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Earning their stripes: Former Ellsworth High School superstars Curt and Casey Schilling are giving back to basketball as referees

ELLSWORTH -- Pick-up basketball games at the farm were serious competitions when Curt, Cody and Casey Schilling were learning to play. It was a real family affair, those head-to-head encounters. Sometimes mom (Carla) and dad (Clayton) played, too...

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Tim Middagh/Daily Globe Basketball referee brothers Casey (left) and Curt Schilling pose together during a womens/mens doubleheader at Minnesota West Community and Technical College. Casey, Curt and another brother, Cody, starred at Ellsworth High School before achieving notable success in the college ranks.

ELLSWORTH -- Pick-up basketball games at the farm were serious competitions when Curt, Cody and Casey Schilling were learning to play.

It was a real family affair, those head-to-head encounters. Sometimes mom (Carla) and dad (Clayton) played, too.

With the boys, the action got physical. Rules were basically modeled according to the law of the jungle.

“We definitely had it out on the yard in the cement driveway,” said Curt. “I think, especially, me and Cody beat up on Casey. That’s kind of what helped make him so good in college. Cody and I did not allow Casey to make excuses. We didn’t allow him to blame others.”

Casey smiled at the recollection. Playing pick-up games with his brothers, he said, caused him to play with a chip on his shoulder during his Augustana College years.

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It’s a Wednesday night and Curt and Casey, the eldest and the youngest of the three Schilling brothers who in their high school days put the little town of Ellsworth, Minn., on the basketball map, are reminiscing with a reporter at Minnesota West Community and Technical College in Worthington. In a few minutes they will suit up to referee the men’s game against Rochester.

This is their first year together as basketball referees. They enjoy it, they say, because it’s a chance to give something back to the sport that has been so kind to them.

Some might say, however, that it’s the sport that owes something to the Schillings. Their teen-age exploits on the basketball court will always be remembered in Ellsworth, and throughout southwest Minnesota long after they hang up their whistles.

First it was Curt, a 2,255-point career scorer who was named Camden Conference MVP for three consecutive seasons -- averaging 25.6 points, 11.7 rebounds and 6.3 assists per game as a senior. Then along came Cody, who still today ranks third all-time in Minnesota high school points (3,428) and assists, and is ninth in rebounding. At Augustana he became the school’s all-time scoring leader.

Casey, four years younger than Cody and eight years younger than Curt, scored 2,179 points in high school with 1,110 rebounds and 492 assists before following in his brother’s footsteps at Augustana and achieving his own brand of greatness.

Before the Schillings went to work, Ellsworth basketball was small-town basketball pretty much in the mold of that witnessed in any other southwest Minnesota farming community. The Panthers won a total of 11 games in Curt’s eighth-grade and freshman seasons, then won 20 games in 2002 and qualified for state for the first time in any sport in 2003 (where they had a runner-up finish). The team placed second in the state in 2006 and won state championships in 2007 and 2008, placed second in 2009 and placed third in 2010. In every one of those years, there was a Schilling or two on the team.

Curt, when he looks back on it, recognizes and appreciates how Ellsworth still thinks fondly of he and his brothers.

“I’ll go into the lumber yard, and there’s a guy who works there who says, ‘You know, we didn’t know what we had until it was gone.’ He’s still got all the news clippings and pictures from the state runs. Yeah, it’s pretty neat,” Curt said.

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After high school, Curt went on to play at Northwestern in Orange City. Cody played at Augustana where he set the standard in career points. Casey, as a senior at Augustana, helped lead the Vikings to the 2016 NCAA Division II national championship, finishing second all-time (behind teammate Daniel Jansen) in points (2,054) and third all-time in rebounds (997).

Back to the basics of life Life has slowed down a bit since those heady college years. Curt farms about a half-mile east of Ellsworth and raises about 4,800 head of hogs. Casey farms two miles east of town on an acreage, managing 3,300 of his father’s hogs. Cody lives with his wife, Erica, in Sioux Falls, S.D., where he is head trainer with Warwick Workouts.

After college, Casey had opportunities to play overseas. But he preferred to stay close to home and farm with his brother and his dad. In July, he married a girl from Boyden, Iowa -- Mariah -- who he dated all through high school.

Casey had gone in for teaching at Augustana, then in the middle of his junior year turned his attention to the family business. “Augustana isn’t known for its ag program. I kind of always knew I was going to go into farming with my family,” he said.

Curt and his wife, Molly, have two children: Griffin, 5, and Chandler, 3. He got his first coaching job at Ellsworth, then later coached girls and boys basketball at George-Little Rock High School and served as athletic director for six years there. “But it’s a lot more fun to do reffing now,” he said. “Because now I get to interact with players and fans and coaches.”

He also loves to farm.

“The best thing about farming is the way of life. The freedom of making your own choices, the chance to be -- for the most part -- your own boss,” Curt explained.

The two brothers contracted for 28 high school games and seven college games for the 2016-17 season. They hope to do more college games in the future.

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In the meantime, it’s clear that they work well together as a reffing team. And it’s a far less bruising proposition than when they threw elbows with brother Cody back on the farm as kids.

“We kind of know what each other’s thinking,” said Curt about their reffing duties. “We kind of call the same game to an extent. When one of us makes a call, we can just look at each other and know why he called that.”

Related Topics: BASKETBALL
Doug Wolter joined the Worthington Globe in December of 1983 as a sports reporter. He later became sports editor, and then news editor and managing editor. In 2006 he moved to Mankato with his wife, Sandy, and served as an editor at the Mankato Free Press. In 2013 he and Sandy returned to Worthington to take up the job of sports editor at The Globe, and they have been in Worthington since.

Doug can be reached at dwolter@dglobe.com.
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