(Note: Marty Jorgensen is one of the finest athletes in Worthington High history, a decorated three-sports star who in 1989 was inducted into the school’s Hall of Fame. He was known best for basketball, and as a senior in 1966 led the Trojans to a runner-up finish in Region 2. That was when Minnesota had just one class for basketball. After a long career in nuclear power plant operations that took him all over the country, Marty, soon to be 71, is living in Iona with his wife, Maxine. He spends a lot of time on the golf course in Slayton, which is where we caught up with him for our latest “Conversation With Scott.”)
Question: It’s a pleasure to visit with you. The other night I covered a football game in Jackson and tell you what, the Trojans could have used you (Jackson County Central defeated Worthington 76-6 last Friday).
Answer: (laughs) I don’t know about that.
Q: I understand you’ve got a special week planned, a reunion of some of your high school buddies.
A: Yes. Though I’ll tell you, I really miss coach Don (Basche). He was like a second dad to me.
Q: Who is coming back?
A: John Tate, Dwayne Hochhalter, Tom Rayl, Dave Habbena and a few other good friends. We get together every year. We have since we turned 50. We always had it in South Dakota and this will be the first year we’ve had it here.
Q: Those guys were all basketball players, right? On the team that got second in the region?
Q: And who beat you guys?
A: (laughs) Well, it was a team we’d beat twice in the regular season. The second one was a double-overtime. It was Windom. They beat us.
Q: Our southwest Minnesota area was dominant in basketball in the 1960s. Edgerton, Marshall and Luverne all won state championships.
A: That’s right. There was some great basketball played down here. Here’s the team (displaying his 1966 Trojan yearbook). Tom Rayl and his brother George, who wrestled, were twins. Their dad had a (car) dealership in town for many, many years. They were identical twins, except Tom chipped a tooth when he was a junior (laughs).
Q: Which one’s you, Marty?
A: That’s me, number 23. I had it before Michael Jordan (laughs).
Q: Was the Worthington football team real good when you were a senior, too?
A: We had one loss. To Jackson. And Jackson won the conference.
Q: Jackson had some great players, I would imagine?
A: Yes. But we whipped them in basketball. (laughs).
Q: Coach Denny Hale is an old friend of mine and he is from Jackson. I assume he was a tough customer for you boys to deal with in football and basketball, right?
A: Oh yes. Denny is a year older than I am. But all you have to do is mention the name of Jerry Griffith to Denny (laughs). That’s the one hit that put Denny out cold for a while (laughs). Jerry just passed away a couple of years ago.
Q: Denny was a running back, I assume?
A: He was. And quite a basketball player, too. But Jerry busted Dennis Hale’s helmet once in what they called the loudest tackle anyone had ever seen. It was just head-on. Jerry got up, but he was pretty dazed. Denny was coming right down the sideline. Jerry was tough as nails. And Denny, he was a load (laughs).
Q: Were Jackson and Worthington the two best teams in most sports back then in the Southwest Conference?
A: Jackson was dominant in football, and Luverne was the team to beat in basketball. There were a lot of great teams in the conference. When I was a senior we were down 17 points to Luverne with like 4 or 5 minutes to play and came back to beat them in the District (8) finals.
Q: But Windom got you in the region?
A: Yes. Of course they were in our conference and we’d gotten them twice in the regular season. They had a good team. They had guys like (Steve) Elness and the Bullard twins (Rob and Rich).
Q: Jack Kelly was coaching the Eagles?
A: He was.
Q: The Eagles didn’t win the state championship, though.
A: They did not. But they did us proud. They went up there (to Williams Arena) and who did they get right out of the chute? Edina. And Edina only had about 1,500 kids in a class. They didn’t get beat bad, and then they won both their consolation-round games. They did us proud.
Q: How did you become such a great basketball player? I know you averaged 24 points per game as a senior and became Worthington’s first 1,000-point scorer. And no 3-point line, right?
A: No 3-point line, that’s right. And we weren’t allowed to dunk the basketball, although we did frequently in warmups (laughs).
Q: How big were you then?
A: About 5-11.
