Conversations with Scott: Steve Elzenga was an exceptional peformer in football, basketball at Westbrook
WORTHINGTON — (Note: Steve Elzenga was a star all-around athlete at Westbrook High about 40 years ago who led the Wildcats to considerable success on the football field and basketball court. The former quarterback and shooting guard took his talents to Marshall and Southwest Minnesota State, where he set records in both sports. Steve, 54, who stays active as a basketball referee, lives now with his wife, Nicole, in Redwood Falls, which is where we caught up with him for our latest “Conversation With Scott.”)
Question: It’s been a while. Nice to talk to you again, Steve.
Answer: Yes. Same here.
Q: Tell me what you’re doing these days.
A: I moved from Westbrook to Redwood Falls about two years ago. My wife is the executive director of the museum for Renville County, which is in Morton. I’m the branch manager for Viking Coca-Cola in Marshall.
Q: That’s great. I understand you’re still in sports as an official.
A: I’ve been doing that for quite a while. Last year was my last one for football, but I’m still working basketball. My first game in basketball was back in 1988. I worked an R-T-R (Russell-Tyler-Ruthton) game when they had the Bouman brothers. Troy was a senior and Todd was a sophomore, and I still remember that game vividly. They had a heck of a team that year.
Q: What really made me think of you, Steve, was when I was in Adrian last week for a basketball game against Westbrook-Walnut Grove, and Ethan Mischke of W-WG scored 45 points. My gosh.
A: (laughs) That is a heckuva good game.
Q: He’s a fine player.
A: Yes. I’ve reffed some Westbrook football games. Last year (in 2018) he was a D-back and wide receiver and you could tell he’s quite the athlete. His uncle, Curt, played with me back in the 80s. Curt and I are the same age.
Q: What year did you guys graduate from Westbrook?
Q: I remember those great teams you had for both basketball and football.
A: My senior year in football, the fall of 1982, it was the very first Prep Bowl and we won the Nine-Man championship that year. We beat Fergus Falls Hillcrest Lutheran Academy in the championship game (34-12).
Q: I believe I was there for the Globe. It was in the Metrodome, right?
A: Yep. It was the very first Prep Bowl.
Q: A memorable deal for sure.
A: It was such an experience. It was our goal all year, to make it to the Dome. Then to get to play in the Dome was so great. Then later when I was in college we had what was called the NIC Classic and I got to play in the Dome three more times.
Q: When you were a high school quarterback did the Wildcats throw the ball very much?
A: We were pretty well-balanced, but we had pretty good success through the air. In that game in the Dome we had 300 and some yards passing. They had a pretty good stout front, but we ended up having pretty good success through the air in that one.
Q: Who was your head coach at the time?
A: Bill White. He was also the head coach when Westbrook won it in ‘85 (with a 45-18 victory over Norman County West).
Q: Who were some of your buddies on that ‘82 team?
A: We had some very good athletes. Curt Mischke, Mike Weiske, David Schmidt, Steven Burns, Mark Schoberg ... BJ Madson was our running back. Also Mike Schultz, who started at wideout that year.
Q: Some of those guys still your best pals?
A: Yep. Curt (Mischke) and I golf together every summer. He lives in Worthington and works at JBS. I haven’t seen a few of those guys for a while, but I do whenever I get back to town.
Q: Well, I remember Curtis being pretty doggone good but after seeing Ethan throw in 45 points I’m going to have to say he’s a little better basketball player than Curt was.
A: (laughs) Well, Ethan’s a good athlete. But their stature is different. It’s like apples and oranges. Curt was a physical player. As far as skills, Ethan is pretty advanced. But boy, when it came to toughness and just being physical, I don’t think Ethan’s got anything on Curt (laughs).
Q: Ethan’s father, Dale, must not have been any slouch either.
A: No he wasn’t. Dale was a lot like Ethan. A little smaller in stature than Curt but quite skilled also.
Q: Your basketball teams in high school had great success under Steve Kjorness, right?
A: Yes. My junior year we ended up taking third in the state tournament. We only lost one game, in the state semifinals, to Chisholm. In my senior year we ended losing three games, including to Windom in the district (7) final.
Q: I remember that basketball team when you were a junior. Didn’t you boys win that first-round game at Williams Arena?
