Les Knutson: Windom's Bass learned to skim the hurdles, won state crown in '84
BY LES KNUTSON
The Globe sports columnist
Today, he is one of best high school basketball referees in southwest Minnesota, having been selected to officiate at the last three boys state tournaments.
Thirty-four years ago, he was the 1984 Class A state champion in the 110-meter high hurdles, an achievement accomplished through hard work and a lot of learning.
“I learned so much by watching guys like Tim Boeck and Scott Johnson,” remembers Tim Bass, who now lives in Chandler and works as an accountant for Monogram Meats. “When I was a freshman, I was a tall and lanky kid with some speed. I tried the hurdles, but I jumped way over them, losing so much time in the air. When I learned to skim over them, I improved and started winning meets my next three years.”
Growing up on the north edge of Prospect Avenue on Windom’s east side, Bass lived near Highland Elementary School which in the 1970s was loaded with future stellar Eagle athletes.
“The kids from the east side spent a lot of time on that playground at Highland,” remembers Bass. “We shot a lot of baskets on the outdoor court and played pickup football or baseball games on the other corner”
Tim was an eager, bright-eyed first-grader in the spring of 1974 when I took over several elementary physical education classes at Highland in mid-April and also supervised the playground at noon hour. I spent the whole next year (’74-75), doing the same when Tim was an active second-grader with lots of recess-time enthusiasm.
Things didn’t change much as he grew older.
“Tim was high energy,” recalled his high school basketball coach, Jack Kelly. “He worked hard and was very reliable. He played off the bench as a junior and worked into a starting role as a senior, contributing in a lot of ways.”
Playing mostly as a wing, Bass was a stellar defender and averaged about 10 points a game as a senior for the Eagles in ’84-85. A good blocker despite his lean build, he played tight end for Windom’s football team as a senior in the fall of 1984.
“I could get pretty good leverage and was a decent blocker,” said Bass, who did not play football as a junior, choosing to lift weights that year. “I know I became stronger and it sure helped me become a better hurdler, as my times during my junior year were much improved over my sophomore season.”Helped by racing rivals
While most of Tim’s elementary schoolmates -- guys like Joel Frederickson, Kent Elness, Jeff Schwalbach, Timm Gronseth and Tim Hayenga, to name just a few -- were excelling on the baseball diamond, leading the Eagles to back-to-back Class A state championships in 1984 and 1985 (after a runner-up finish in 1983), Bass was making great progress on the track.
During his freshman campaign in the spring of 1982, Bass watched with awe as Westbrook’s Tim Boeck dominated area hurdle races. An exceptional all-around athlete, who also starred for the Wildcats in both football and basketball, Boeck won the state championship in the 300-meter intermediates that spring. Boeck’s son, Mitch, is now Windom’s head boys’ basketball coach after stellar playing careers in South Dakota at Arlington High School and Northern State University in Aberdeen.
“I learned a lot by watching Boeck and learned even more by the tutelage of Eagle senior Scott Johnson,” recalled Bass. “Scott taught me a lot. I watched him doing his drills and learned what it took to become a hurdler, including working on my flexibility.”
After Johnson graduated, Bass became veteran Eagle track and field coach Lyle Riebe’s top hurdler and ran well as a sophomore, finishing second in the highs at the District 7 Meet, behind Westbrook’s David Schmidt.
Bass jumped the gun in the ’83 Region 2 Meet at Wells and was disqualified.
But the taste, the hunger for success in the hurdles, was there.
Determined to do well as a junior, after lifting weights all fall and playing basketball during the winter, Bass enjoyed a super season in the spring of ’84 when future Eagle legend Heather Van Norman was emerging on the scene as an eighth-grade sprinting sensation.
“I was winning meets my junior year,” Bass remembered. “The big thing, though, was how I was pushed so hard in most races by two rival seniors, Mountain Lake’s Matt Toews and Dean Ackerman from Heron Lake-Okabena. It was fun rivalry with lots of competition.”
After winning his first District 7 gold medal in the high hurdles, Bass claimed silver in the Region 2 Meet at Mountain Lake, being edged by Rick Feist, a senior at Wells. He was, however, state-bound and the best was yet to come.Bass wins in photo finish
As “Let’s Hear It For The Boy” by Deniece Williams from “Footloose” was leading Billboard’s Top 40, Bass took his place for his state-meet preliminary race at Bloomington Kennedy. Bass ran well, right at 15-seconds flat, and qualified for the state finals with the fourth-best time and would run in Lane 6.