Q: And you could dunk, no problem?
A: I did not have white man’s disease (laughs). I could get off the floor. Here’s a picture (from the Trojan annual, showing Marty skying to the rim against Slayton).
Q: That’s my old school you’re scoring against, you know, Marty.
A: (laughs) I play golf here in Slayton with Tom Keller and Larry Hafner, guys I played basketball against.
Q: Two good buddies of mine.
A: And I played football against Jim Johnson.
Q: Another good friend, and a great athlete. He was a Gopher recruit in baseball.
A: Jim was a very good athlete. I had the honor of costing him six points one time on the football field, when he was a senior and I was a junior (laughs).
Q: Did Slayton ever beat you guys in football or basketball back then?
Q: How about baseball?
A: Maybe in baseball (laughs). When I was a freshman I ran the half-mile in track. So when I was a sophomore the coach gives me this list of what he wants me to run, and I looked at him and said, ‘There’s no ball.’ (Laughs) So I went over and talked to Dan Regnier, the baseball coach, and asked him if it was possible to come out for baseball. He says ‘Hell yes.’ I played centerfield for him. Probably the coolest thing I remember about baseball was playing in Windom and Bullard hits one. On the warning track, right close to the fence, and I caught the ball on the dead run and ran right into the fence (laughs). Got him back after they beat us in basketball.
Q: But basketball was your game. You must have played in the summer a lot.
A: All the time. John Tate was my best friend. He was an excellent defender. We figured that by the time we were seniors we had averaged better than two hours of basketball playing every day. Either at the YMCA, or we’d shovel the driveway and shoot hoops. My folks had to drag me inside. I loved the competition. And it kept me out of trouble (laughs).
Q: You were a jump-shooter?
A: I was.
Q: Who were some of your basketball idols back then?
A: Bob Cousy of the Boston Celtics. A lot of times, for free throws I’d shoot a jump shot. I used to watch Hal Greer, who played for the Sixers, and that’s what he did. I never ever shot a set shot from anywhere, so I figured why should I do it at the free throw line?
Q: What’s the top memory of your high school basketball career?
A: Probably the losses. They stick out. But I remember I could hardly miss one night when we played at Marshall. (Marty scored 38 points in a Trojan victory). I remember I didn’t feel real good that night, but things were just on. It was a like a payback for a guy named Terry Porter, who had come down and scored 40 points against us in Worthington when I was a freshman. (Laughs) That guy was so smooth. Another guy I loved to watch when I was young was Vernon Schoolmeester of Edgerton. He was uncanny. He’d come across the half court line, take a couple steps to the right or left and if a guy wasn’t right up in his face, boom, swish. Just unbelievable. They were great shots.
Q: Porter played at St. Cloud State.
A: That’s right, and Schoolmeester went to South Dakota State.
Q: Did you have a lot of college offers?
A: Yes. Remember Jerry Kindall? He was working at that time for the athletic department for the Gophers and he said he’d give me a full ride. Football or basketball. Well, I’m 17. How do I pick? Joe Salem convinced me I could play both at the University of South Dakota. But attendance was mandatory. And I found out there was stuff that was a lot of fun that wasn’t a sport (laughs).
Q: When did you first come to Worthington? I understand you were adopted as a young boy.
A: I came to Worthington in 1954, when I was 6. I was in school with all these guys. We all grew up together. And our goal, from the time we were little kids playing YMCA ball, was to go to State in basketball.
Q: You also played football and baseball, right?
A: I did. But basketball was my sport. I also loved football, because I never had to practice for football (laughs). I could catch anything. (He played end) But after I caught the ball I was no longer a receiver. Because I could run.
Q: So you played a year of both basketball and football at the University of South Dakota?
A: Yes. Joe Salem was our head coach (for football).
Q: Smokey Joe?
A: Smokey Joe. That’s right. It was his first head coaching job. That first year it was a heavily recruited team with just one player from South Dakota. Freshmen couldn’t play varsity, but we used to just kick the varsity’s (behinds) in practice (laughs). I was probably the smallest guy on the team and I weighed in at 205.
