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Tiny Edgerton wins 1960 MN State Basketball Tourney

Posted October 14, 2021 @ 1:08pm | by Doug

~~~ Tour Guide Notes ~~~ Odin is the Norse God of Gods.  As folks in Edgerton, Minnesota know, he is not to be mocked. 

Odin is as well the wildly disproportionate namesake of a tiny stoplight-free village in southern Minnesota surrounded by cornfields visible in all four directions from the center of town crossroads.  It has 87 residents, one of whom is my friend, Old Fred, who I went to visit one weekend this summer.

Old Fred likes to watch movies.  He plopped in Hoosiers, a grade B flick about an A+ sports miracle about another tiny town which, against all odds, stunned the 1954 Indiana state basketball tournament by winning the darn thing.

While watching it, my mind drifted back to Minnesota’s own version, when in 1960 little Edgerton (pop. 987 --- no stoplight) did the same thing.  A thing which can never be replicated because back then it was one 8-team tournament, with one team -- large or small, didn’t matter – from each of the state’s 8 regions.  It later split into four tournaments, based on school size.

The next morning, a Sunday, as I said good-by to Old Fred, I got the notion to drive to nearby Edgerton, some 61 years after watching their team shock the haughty big-school teams, sweeping to the championship.  I watched the game on a black-and-white tv with my family from the Minneapolis suburb of Bloomington, located across 494 from arch-rival Richfield, the team expected to win the tournament.  I was a 15-year-old sophomore at the time.

Little was said in the big city newspapers about Edgerton’s “Flying Dutchmen” quarterfinal win over Chisholm 65-54, other than their next game would be against the heavily favored Richfield Spartans and be but a mere stepping-stone to the championship game.

But fans love underdogs.  When Richfield entered Williams Arena, they were met with 19,000 fans, most of whom were booing them.  That turned instantly to wild cheering as underdog Edgerton, in their tacky uniforms and floppy socks, entered.

The score at the end of regulation was tied 56-56! and Williams Arena was THUNDERING!

Edgerton’s 23-year-old coach, Richie Olson, a Norseman from the Iron Range, was a scholarship point guard at Macalester College. For Edgerton, he’d play that position in practices as the opposing team player throughout the season.

 “The only difference [between me and players] was that I’d drink coffee, and they drank milk,” he later reflected to a reporter.

He believed in the importance of free throws.  During practices, he never allowed his players to rest.  When they got tired, they practiced free throws. How it paid off!

In the overtime, they outscored Richfield 7-4.  All seven points were on free throws.  For the game, they were 35 of 43; 81% which may still be the record.  Richfield had more field goals 23-14, so clearly the statistical difference was in free throws.

The following night was almost anti-climatic as Edgerton methodically cruised over Austin 72-61.  They ended the season undefeated at 27-0.

As the team returned home on Monday, each town in their region lined the streets to cheer them.  As they approached Edgerton, they were met by a fire truck which carried them to a packed main street celebration.

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Edgerton is a predominantly Dutch Reform Church town.  Below, the minister is deeming Coach Olson to be “A Dutchman…A Flying Dutchman!” to the ecstatic roar of the crowd.

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Perhaps an amount of credit should also be given to Odin!

Which brings us back to my visit there, some six decades later.  I found the town to be very Sunday quiet.  Not a creature stirring besides me with my cell phone camera.  By matching the above skyline picture of the 1960 celebration,  I was able to locate the same spot, although with now altered facades.

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I snapped the picture, jumped back in the car, and headed out of town. 

But here’s where (perhaps?) Odin returns.  For at that moment, two cars parked a half-block away and (seriously?!) a group of Edgerton cheerleaders emerged with a woman (their coach) with a camera.  They were taking pre-season photos.

I stopped and explained myself, then asked if they wouldn’t mind walking over and standing on that very spot of the 1960 victory celebration so I could take their picture.

 

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Thanks, Odin!  You are hereby not mocked.

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Notes:

The starters and top sub for Edgerton:

  • Guards: Darrell Kruen & LeRoy Graphensteen
  • Forwards: Bob Wiarda & Dean Verdoos
  • Center: Dean Veenhof
  • Sixth man: Daryl Stevens

 

Of Edgerton’s seven overtime free throws, four were by Kruen and three by Graphensteen.

The following season (1961), Edgerton returned to the State Tournament, although they lost in the quarterfinal to Bemidji.

The next year, Olson returned home to the Iron Range and Virginia High School, becoming coach and eventual athletic director.  Combining the two schools, his career coaching record was 241-85.  Coach Olson passed away in 2013 at age 77.

Thanks to the Edgerton cheerleaders and their coach, Alexis Gunnink, for allowing me to photograph them, and for giving me permission to present their photo here.

Some of the material for this story was gleaned from these videos:

  • Becoming Big League: Edgerton Basketball (YouTube)
  • Edgerton Basketball Legend (Vimeo).

 

My deepest thanks to Old Fred Jerve.  I have known him for 50 years.  We met as a former Viet Nam Marine (Fred) and former Peace Corps Volunteer (me), which launched us into the most meaningful discussion I have had in my life…out of which this wonderfully lasting friendship eventuating in my visit of him in Odin, hence Edgerton.

Of myself, profoundly influenced by the excitement of watching that Edgerton vs Richfield tilt, I later pursued a career as a radio sports announcer.  I broadcast many high school games throughout Minnesota, working at stations in St. Cloud, Hutchinson, Long Prairie, Anoka, and the Twin Cities. 

 

 

 


 

 
 
 
 
 

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