Exploding out of the blocks in Saturday’s finals, Bass effectively “skimmed” his way over all 10 of the 39-inch barriers and charged to the finish line, out-leaning his closest rivals and clocking a new personal record time of 14.74 seconds. A runner from Babbitt was timed at 14.77 and Feist, running in preferred Lane 4, ran a third-place time of 14.86.
“I thought I might have won,” he remembers. “I was a bit surprised. I knew I had run very well, but it was so close among the first three or four. When I was picked as the winner, I was excited and wanted to find Coach Riebe, along with my parents, Ernie and Gladys Bass.”
Later that day, Bass found himself cheering for Toews as the Laker finished third in the 300-meter intermediates.
The following spring as a senior in 1985, Bass had an easier time winning area meets as both Toews and Ackerman had graduated. A four-event star throughout that season (also leading off the Eagles 4x100-meter relay team and scoring points as a high jumper with a best mark of 6-1), Bass won both hurdle races at the Southwest Conference and District 7 meets. He did the same at the Region 2 meet, advancing to state in each event.
After winning the high hurdles by .03 of a second on a nice day at Kennedy in ’84, Bass was edged by .02 of a second in the 1985 finals on a very hot and muggy day at Blaine. Peder Naatz of Wheaton (who repeated in ’86) won with a time of 15.10. Bass claimed the silver medal with his time of 15.12.
“That was kind of a life lesson,” he summed up. “I was the defending state champion, but just wasn’t pushed as much throughout the season as I was the year before. Looking back, though, it was a great experience racing at the front of the state finals two years in a row. I owe so much to Coach Riebe for teaching me what it took to become one of the state’s best hurdlers.”
Bass had one more race to run -- the 300-meter intermediates.
He had clocked a time of 39.9 in winning the Southwest Conference in 1984, a meet record which lasted 19 years. Bass bettered that in the ’85 state-meet prelims, running 39.77 and entered the finals with second-fastest time, positioned in Lane 3.
Bolting out of the blocks with his usual fast start, he hit the first hurdle and rolled to the ground. Picking himself up, Bass utilized his speed, technique and plenty of determination to pass a pair of finalists and finish sixth with a time of 41.54, claiming his third state-meet medal.
“It was my last high school race and I sure wanted to win,” he remembers. “But Coach Riebe was so proud of my effort after stumbling over that first hurdle. He called it the grittiest race he had ever seen me run.”
Classmate Greg Lohrenz, who grew up just a few blocks from Bass on the south side of Prospect, also qualified to run at Blaine, finishing 11th overall in the 100-meter dash, just missing the finals.
The team of Bass, Mark Nerhus, Joel Wiens and Lohrenz had blistered a school-record time of 45.3 while winning the 4x100-meter relay at the Sentinel Relays in early May. A bobbled handoff at the Region 2 meet kept the Eagles from advancing that relay to the state meet.
That same year, Van Norman, who had earned a pair of state-meet thirds the year before, began her remarkable string of 12 straight state titles in the girls’ dashes, winning the 100, 400 and 200.
Bass was recruited to run hurdles by Mankato State, but the partial scholarship wasn’t enough to cover all the expenses, so he went to work at Swift in Worthington. In typical fashion, Bass worked his way up -- from the floor to becoming an inventory clerk before being promoted to an accounting supervisor.
After working at Schwan’s in Marshall for several years, Bass began working for Monogram Meats out of Chandler more than 10 years ago. As a special projects cost accountant, Bass -- who has become a master at excel spreadsheets -- does some traveling and has enough flexibility in his work schedule to be able to referee a lot of high school games.
“I started working football in the fall of 2000 and became a basketball referee a couple of years later,” he said. “I enjoy the experiences and being a part of the game. It’s rewarding to see how kids develop and improve over the years. I also appreciate the positive relationships formed with kids, coaches and fans.”
From being a state champion high hurdler -- matching George Strunk’s 1958 accomplishment and Windom school-record time in the same event -- to a state-tournament caliber basketball referee, Tim Bass has certainly had a positive impact on area high school sports.