Q: You played basketball, too?
A: I did. It was a small college, and attendance was mandatory. I need say no more about how I got my 1A draft card (laughs).
Q: I see.
A: Yes. So I spent eight years in the Navy. Nuclear power. I got out in 1976 and went back to the University of Arizona in 1980, not to play ball but to get my degree.
Q: So you were in the Navy during the Vietnam War.
A: Yes, but I wasn’t a ground-pounder. I was commissioned to a submarine after two years of Nuclear Power school. We went over there and sat in the Hainan Straits and took pictures of everything going in and out of Hanoi. But I never sat foot on the ground of Vietnam.
Q: Who was your football coach back in Worthington?
A: Milt Osterberg.
Q: A good guy?
A: Milt was a great guy, he really was. We had an assistant coach, Don Strom, and everybody loved Don. He was such a nice guy. I think it was in the fall of ‘66 he had a massive heart attack and died, and almost all of us came back for that service.
Q: And had a special relationship with Don Basche, is that right?
A: Yes. I never came to town without stopping to see Don. His sons, Jeff and (the late) Scott, were good ball players and Don’s daughter, Teresa, was a great basketball player.
Q: What made Don such a good coach?
A: Don was very fair and worked us hard. I saw him chew some butt, when somebody would make a mistake. But when I’d make a mistake, he wouldn’t say anything. So I asked him one time about that. He says, ‘You know, Marty, you’re so hard on yourself and I’m not going to add to it.’ He knew how competitive I was, and that if I did something wrong I was going to do everything I could to make it right. I just had that competitive spirit.
Q: You must have been adopted by good people (John and Lorraine Jorgenson).
A: I was adopted by very good people, yes. I loved them very much.
Q: Where were you born?
A: In Rochester. I had two sisters and a brother. My oldest sister and I went to a foster home when I was four, and then I was taken to an orphanage in St. Paul. My sister went to a different foster home and I didn’t see her again until just before I graduated from high school.
Q: That had to be hard, Marty. I’ve always felt that there’s a special place in heaven for people who adopt young kids and treat them like their own.
A: That’s right. Mom couldn’t have kids. Dad was born in 1910 and mom in 1914.
Q: They’re gone now?
A: Yes. (pauses) Mom died in 1997 on Christmas morning. And dad died in April of 2004. They were wonderful, wonderful people.
Q: Growing up in Worthington in the 1960s had to be great.
A: It was. We used to practically live at that YMCA in the winter. I lived right on 5th Avenue. The house is still there: 1115. Probably two blocks away from the Globe office. The YMCA was just kitty-corner from that.
Q: A great place.
A: We used to go the YMCA and then we’d go out the back door and go right into Emil’s Pool Hall. (Laughs) That’s where I learned to shoot snooker and billiards. Emil lived right on the corner and he’d give us a look (laughs). The place was usually filled with cigar smoke.
Q: How long have you lived now in Iona?
A: Permanently since 2016. (Marty’s wife, Maxine Ackerman Gaul, is from Iona)
Q: How is it living in Iona? I mean, there aren’t many basketball courts there ...
A: There’s one in my driveway (laughs). But I quit playing active sports when I was 40. First one knee went, and then the other went.
Q: You know, Marty, you’re a great basketball player living in Iona. But you might not be the MOST famous ball player to ever live in Iona. Ever hear of Jed Dommeyer?
A: Yes, I’ve heard of him.
Q: He grew up in Iona and was a star for the Gophers.
A: Yes. I have heard that name.
Q: Well, Marty, it’s a pleasure to talk to you and I hope you have a great reunion. It must make you feel good that your hometown still remembers what you and your buddies accomplished.
A: Thank you, Scott. You know, it’s fun. Every once in awhile somebody recognizes me, and my best comment is those were great days and it was fun to grow up back then in Worthington.
Q: And your teammates were your pals, right?
A: They were your buds. Yes. They looked out for you. Everybody kind of looked out for everybody else.
Scott Mansch’s “Conversations With Scott” appears semi-regularly in the The Globe. Mansch can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @ScottMansch