A: We did. It was against Argyle.
Q: And the second-round game was in St. Paul?
A: That’s right. At the old Civic Center. We played Chisholm late at night and it went into overtime. It was quite late when we got back to our hotel, midnight or so, and we had to play the third-place game the next morning. It was quite a turnaround but we played well and won it to finish third.
Q: That would have been the famous coach Bob McDonald running the Chisholm team. And one of his boys was on the team that year?
A: Right. Tom McDonald was a senior that year. He ended up going to South Dakota State. He was a real good player.
Q: Wasn’t there a last-second shot involved in that semifinal game against Chisholm?
A: Yes. At the end of regulation I had a half-court shot (to win it) that hit the front of the rim, then the backboard, and hit the rim again and bounced out.
Q: I do remember that, Steve.
A: I remember it also (laughs).
Q: You were about 6-2 in those days?
A: Correct. That was the beauty of our team in basketball. I was the tallest and shortest. We had five starters who were all 6-2 (laughs).
Q: And all buddies, I’ll bet.
A: Yep. We played a lot of basketball growing up and you could tell when we were on the court. I was a town kid and back in those days I was out at the city park day and night. A lot of us were constantly playing basketball. You just don’t see that with a lot of kids these days.
Q: Minnesota had just two classes for basketball back then. Did you have a lot of basketball and football offers for college?
A: You know, Mankato State was the only program for basketball that actively recruited me. Other than Southwest State. And Southwest wanted me to play two sports. At the time I really wanted to do that, so that was one of the main reasons I signed with them. At that time at Southwest there were about five or six of us who played both football and basketball. It was a lot of fun. I enjoyed the experience, made a lot of friends and we had some success. (Note: As a senior, Steve was an NAIA honorable mention All-American and set 12 school records as a college football quarterback. He also had a basketball record for career free throw percentage).
Q: Playing both sports in college. Wow. You must not have had any free time at all.
A: No. That’s why it took me a full five years to leave Southwest (laughs). But I really enjoyed the experience. It worked out well.
Q: When you think back to your high school days I’ll bet it makes you proud to think of all the great joy you brought to the town of Westbrook.
A: Absolutely. It’s amazing the town spirit that people have when it comes to local sports teams. Back then, we never played in an empty gym. Wherever we went, home or away, that gym was packed. It really made the games exciting and fun.
Q: Tell me about your family. Is your wife, Nicole, a Westbrook girl?
A: No. Actually I met her in the Twin Cities after college, when I was working for Schwan’s.
Q: Any young athletes in the family?
A: We’re empty-nesters. My daughter (Christina), who just got married last year, is living in a suburb of Atlanta and my son (John) is a supervisor at JBS in Worthington.
Q: Were they athletes in high school?
A: My daughter was a cheerleader for four years and my son played football and basketball at Westbrook.
Q: Are you going to keep officiating basketball for a while?
A: My partner, Mike LeTendre (of Slayton), and I have been working together for a dozen years and I think next year might be my last. The years are catching up a little with me (laughs).
Q: Steve, where are Bill White and Steve Kjorness now?
A: Steve Kjorness still lives in Westbrook and I see him quite often. I golf a lot with him in the summer. I just saw Bill White last fall. He’s in Monticello.
Q: What would you say about those two great coaches.
A: Bill White might have been the most hard-nosed, toughest coach I’ve ever met, college or high school (laughs). He was an old marine. He always wore shorts. I remember we had a state semifinal game at home and it was in single digits and he was out there in a parka and shorts (laughs). Steve Kjorness was one of the nicest, politest and friendliest people I’ve ever met in my life.
Q: I’ll bet you feel fortunate when you think back on your great career, Steve.
A: Very fortunate. You know, when it comes to team sports it’s very rare for one or two really good athletes to have success. For us it was a total team effort. We had an abundance of really good players and it was really fun playing with all of them.
Q: Thank you, Steve. You were one of the greatest ever at Westbrook.
A: I really appreciate that, Scott. Thank you.
(Conversations with Scott, produced by Scott Mansch, is an online feature of the Globe. The conversations appear about every other week at dglobe.com . Mansch, who welcomes suggestions for future features, can be reached at email@example.com)