One class basketball memorable [UPDATED]Published 9:38am Monday, March 19, 2012 Updated 11:39am Monday, March 19, 2012
These days, Minnesota has four classes of high school basketball, with 32 teams making it to the state tournament in both girls and boys. The format included a one-class boys system from 1913 to 1971.
A two-class system, for boys and girls, existed from 1974 until 1997.
Recalling the days of the one-class boys system is Dave Lehrke of Fergus Falls, who played basketball for Willmar High School.
Lehrke, an employee of Otter Tail Power Company, also played basketball at Augsburg College and was a volunteer Otter boys assistant coach. He also was interim coach at both Hillcrest and Fergus Falls High School.
“Back in the late 1960s we (Willmar High School) played schools as small as Grove City (our first sub-district game), to mid-size towns like Howard Lake, to the bigger cities schools when we got to the region tournament at Williams Arena,” said Lehrke.
Lehrke recalls the first Region 5 game, in 1968, against St. Paul Patrick Henry. Willmar’s opponents stood 6-10, 6-4 and 6-4.
“We were underdogs against Henry, because of their size, but played well and advanced to the Region 5 championship game against Edina. Those guys had won 69 straight at one time, going back to 1966, and had won the state tournament in both 1966 and 1967.”
Lehrke said his Willmar team closely resembled the 1990 Otter boys team that advanced to the state tournament.
That Fergus team included Dan Sternberg, Hua Larson, Todd Kershner, Lance Abramson, Barry Quernemoen, Kevin Pearson and others.
“We (Willmar) played together well, just like the 1990 Otters, and shot pretty well,” said Lehrke. “We took a lot of outside shots but, since they were only worth two points in those days, bigger teams had the advantage.”
Edina, under former Fergus Otter coach Duane Baglien, was tall in 1968 with 6-7 Bill Fiedler, 6-8 Bob Zender, who went on to star at Kansas State, and 6-4 Tom Cabalka. Tom Miller, off their bench, was 6-8.
“Our game was delayed for an hour or so after the Edina players shattered the backboard during warmups. That didn’t help our jitters waiting in that locker room,” said Lehrke.
Willmar led by seven points at halftime and felt pretty confident. But then Lehrke, who stood 6-4, fouled out midway through the third quarter.
“We were pretty small after that and didn’t have any bench players over 6-1 to try to combat Edina’s height,” he said.
The other Willmar starters were 6-2 Gary Syverson, today an attorney in Alexandria, 6-0 Mark Roth of Roth Chevrolet in Willmar, Ron Snyder, today a pastor in Willmar, and Dan Lundall who played at Gustavus Adolphus.
“The Edina size was too much for us in the last quarter and we lost by about 10 points,” said Lehrke.
He estimates attendance for the 1968 Willmar-Edina Region 5 game at more than 7,500 at Williams Arena in Minneapolis. Edina won its third consecutive state title in 1968.
Later, Lehrke attended Augsburg College with Syverson, Randy Johnson, from Patrick Henry, 6-10 Mike Haag of Howard Lake and Dick Kelly who grew up in Fergus Falls with the Tate family.
Baglien, in an article posted on the Internet, joked that in Fergus Falls, in the late 1950s, he would speak at eye-level during his timeouts.
With Edina, in the 1960s, he would look at the ceiling because his players were a foot taller.
Lehrke’s Willmar coach, the late Russ Adamson, is in the Minnesota Coaches Hall of Fame, as is Duane Baglien.
Lehrke was a volunteer assistant for Otter coach Bob Bjorklund when Fergus Falls went to state in 1984, 1986 and 1990.
Other assistant coaches were Roger Olson, Steve Atchison and Mark Toso.