WORTHINGTON — Note: Joey Konkol earned 10 letters during a superb athletic career at Slayton High, graduated in 1980 and went on to play both basketball and football in college. His family is highly respected in Murray County, and Joe is remembered most for a magical basketball performance 40 years ago against the Worthington Trojans. Joe is now a VP of Finance at the Crazy Horse Memorial Foundation and lives in Custer, S.D., where we caught up with him for a Conversation With Scott.
Question: You’ve got an interesting job, Joe. Tell me about it.
Answer: I work for the foundation that’s carving the mountain and honoring the Native American people.
Q: So you know the family of the late Korczak Ziolkowski? (He is the sculptor who began the project in 1948.)
A: Yes. The family is intertwined with his foundation. I’ve worked for them for nearly 23 years. So I’ve become part of the history of the mountain and what will be accomplished here. It’s kind of like Mount Rushmore. You’ve got to see it.
Q: I have been there. And I know about the museum that’s there and other events connected with the mountain. There’s a road race there every year, right?
A: Yep. The Crazy Horse Run. And then two times a year we have a “volksmarch,” where the public can walk up and be right on the arm of Crazy Horse.
Q: I’m thinking that’s a pretty good view from up there, Joey?
A: It is. (Laughs) You can see for a ways.
Q: Are you still in good shape, Kid? Do you participate in those Crazy Horse Runs?
A: No, no, no (laughs). I used to play ‘Old Man’s Basketball’ at the gym, but about seven years ago my wife Erin got sick and I had to refocus my time. (Erin passed away last year of cancer at age 53.)
Q: I’m so sorry about losing your wife, Joe.
A: Thank you, Scott. She’s in a better place.
Q: I know you have a son (Jordan, who also is an accountant working at Crazy Horse). Could he shoot the basketball like you?
A: He could (laughs). But he didn’t. He would rather pass than shoot, and he just loved to defend.
Q: Refresh my memory, Joe. You originally went to Macalester College, didn’t you?
A: Yes, I played football, basketball and baseball for a year up there. Then I transferred to Southwest State University (now Southwest Minnesota State) and just played baseball there.
Q: Tell me about that big game back in 1980, Joe. You know which one I’m talking about (laughs).
A: I believe it was January 11, 1980. The game was in Slayton against Worthington.
Q: What happened?
A: I remember that Todd Gerber (of Worthington) and I were kind of on fire. It was a back-and-forth seesaw game. It went to double overtime and I believe we won 98-88.
Q: How many points for you?
A: I had 54.
A: It was prior to the 3-point line.
Q: I know you liked to throw them in from downtown. How many 3-pointers might you have had that night?
A: Well, it’s hard to say whether the game would have gone double overtime or not if we’d had it. It’s just tough to say. Probably at least six would have been behind the arc if we’d had one.
Q: The Gerber boys (Todd and Jay) were great athletes at Worthington High. How many did Todd have in that game?
A: I believe he had 28. I remember they got into some foul trouble.
Q: It had to be an exhilarating night for you.
A: Oh yes. The thing is, one of my teammates who was a fine player, Lannie Lohnes, had knee surgery in the early part of the year and I remember him saying before the game, ‘Joe, I think we need about 40 out of you tonight.’ (Laughs) I just chuckled and said ‘I’ll just take a win.’ I think I just kind of got into a groove. I remember during timeouts my teammates said ‘Get open. We’re getting you the ball. So keep shooting.’
Q: Hah. How many shots did you have in that game?
A: I believe it was 35.
Q: How many baskets?
A: Let’s see, I think I was 21-for-35.
Q: And the free throw line?
A: I was 12-for-16 at the line.
Q: So you actually missed four free throws. Man oh man.
A: (laughs). I was too tired because I was shooting too much (laughs).
Q: Did you have any other huge scoring games like that?
A: No. There was one against Jackson when I think I had 36 or something like that.
Q: Those were the days, Joe. The old Southwest Conference. Some pretty fine basketball programs in that league.
A: Yes. Luverne, Windom, Worthington, Marshall — great teams.
Q: Your father (Howard Sr., or Jake) was such a respected figure and longtime assistant coach of multiple sports at Slayton. He still is. What was it like to grow up in your house?
A: It was wonderful. There was a lot of pressure. Not from him, but from others because I was a coach’s kid. All my dad said was ‘Give 100 percent in practice and the way you practice is the way you play.’ That’s what I always remembered. He pushed me to give 100 percent all the time.
Q: Your brothers, Howie and Tom, were very fine athletes who both played college football. And you had to follow in their footsteps. Was it hard?
A: That’s true. It was. But basketball was my favorite sport. Howie and Tom were more into football. I enjoyed football and baseball, but basketball was my thing.
Q: How long did your father coach in Slayton (in multiple sports)?
A: I believe about 35 years.
Q: He was a great athlete himself, correct?
A: Yes. He grew up in Ashland, Wisconsin, and played sports at Winona State. He also coached at Kimball. My dad was a great influence. He showed us just by example what a work ethic means. Getting the job done no matter what it takes. And to have no quit.
Q: I recall you had a fierce will to win. Where did that come from? Your brothers were also fine athletes and excellent leaders, but they were more quiet.
A: I did not like losing at anything, not even cards. Nothing! I just didn’t like that feeling at all. After each game, I’d think of how I could have been better. Even after the 54-point game, I knew that I’d missed four free throws. I guess my drive was to try to continue to improve each time out and never be satisfied.
Q: How old is your father now?
A: He’s 93.
Q: Everyone always respected him, Joseph.
A: Thank you.
Q: Well, after your brilliant high school basketball career was it a disappointment that hoops didn’t work out as well for you in college?
A: Not really. I just decided the big city wasn’t for me and I got to Southwest State and just decided to concentrate on baseball (He was primarily a catcher).
Q: You also played for our old townball team in Slayton. For the Rockets. Isn’t that right?
A: Yup. Then after that I played at Lake Wilson for a year and Hadley for a couple years.
Q: There’s nothing better than summer baseball back home, is there, Joe?
A: (laughs) Right. There’s nothing better.
Q: Do you still follow the sports scene back here, even though you’re living in the Black Hills?
A: Yes. My dad keeps me posted.
Q: I know your younger brother, Rick, was also a good athlete. What do your brothers think? Who was the best athlete in the family?
A: (Long laugh) I don’t think we’ve had that discussion. It probably depends on what sport we’re talking. If we’re talking basketball, they might say me, but if it’s football it might be Howie or Tom.
Q: I know Howie still lives in Slayton and your folks are still here. I’ll bet it’s great for you to return home once in a while.
A: Yes. The small communities are special. It’s that way out here in Custer, too. (Pauses) You know, where Erin died there was standing-room only at the memorial service. A small community where people all know each other is a wonderful thing, in my opinion.
Q: I agree with you. You certainly had a wonderful sports career in your hometown. Are there any other memories from high school basketball that rank up there with the 54-point game?
A: There’s one other one. In the District 8 playoffs we beat the No. 1 seed, Jasper, on a last-second shot.
Q: Who hit that shot?
A: I did (laughs).
Q: Well, that 54-point game was something. It’s got to still be the school record at Slayton (now Murray County Central). I mean, after scoring 54 what does a guy do for an encore?
Q: Pretty cool to think that it happened 40 years ago. It’s very nice to talk to you, Joe. I wish you and your family all the best.
A: Thanks very much, Scott. It’s great to catch up with you. Thanks for thinking of me.
(Note: Conversations With Scott, produced by Scott Mansch, is an online feature of the Globe that appears about every other week. Scott can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org)