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Old scrapbooks, old times, good conversation

Former Worthington Community College head basketball coach Arlo Mogck and current head coach (of now-Minnesota West) Taylor Lupton pore through old scrapbooks to remember, and learn of, the way things used to be.

WORTHINGTON -- The scrapbooks are safe. They’re stored in a cozy receptacle at the Minnesota West Community and Technical College gymnasium, sandwiched in there with banners, plaques, old film and other things used and/or forgotten.

Except they’re not altogether forgotten. The old homemade sports memories, pages somewhat tattered, with their slightly-yellowed newspaper stories and black-and-white photographs, were taken out of their vault this week by current Bluejays men’s basketball coach Taylor Lupton. Arlo Mogck, longtime mentor of the college team from the late 1960s through the early 1980s, paged through them again. And the flashbacks flowed freely.

“They were put together by cheerleaders in those years,” recalled Mogck. “When I retired (as athletic director) in 1997, I think they were in the library, and the library didn’t want them any more. I ended up with them, and about three or four months ago I thought I maybe should start cleaning my house a little bit. I’ve got things that are priceless to me, but are worthless to the rest of the world.”

They aren’t worthless to Lupton.

“I tell you, there’s a lot of memories in those things. It just depends on who wants to go through them,” Lupton said as he and Mogck turned the pages on the years.

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Mogck began coaching the Bluejays at Worthington Community College in the 1967-68 season. His last season as coach was the 1982-83 year, but he continued on as AD for the next 14 years.

Lupton, of course, has no knowledge of the long-ago past. He knows WCC only by its present name, Minnesota West. He was a basketball player at the two-year college, and the 2019-20 season will be his second as the head coach.

Don’t ask the current Bluejays coach how much things have changed from Mogck’s day to his own. He wasn’t there.

But Mogck knows.

Fan support at the college may have been more intimate and personal than it is today, Mogck maintained, though still not as deep as the typical four-year institution. There were special nights, like a “Heron Lake Night,” where a television set was given away to a lucky fan and where the high school band was invited to perform. And “the place,” said Mogck, “was packed.”

The college held a “smoker” every year at the country club, invited area high school coaches, and it was standing room only.

Mogck was able to recruit a lot of area players back then. But it wasn’t so easy to get takers in his very first year, when he was hired after the traditional recruiting season had passed.

“I had to walk the halls to find players. And when I finally did find players, there were three of them who didn’t even play high school basketball,” said the legendary coach.

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There were some good players on the team, too, he quickly pointed out. But depth was lacking, and the Bluejays won only five games -- only because, said the coach, they found five other schools that didn’t have time to recruit either.

Ah, but there were many good years, and some of those years were outstanding. Mogck led the team to a state tournament championship in only his third year.

Moments in time

Which team was the best? Hard to say. But one of his best players, Mogck said, wasn’t able to play in a state tournament.

He was thinking of Howard Van Wyhe, who played at the school in the early 1980s.

Craig Carlson, from Heron Lake, was another outstanding player who went from WCC to the Minnesota Gophers as a walk-on. Head coach Bill Musselman telephoned Arlo to ask about him.

“I tell you what, if you want a kid who’ll run through the wall of the gym, that’s him,” said Mogck, to which Musselman answered, “That’s exactly what I want.”

And then there was Willmar.

“Worthington and Willmar, back in the day, were the best two shooting teams in the state,” remembered the old coach about the Bluejays’ longtime divisional rival. “And the way that it was, one of us would not be able to go to the state tournament. That brought a lot of pressure.”

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And it fueled a serious rivalry.

During a game in 1970, police had to be called during a WCC-Willmar playoff game that was scheduled because the two teams had tied for the divisional title.

“That’s where a fight happened between the fans. Actually, it was more between the student bodies,” said Mogck with a twinkle in his eye.

WCC finally won the game, in a tight one. The fighting? Mogck wasn’t worried about it.

“I was concerned about the score. Because there was only about a one-point differential. With the game that close, I couldn’t care less who was going to win the fight.”

Mogck, who compiled a 208-138 record at Worthington Community College, won more than 300 career basketball games starting back to his high school coaching years at South Dakota schools Canton and Harrisburg.

Women’s sports didn’t appear at the college until the mid-70s, and there were the usual growing pains. The wrestling team was outstanding, however, and the men’s basketball team regularly traveled with the wrestlers to away dates.

There were logistical problems. “We got home at 4 o’clock in the morning more than once,” Arlo remembers.

For home dates, the wrestlers went first. The men’s basketball team followed, sometimes not tipping off until well after 9 p.m.

Realism and optimism

As Lupton sat listening to the former coach wax eloquent about the past, he spoke about the current college basketball situation -- the recruiting issues, the fan base, and the injuries that hurt the 2018-19 Jays over the second half of the campaign.

Some college coaches enjoy recruiting. Some hate it. Others understand that it’s a necessary part of the job, then learn to accept the fact that many potential players fall through their fingers at two-year no-scholarship schools like Minnesota West.

Lupton heads the men’s basketball program at a time when potential MW athletes get stars in their eyes if four-year institutions show them attention. But when he gets a player, he feels energized about the future. He’s realistic about junior college basketball realities, but he hopes to make the Bluejays compelling enough to excite local fans.

“The one thing that blows me away (listening to Arlo) is just the community aspect of it,” Lupton remarked. “And the games. Obviously, there was a lot of time and effort put into everything.”

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Old photos of the Worthington Community College men's basketball team, one with former coach Arlo Mogck in the foreground, adorn a hallway wall at the Minnesota West gym.

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