Dan Sternberg and Kevin Pearson, both teachers in the Fergus Falls Public School system at Kennedy Secondary School, recall a classic basketball rivalry. They point to the 1989-90 season when, as starters, they played for the Otters twice against Staples-Motley.
Says Sternberg, “When I think of those games, I still see packed gyms, gritty players and basketball played at a high level. The games with Staples-Motley ranked right up there with Moorhead in terms of rivalry for us back then.”
In 1990 Fergus Falls, coached by Bob Bjorklund in Class AA, and Staples-Motley, coached by Lynn Peterson in Class A, both advanced to the state tournament during a two-class system in Minnesota high school basketball.
“My memories of our Staples rivalry are still clear,” says Sternberg, a senior in 1989-90. “We got drilled by them my junior year twice, and we knew they returned as a good team.”
The Otters played Staples at home early in the 1989-90 season. The Cardinals were ranked No. 1 in the state in Class A at the time.
Staples came to Fergus Falls with 6-10 center Bernie Salthe who had good guards as part of his supporting cast.
“We were still trying to figure out who we were going to be as a team,” Sternberg said.
The Otters put Salthe in foul trouble early, and Fergus Falls proceeded to, in the words of Sternberg, “shoot the lights out” while dominating the game in the first half.
The final score was Fergus Falls 81 and Staples-Motley 63.
When Fergus Falls traveled to Staples in early 1990 to play the Cardinals, the Otters were ranked in the top 10 in Class AA.
This time Staples turned the tables, defeating Fergus Falls 71 to 57. The Otters had only three losses in the regular season, before tourney play began.
Pearson, a starting sophomore in 1989-90, also remembers packed gyms for the games in Fergus Falls and Staples.
“Both towns had supporting and enthusiastic fan bases,” he said. “This helped to create some of the most exciting and loud atmospheres that I ever played in front of as an Otter basketball player.”
The Otters played against David Joerger of Staples, a sophomore in 1990. Joerger later played at Moorhead State College (now MSUM) and then became a coach in the NBA.
“I was a roommate of David during college when he played for Moorhead State and I played for Concordia,” Pearson recalled.
Fergus Falls entered the state tournament with a 20-3 record, including a double overtime win over Moorhead in Region 8AA play. The Otters downed Brainerd in the region finals.
The Otters performed well at state in 1990. In opening round action at Williams Arena, Fergus Falls defeated powerful Bloomington Jefferson 49-48. It was the same score in the state semifinals at the old St. Paul Civic Center, but the Otters were on the losing end, 49-48, to Minneapolis North.
North lost to Owatonna in the Class AA title game and the Otters lost to Chaska in the game for third place.
Other starters on the 1990 Otter boys basketball team, in addition to Sternberg and Pearson, included Lance Abramson, Scott Kershner and Hoa Larson. Barry Quernemoen was a top senior reserve.
Other team members were Matt Beck, Judd Schetnan, Dean Lee, Jarvis Larson, Brett Leitch, John Gutz, Tom Huberty, Chad Stelljes, Andy Kvenvolden and Kris Gustin.
The assistant coaches for head coach Bob Bjorklund were Steve Atchison and Dave Lehrke. Jason Noble served as student manager.
Cheerleaders were Jackie Bradow, Teresa Yackley, Lisa Short, Erin Neuman, Deb Argue and Shannon Myster.
Today, both Sternberg and Pearson have kids playing Otter varsity basketball. Josh Sternberg is a sophomore playing for the Fergus Falls boys and Paige Pearson is a senior playing for the Otter girls.
A footnote: Staples took home the 1990 state Class A consolation title.
Tom Hintgen is a longtime Daily Journal columnist. His column appears in the Weekend Edition.