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Les Knutson: Spring sports are at midway point

Les KnutsonDaily Globe sports columnist HERON LAKE -- Gary Hildebrandt, Heron Lake-Okabena High School's enthusiastic head track and field coach, sat his athletes down during Wednesday's all-day rain for a team meeting before sending them into th...

Les Knutson
Daily Globe sports columnist 

HERON LAKE - Gary Hildebrandt, Heron Lake-Okabena High School’s enthusiastic head track and field coach, sat his athletes down during Wednesday’s all-day rain for a team meeting before sending them into the swimming pool where he put them through a vigorous workout in the water - below them, not coming from above.
During the meeting, “Hilde” mentioned that it was the season’s midway point and asked for comments about how the season was going. It’s been a bit disappointing, as several meets - including Thursday’s scheduled Worthington Invitational - were canceled due to bad weather conditions.
But it’s been a fairly typical spring as postponements and cancellations frequently happen during April. The calendar turns to May next week, so hopefully things will improve and a more consistent rhythm for practices and game/meet schedules will occur.
Actually, lots of trees have bloomed, which puts this spring ahead of several others of recent memory. I often gauge the Trojan Relays (second Wednesday in May) as an indicator of spring being in full bloom. Usually by then, the trees are full of leaves and it’s beginning to look a lot like summer. Several of the past springs, however, still featured bare trees when the Trojan Relays were held.
This year, the leaves have been coming in early and the Trojan Relays will be later - not until May 17 - so things will really look like summer when the big high school track and field attraction comes to Worthington.
Last Trojan Relays for
Henkels, Nelson
Two of the area’s finest track and field coaches, Worthington’s Ken Henkels and Luverne’s Craig Nelson, are both retiring at the end of this school year.
Henkels has co-coached the Trojans (in the past with Mike Traphagen and currently with Doug Brands) for many years and has continued to do a tremendous job of building the overall participation numbers at WHS.
Nelson has been Luverne’s head boys and girls coach for more than 20 years and has enjoyed remarkable overall success with the Cardinals.
Both men have put their heart and soul into organizing the teaching and motivation that are involved with so many different events in the very time-consuming sport of track and field.
1959 Winter Dance
Party was baffling
Like many area “old-timers,” my wife Cheryl and I attended the Winter Dance Party concert at the Worthington Auditorium April 9. It was a great show as Linwood Strasser portrayed The Big Bopper, Ray Anthony sang the songs of Ritchie Valens and the evening’s featured performer - John Mueller - imitated Buddy Holly.
Before coming to Worthington, they played the previous night in Cannon Falls. The 2016 Winter Dance Party tour took a few days off and then ventured to Regina, Saskatchewan, for a two-day “gig” in Canada. A week later, they performed for three days in Las Vegas. Tonight, Strasser, Anthony and Mueller are singing their songs at South Carolina’s North Myrtle Beach.
In two weeks (May 13-14), they will have back-to-back nights in the Washington cities of Olympia and Bellingham. Then on June 21, the tour takes them back to Las Vegas.
Now, that may seem like a lot of traveling. But there is plenty of time between each, and those guys are flying on big planes to each venue - while being well rested.
Contrast that to the original Winter Dance Party of 1959.
Here’s the scattered list of upper Midwest towns that Dion and the Belmonts, J.P. Richardson (The Big Bopper), Valens and Holly traveled to - by bus, before there were any four-lane interstate highways.
They started on January 23 in Milwaukee, played in Kenosha (not too far away, south on Lake Michigan) the next night.
But then, it was on to Mankato, over to Eau Claire (Wisconsin) and then back across Minnesota to Montevideo on three consecutive days, January 25-27. Remember, no overnight stays, no days of rest - just sing, board the bus and ride a long distance in two-way traffic on a cold bus.
The tour’s brutality and senseless zig-zagging course continued. After Montevideo, the bus went to St. Paul (Jan. 28) then down to Iowa (Davenport, Jan. 29) and Fort Dodge (Jan. 30) before heading way north to Duluth (Jan. 31) and then over to Green Bay (Feb. 1)
From northeastern Wisconsin, the cold bus traveled all the way to Clear Lake, Iowa, where Holly, Valens and Richardson sang for the last time. After playing on that Ground Hog evening in 1959, the three of them boarded a small plane to save time and get to their next “gig” in Moorhead ahead of the others.
As we know, the plane crashed and three stars - who have been epitomized in many songs, including Don McLean’s 1972 classic “American Pie” - died near Mason City, Iowa, on the morning of Feb. 3, 1959.
But the tour continued. Dion and the Belmonts rode the bus. Bobby Vee filled in for Buddy Holly at Moorhead, which sparked his career. After playing in Moorhead, the Tour traveled back to Iowa for gigs in Sioux City, Des Moines and Cedar Rapids. On Feb. 7, the Winter Dance Party performed in Spring Valley, Illinois and sang in Chicago the next night.
It was back to Iowa (Waterloo and Dubuque) for the next two nights before traveling south to Lexington, Ky., for a performance on Feb. 11. The last four nights of the 24-day tour (with no days off) took them east to Ohio (Canton and Youngstown) before finishing up in Illinois (Peoria and Springfield, Feb. 15).
I know, I can’t believe that either. No wonder, Holly wanted to take a plane instead of the bus.
W-WG’s 1991 story
progressing well
The last year of the district-regional alignment which had staged Minnesota high school athletics since the early 1930s was 1991. Things really changed after that as sub-sections and sections replaced districts and regions - and those sections were completely realigned.
On top of that, they changed frequently as schools may be in one section one year and another the next. Or a school may be in one section for one sport and in a different section in another sport.
It was simpler in the “old days” before the changes of ’91-92. Westbrook-Walnut Grove, in its first year as a paired school district, enjoyed a remarkable boys’ basketball season in the winter of ’90-91, the last year of District 7 and Region 2.
I have made lots of calls and had some extremely interesting chats with several of those Charger players. Sometime in May - maybe on a day after activities are rained out - you can read about that exceptional basketball team.

What To Read Next
WORTHINGTON – The top 10 teams in Minnesota Class A high school gymnastics will be in Worthington on Saturday (Jan. 28) for the state True Team meet. Participating teams are Becker, Benson, Big Lake, Byron, Detroit Lakes, Mankato West, Melrose, New London-Spicer, St. Peter, and Worthington.
Tom Goehle, son of legendary coach Hugo Goehle, was once a star athlete at Hills-Beaver Creek High School. Now he gives back through coaching and his involvement in Fellowship of Christian Athletes.
Hall of Famer Tony Oliva and current Minnesota Twins stopped in Luverne Wednesday with the annual Winter Caravan tour
Thursday night high school sports roundup: