Conversation With Scott: Bunkers sports legacy a lasting memory for Fulda fans
Former Fulda High School sports standout talked about the Bunker legacy with Globe sports reporter Scott Mansch in this latest Conversation With Scott
(Editor’s note: Brian Bunkers had a great sports career at Fulda High and beyond, starring in football, track and field, and basketball. And he’s not the only one from his family to leave a lasting sports legacy in this area. Brian, 63, graduated from Fulda in 1977 and went on to star on the football team at South Dakota State. Now a senior financial advisor for D.A. Davidson Wealth Management, Brian and his wife, Kendra, live in Columbus, Neb. That’s where we caught up with him for our latest Conversation With Scott)
Question: Hello Brian. It’s nice to talk to you again. Are you doing well?
Answer: Very well, Scott. It’s been a long time. Thank you.
Q: First I want to say that I’m sorry about your father (John Bunkers passed away a few years ago at age 79). He was quite a coach and I always considered him a true gentleman. He was a fine athlete too, wasn’t he?
A: Yes, a very, very good athlete. (John Bunkers was a Flandreau, SD, native who starred at Harrisburg (SD) High and lettered in football, basketball and track at the University of Sioux Falls, where in 1956 he was named the university’s Athlete of the Year).
Q: When did your family move to Fulda?
A: In 1965. My folks stayed there until the mid-80s.
Q: What was it like for you growing up in Fulda?
A: It was a small town and everybody knew everybody and rallied around each other. I think where my dad did a great job was that he got all kids to participate, not just a few.
Q: Was he just a football coach?
A: No. He was the head coach in football and track and field, and also a ninth-grade basketball coach. He coached both me and my older brother, Bill, in ninth-grade basketball.
Q: I recall your father also managing the Fulda Giants amateur baseball team for a long time.
A: That’s right. That’s actually what dad’s best sport was. He was a fantastic baseball player.
Q: You know, Brian, your brother Bill still has a Fulda High track record (50.3 in 400 dash in 1971).
A: He was so fast, faster than me, no doubt. But I was a lot bigger. (Brian also still has a Fulda track record, as he was on a 4x400 relay team in 1977 that finished second at state).
Q: I know you’re remembered most for football, but you were also on that tremendous Fulda basketball team in 1974-75 that finished third at the state tournament. You were a sophomore on that team that included seniors Brad Holinka and Arvid Kramer, right?
A: Yes. I was pretty damn lucky. I placed in the state track meet, we were third in the state basketball tournament, and then I played on an NCAA Division II playoff football team (at South Dakota State). I was pretty fortunate. Very lucky.
Q: Not sure luck had anything to do with it, Brian. You were a talent. That high school basketball team of Fulda’s in the mid-70s was magnificent.
A: Well, Arvid was the main guy. But we had really good team speed. A lot of fine athletes.
Q: The Fulda football team was good in those years, too.
A: I remember they’d gone something like three years without winning a game before dad got there.
Q: Your father had some excellent Raider teams, especially when he had some of his own boys running the football. (The Fulda football teams were 84-47-1 from 1969-83 under coach John Bunkers, including a 9-0 mark in 1974 and a 7-1 record in 1975). But the basketball team is where I know you guys really earned headlines. Because I was a Slayton boy and we had quite a hoop rivalry with Fulda.
A: Remember the Old Goat (laughing)? Probably the ugliest trophy in the state (laughing). It was a great rivalry back then. I don’t even know, do they still play for that stupid goat?
Q: Nope. That thing has been retired and it’s now in the Murray County Museum in Slayton.
Q: Tell me about your family. Is your wife, Kendra, a Murray County girl?
A: No. She’s from Yankton. I met her in Brookings. She’s a pharmacist. We have two kids. My son, Kyle, is in Virginia, where he does research for the government. And my daughter, Katie, lives about 30 miles north of us. She is a dietician and is married to a farmer. They have twin boys who are 2-and-a-half. Katie played volleyball at the University of South Dakota, which was hard for me because of my South Dakota State roots (laughs).
Q: Let’s talk a little about your college football career. I know you transferred from St. Cloud State after one season to SDSU. That sure worked out, didn’t it?
A: It did. I fit into their system real well. That year I sat out after transferring, I really hit the weight room and got a lot physically stronger. I was probably 210 when I transferred and was about 225 when I played at SDSU. That extra strength really helped me. (Brian was an all-North Central Conference running back for the Jackrabbits in 1980 and 1982). And I’ve been so blessed. I don’t have any problems with my knees or anything, knock on wood, even though I got hit a lot.
Q: Brian, that’s because you dished out the punishment instead of taking it.
A: (laughs long and loud) I hope that was it.
Q: What was the highlight of your college football career?
A: I had a game against USD where I scored three touchdowns. My junior year. We had to beat them twice to get to the playoffs, and we did. I enjoyed everything about football. I have a lot of good friends still who played football there.
Q: You’ve got to have great memories of your time in Fulda, too. What great athletes Fulda had in the 1970s.
A: Oh yes. On that basketball team we had, Kevin Fury went on to play college basketball and so did Arvid (who eventually became an NBA draftee and played pro ball), Brad and I played college football. Then before that we had my brother Bill, Mark Olson and Doug Probst, who went on to Mankato State. In those days, we had guys who were 6-7, 6-8, a bunch of them, and they were good athletes.
Q: Do you get back to Murray County very much?
A: Not as much as I’d like. I’ve been in contact a little with Brad, because we’re trying to get my dad into the Minnesota Coaches Hall of Fame. I don’t know if we will, but we’re trying to. (In addition to the football record that John Bunkers compiled, his Fulda High track and field teams won 10 District 8 championships and produced several standouts, including record-setting state champion high-jumper Ken Larson, who cleared 6-10 in 1980).
Q: Neither you nor your brother are teachers and coaches like your father, are you?
A: No, but I helped quite a few years coaching football in the grade 4-8 level. I enjoyed that. I also coached some girls teams when my daughter was playing.
Q: You must be proud of what your South Dakota State football program has accomplished the last few years.
A: You bet. Their coach, John Stiegelmeyer, was a grad assistant when I played. They’ve done a great job. You know, that league was Division II when I played there, but it’s always been such a great league. I enjoyed it and wouldn’t trade it for anything.
Q: Were your sisters also good athletes in Fulda?
A: Yes. Bridgit played volleyball at Southwest State in Marshall, but the problem was Brenda and Becky didn’t have the opportunity because they were just on the edge of when Title IX came in and girls didn’t have the chance to play like they do now.
Q: Did your folks enjoy Fulda, do you think?
A: Yes, they had great friends there. Even after they moved away, they always talked about the families they knew in Fulda. Overall, my dad said the people of Fulda were very good to him. You know, as a coach my dad was tough and demanded a lot. But he was fair. Looking back on it, whenever I got my butt chewed by him I deserved it.
Q: Good luck with the effort to get your dad some Hall of Fame recognition.
A: Thank you. We’ll see what happens. Brad has helped me so much with that. You know, Brad was great in basketball and football, but also in track. The guy was a dude. Really an athlete. A very good competitor. He didn’t like to lose.
Q: Well, Brian, what would you say to the folks back home in Fulda?
A: I would just say that I loved Fulda when I was there and I wish them nothing but the best.
Q: It’s nice to talk to you. Thank you, Brian.
A: You’re welcome, Scott. Thanks for thinking of me.
Scott Mansch can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org