(Note: Roger Schipper graduated from Worthington High School in 1971. He was a football player and wrestler for the Trojans, and also competed on the track team. But he’s known best for basketball. Roger was a trainer for the University of Minnesota men’s basketball program for nearly 30 years, retiring in 2013, and last weekend was inducted into the Worthington Athletic Hall of Fame. Roger returned to his hometown for the ceremony, and we caught up with him for a Conversation With Scott.)
Question: Congratulations, Roger. And welcome home.
Answer: Thanks very much, Scott.
Q: This is a big week for you. Not only are you being inducted into the Worthington Hall of Fame, but you made the Twitter feed of my friend Pat Reusse. He referenced your award and described you as the “finest trainer in the annals of Gopher basketball.” How about that?
A: Good old Patrick. (Laughs) He’s a good man.
Q: Yes sir. He is. You know, the other day I had a little conversation with the great Marty Jorgensen, who is a little older than you (graduating from WHS in 1966), but I’ll bet you know him. Right?
A: Yes. He was one of my heroes growing up, along with the Rayl boys, the Hochhalters and Jerry Griffith. All the guys you mentioned in that story I remember very fondly when I was a young student at the junior high and grade school.
Q: Did you play on some good Trojan football teams in high school?
A: Yes. My senior year I think we were ranked fifth in the state at one time. There was only one class back then. It was a good football team. We had good numbers then. My sophomore year they were very good, too.
Q: What position were you?
A: I played center.
Q: Also a good wrestler?
A: Nope. Basically I was a basketball player. My sophomore year I didn’t play much and I wanted to stay in shape for track, so I went out for wrestling. I didn’t know anything about it, but I wrestled a little bit and learned a few things. Two years of participation gets you a letter (laughs). I made great friendships through that, that was the biggest thing with me and wrestling.
Q: How did you decide on a career in athletic training?
A: I was a student manager here at the junior college and then I started helping to take care of injuries. One thing led to another. I found out Mankato State had a minor in athletic training back then, so I applied and was accepted and just proceeded from there.
Q: I have a nephew who played college baseball while studying to be a trainer and just finished obtaining his master’s at Nebraska, where he worked with the Husker baseball team. He’s now an assistant trainer at Whitworth in Spokane, Washington. I’m very proud of him.
A: Wow. The head trainer at Nebraska is a very good friend of mine. Jerry Weber. We went to graduate school together at Western Illinois at 1976 and have been great friends ever since.
Q: Tell me about when you were first hired by the Gophers. What’s your top memory of that?
A: When Jim Dutcher called to welcome me aboard for basketball was probably the big thing. Then getting to know everybody at the ‘U,’ and learning the way the University of Minnesota worked and getting to meet people that I’d read about. I was fortunate to work alongside of a lot of them.
Q: And working in that historic Williams Arena had to be a thrill. But you had probably been there for state basketball tournaments when you were in high school, right?
A: Yep. Wrestling tournaments and state basketball tourneys were also held at Williams. Before I started working at the University of Minnesota I’d been there like maybe four times. So I used to walk in the building at night and the back lights would be on, and I’d go up and walk up on the floor and hear it creak and crack and talk back to me a little bit. Those are some of the fond memories I have. I thought about all the people who had worked so hard on that floor, with their sweat and determination, for Gopher basketball.
Q: Now the place has been refurbished, but doggone it, the Barn floor looks different.
A: Yes, it does look different. They put a new floor in a few years back and it’s not quite as soft as it used to be. It’s lost a lot of its creaks and cracks. And a new paint job is a new paint job, I guess.
Q: You know, Roger, I got a chance to talk to Mr. Dutcher one time, back in the early ‘80s when I was first working at the Globe. Ron Vorwald was hired by the Worthington school district and I believe Ron had worked for a time for coach Dutcher. Anyway, my recollection is that Mr. Dutcher could not have been nicer in a phone interview with a small-town reporter from rural Minnesota.
A: Yes. Coach Dutcher was a good man to work with. He and I have stayed in good contact over the years.
Q: Did you enjoy working with all the head coaches that followed him?
A: Every one of them. They were all great human beings. They all had their own way of doing things. But when practice started and they walked on that floor they were there for business. They were ready to go to work. And when they walked off the floor, they returned to being real gentlemen.
Q: That 1997 winter is a little bittersweet for a lot of Gopher fans. It was such a great team and it’s not recognized with a banner in the rafters but I’ll bet you have special memories of that year. (Minnesota, coached by Clem Haskins, was 31-4 and champions of the Big Ten. The Gophers advanced to the Final Four for the first time in school history but later forfeited the season and had the record vacated because of an academic fraud scandal).
A: All the seasons were special. But ‘97, you think about that team and they won a lot of games by five points or less. It was a real strong team that was gritty and didn’t know how to give up. Those guys gave everything they had until the end of the game.
Q: I’m a Slayton boy, Roger, and we’ve always been very proud of Trevor Winter, who played for the Gophers that season. I bet you know his family well.
A: So you’re an old Slayton Wildcat. (Laughs) Yes, I know Trevor and his family very well. Trevor’s an unbelievable individual. Both on and off the floor he was great. He was a very kind and giving person who cared a lot about his teammates and was a good leader, both academically and physically.
Q: When I was doing some research getting ready to talk to you, I noticed a story indicating that, lo and behold, you deserve credit for the Gophers beating UCLA in the Midwest Region Finals. (There was a Los Angeles newspaper story prior to the game where UCLA star Charles O’Bannon had some less-than-flattering things to say about the Gophers. Fans faxed the story to Schipper, who apparently made certain the entire Minnesota squad became aware of the bulletin-board material).
A: (laughs) Not really. It kind of happened that way. I just gave the article to the manager, I think, and he gave it to the coach. I remember (the fans) woke me up in my room and I said, sure fax it to me. The players won the game (in come-from-behind fashion).
Q: The power of the press, Roger.
A: That’s right. The power of the pen.
Q: What are you doing these days?
A: I’m retired and living in Fort Myers, Florida, my wife and I and our little dog. I work part-time at a country club, which helps me get some free golf.
Q: You still have some relatives in the Worthington area?
A: My brother (Dan) lives in Sioux Falls and I have a sister (Cheryl Reiser) living in Spencer.
Q: Were you born and raised in Worthington?
A: I was born in Worthington but until I was in first grade we lived on a farm near Fulda.
Q: Well, no wonder Patrick Reusse is tweeting good things about you, Roger.
A: (laughs) Yes. We lived a mile and half from Pfingsten (Lutheran) Church, and he always called that Pheasant Heaven.
Q: I’m sure you have fond memories of growing up in Worthington.
A: Yes, very fond. All the friendships and classmates, that’s what you think about.
Q: Well, we’ve still got a pretty great trainer at Worthington High School still today (Joel Krekelberg).
A: Yes. ‘Krek’ is an unbelievable individual. He’s done great work for the college and the high school. For all that he gives, the community is very, very fortunate to have a man of his stature there.
Q: Joel isn’t going to make you help tape ankles prior to the football game when you’ll be inducted into the Hall of Fame, is he?
A: No. I still could do it, but I don’t think so.
Q: Congratulations again, Roger, on the honor from your alma mater.
A: Thank you, Scott. I’ve met a lot of people during my career in athletics, but the people of Worthington have always been special to my heart.
Conversations with Scott is a Worthington Globe online feature that appears periodically. Scott Mansch can be reached at email@example.com. He is on Twitter @ScottMansch