two-on-two or three-on-three half-court basketball scrimmages throughout the year, but this was our first — and only — track meet.

We found a nice, round six-pound rock for a shot put and planned to use a planter plate for a discus. But when my dad, Lowell, put the “kabosh” on throwing the plate, we substituted the baseball throw. We also high jumped (we filled feed bags with straw and had somewhat of a soft landing), long jumped (the grass landing was a bit slick), had an 80-yard dash and a shortened half-mile run.

Bob, who ended up as the day’s highest scorer with 38 points, was winning most of the events and Kyle, who was very athletic and later became a fine all-around baseball player for both Windom High School (we moved to a different farm in Windom’s district two years later) and Worthington Community College, beat me in the baseball throw.

But, as the meet’s primary planner — after becoming intrigued with track and field that spring — I was anticipating a victory in the half mile.

I enjoyed running long distances and thought I was pretty good at it. The course was a simple one. We walked west down the gravel road to the half-mile mark, a tall tree on the south side and a field driveway on the north. The race was straight east, finishing at our mailbox, about 70-80 yards from CR5 — just a little short of a full half-mile.

Carl, who was strong, fast and could also run distance, took the early lead. Surely, I thought, he can’t keep this pace up. But he did. While I was able to finish well ahead of Bob, Gery and Kyle in the meet’s final event, I never did catch Carl. His winning time of 2:34 was five seconds better than my 2:39.

But, what a memorable day that was with three of my friends and two of my brothers. My oldest brother, Terry, was serving with the United States Air Force in Japan — where the 1964 Olympics were staged four months later.

I remember well the stunning victory by Billy Mills in the 10,000-meter run at Tokyo and how I frequently imagined myself doing the same — finishing up a three-mile run (from our farm place, all the way around the corn field and back down that same road where I tried to catch Carl) or blazing past the Sacred Heart Church in Heron Lake at night, while running from Gail Erickson’s house (where the eighth-graders were building our float for homecoming) to Mr. Gray’s house (where the student council was working on the royalty float under the supervision of our principal).

I remember I thought that I was really moving as I “kicked it in” with nothing but imaginary competitors. There was something about running at night — it seemed like you were going faster, much faster.

My how simple and care-free life was back then.

Gery Henkels became a food-service administrator at a college in Ohio. Bob Haken became the Cottonwood County Sheriff and Carl Hallum became a dentist in Adrian and an airplane pilot.

But on that nice summer day, 50 years and 11 days ago, they were a trio of 13-year-olds who were striving to compete in several different track and field events on a farm place in Springfield Township, north of Heron Lake.

Trojans win District 8 track, baseball titles

While the Beatles continued to dominate the top of Billboard’s Top 40 and other British Invasion songs like “Needles and Pins” by The Searchers were getting lots of air time on area radio stations, there were pictures of eight prominent U.S. Senators, including Minnesota’s Hubert Humphrey, on the front page of the Thursday (afternoon) edition of the Daily Globe (Senate Votes Cloture; Dixie Filibuster Gagged was the banner headline). It seems that Robert C. Byrd, a democratic senator from West Virginia, had epitomized the filibuster (long-winded speeches) with a 14-hour and 14-minute marathon the evening before, going from 7:38 p.m. to 9:52 a.m. So, the senators wisely voted to end this kind of ridiculousness.

Advertisements in that day’s Globe promoted the upcoming kids fishing derby (Saturday, June 13) at Lake Okabena, along with the July 4 water ski championships and boat derby. Karley’s Drive Inn was offering two specials — their famous cheeseburger with a root beer or coke for just 29 cents or an extra-large sundae (red raspberry, chocolate, butterscotch or pineapple) for the same price.

A pound of hamburger was 69 cents at Schafer’s Grocery and Silverberg’s were selling new Red Wing shoes for $9.95 and boots for $15.95.

Fulda’s Gary Grimes, Avoca’s Cynthia Goering and Round Lake’s Denny Turner were all pictured as recent graduates of Mankato State College and “Charade,” starring Cary Grant and Audrey Hepburn was showing at Worthington’s State Theatre.

At the Gay Drive-Inn it was a double-feature Buck Nite — the whole car could get in for a dollar. Audie Murphy, Joanne Dru, Gilbert Roland and Sandra Dee were featured in “The Wild and Innocent” before Pier Angeli and Edmund Purdon took the screen in “White Slave Ship.”

The Sun River was overflowing in Montana, causing horrible floods and “The Interns” were providing music (Thursday, June 11) at the Brewster Legion Hall, while Worthington’s Ehlers Supper Club was going to feature Jimmy Smith on Saturday and Jimmy Darrell on Sunday evening.

Earlier, Worthington — paced by sprinter Tom Wing and high jumper Larry Schuster — had won the District 8 high school track and field title with 36 points. Luverne (27.75), Slayton (24), Adrian (23), Fulda (22.75) and Hills (21) had a tight battle for second in the 14-team meet.

Wing, who in May was named the Trojan Athlete of the Year (he also excelled in both football and basketball), finished second in the 100-yard dash and placed third in both the 220 and 440, while Schuster cleared 5-10 to win the high jump.

The Trojans scored points in 11 of the 14 events.

Adrian won four field events as junior Darwin Gonnerman claimed three gold medals (discus, 152-6), shot put (49-9.75) and broad jump (20-7.25). Classmate Randy Rust broke a 17-year old district record in the pole vault, clearing 11-11.75; snapping the mark of 11-7 set by Dale Peters in 1947.

Edgerton’s Allen Gilman set a new record in the mile — by four seconds — winning with a stellar time of 4:37.5 and Mark Astrop of Hills was brilliant in the dashes.

More on that District 8 (along with District 7) and Region 2 track meets in an upcoming blast.

Riding the pitching prowess of senior Wayne Marcil, the Trojans also won the District 8 baseball championship.

Playing on its home turf at Buss Field, WHS edged Slayton (2-0) in the semifinals and defeated Luverne (6-2) in the championship. Marcil combined for a dozen strikeouts in his two complete-game victories.

Worthington hosted both the Region 2 track meet and the Region 2 baseball tournament (Fairmont, St. James, Windom and Worthington) in June of 1964.

Much more on those events from June of ‘64 — 50 years ago — in my next “Blast-From-the-Past.”

Here are a few other names that were in the sports pages that month … Steve Klassen, Bill Jeffrey, Bill Grant, Danny Regnier, Herb Wolf, Keith Hartman, Dick Robertson, Dick Horak, Keith Winter, Dennis Dreezan, Bruce Meyer, Jerry Griffith, Bob Thomas, Jeff Johnson, Dick Nelson, Dave Sogge, Rich Maras, Dennis Hale, Lowell Steinle, Don Heide, Don Dick, Darrell Kreun, Bob Gebhard, Jim Glasshof, Dave Baldridge, Lenny Green, Vic Power, Jerry Kindall, Frank Kostra, Dick Siebert, Joe Pollock, Bill Davis, Dewey Markus, Ron Wojciak, Dave Hoffman, Roger Droegemueller, Mike Kelley, Jim Johnson, Bill Toms, Gary Monson, Larry Meyer, Craig Johson, Gary Stough, Terry Porter and Paul Sanderson. Do you remember why?

Oh, one final thought. The NBA finals were completed nearly two months earlier — on Sunday, April 26 — with the Boston Celtics winning the series 4-1 over the San Francisco Warriors. Boston’s Bill Russell claimed 26 rebounds in the Celtics’ clinching 105-99 victory.

My, how times have changed.