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A loyal Pheasant and a true friend of the HOF

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     A genuine love of basketball. Everlasting pride in his school. An appreciation of the importance of recognizing history and of never forgetting the past. All of those feelings were ingrained in the nature of Dean Lee.

     South Dakota School for the Deaf was home to Dean for 12 years. Unable to hear or speak, he took from his time there a positive, optimistic outlook which served him well upon his return to Forestburg after his graduation in 1952.

     Dean wore his Pheasants jersey with pride and was a standout in basketball and track. He was a freshman in 1949 when he helped School for the Deaf win the District 18 basketball championship. Team members were, from left in the SDSD photo above, Ken Czerny, Bob Ellis, Dana Dillman, Coach Roy Holcomb, Jerry Berke, Dean, and Walt Baumgartner.

     Loyalty to his school was such an important part of Dean that in his will be bequeathed a gift of $25,000 to the South Dakota High School Basketball Hall of Fame, of which he had been a longtime friend and supporter. Dean specified in his will that the donation be used to strengthen the Hall of Fame’s endowment to help preserve the legacy of the School for the Deaf. Dean had reached the age of 86 at the time of his death on Sept. 27, 2020. Go to the Newsletter Archives section on the right-hand side of this website to read more about Dean’s life in the 2021 Spring Newsletter.

Take a trip back in time with spring newsletter

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     During earlier times, as basketball was gaining a foothold in South Dakota, conformity in gymnasiums was basically nonexistent. Dimensions of playing surfaces often differed from school to school. So did seating capacities. Many facilities lacked even the most basic features such as scoreboards and adequate locker rooms and showers.

     In the 2021 Spring Newsletter of the South Dakota High School Basketball Hall of Fame, readers learn about what was surely one of the most unique and highly unusual gyms not only in the state but in the entire country.

     Another story looks at a one-of-a-kind team from the past that put South Dakota basketball on the international stage. Also in the newsletter is a profile of a record-breaking scorer who dazzled locally and then on the national level.

     The 14th edition of our free newsletter was published by the Hall of Fame and sent on May 3 to the nearly 1,300 people who are on our mailing list. We believe the newsletter will be of interest to everyone who loves basketball.

A royal double: State championship and 30 wins

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     During the 1957 basketball season in South Dakota there were a trio of teams — Cresbard, Alexandria and Lake Norden — that all reached the exclusive 30-win plateau. They combined to amass an overall record of 101-6.

      Cresbard won the Class B state championship that year, after being runner-up the previous season. The Comets finished 38-1 in 1957. The 38 victories registered by Cresbard has been recognized as the national single-season record. Alexandria took third place in the tournament and went 30-1. Lake Norden was sixth and wound up 33-4.

     Winning at least 30 games in a season was rare. But several other teams throughout South Dakota history, in addition to Cresbard in 1957, have capped their seasons by achieving the unique double of claiming Class B state championships and reaching 30 victories. Among teams that have accomplished that feat were Arlington (31-0) in 1938, Emery (30-1) in 1950, Harrold (33-2) in 1951, Hayti (32-2) in 1954, Howard (31-4) in 1956, and Cheyenne Agency (31-3) in 1959.

Kernels, Gazelles lead in state championships

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     When it won its first state basketball championship trophy Mitchell High School was coached by A.A. “Joe” Quintal. The year was 1931 and South Dakota was in its 20th season of conducting state tournaments.

     That was the first of 16 state titles that have been earned by the Kernels, including nine under Coach Gary Munsen between 1984 and 2005. No school in South Dakota has won more championships than Mitchell. Among boys Sioux Falls Washington and Huron are next in line behind the Kernels. The Warriors and Tigers have each claimed 11 titles.

     Yankton is the leader in championships among girls programs. Coach Bob Winter guided the Gazelles to their first title during the inaugural girls season that was held in 1975. Yankton has won nine championships, followed among girls by Sioux Falls Roosevelt which has seven and Sioux Falls Washington and St. Thomas More with six each.

     A new addition on the South Dakota High School Basketball Hall of Fame website lists each boys and girls state championship team from the very first boys state tournament in 1912. Readers can also review the total number of state titles won by each school. Also included is a list of the teams throughout history that had 30-win seasons, led by Cresbard of 1957 at 38-1. Look on the right-hand side of this website and scroll down to ‘S.D. State Champions.’

After 50 years De Smet’s reign still impresses

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     It has been 50 years since De Smet was putting the final touch on a basketball masterpiece. Fans in South Dakota still marvel at the proficiency and precision that was displayed by the Bulldogs during a three-season span ending in 1971.

     The championship game of the State Class B Tournament in 1969 ranks among the most memorable in history. Onida protected its undefeated record by using Tom Fox’s 33 points to hold off the Bulldogs 93-90. De Smet was led by Randy Jencks with 30 points. A capacity crowd at the Sioux Falls Arena witnessed a steady procession to the free throw line. Jencks converted 20 of 25 attempts as the Bulldogs went 36-for-51 on free throws. Onida shot 39, making 29.

     After that 22-4 season the Bulldogs of Coach Larry Luitjens had loftier goals. Returning to the championship game in 1970, De Smet capped a 25-1 record by defeating Stickney 76-39 for the first of two consecutive titles. Jencks was a senior in 1971 and missed much of the season with a knee injury. His return in the postseason helped spark De Smet to another championship. The Bulldogs beat Lennox 53-49 in the finals to go 25-2 and settle their three-year mark at 72-7.

     Testimony to De Smet’s talent and depth was the fact that the Bulldogs placing a different player on the all-state first team during each of those three seasons: Tom Hein in 1969, Jencks in 1970 and Terry Long in 1971. Luitjens, the subject of a new book authored by Bob Parsons, went on to coach at Custer and finish his career with a 748-305 record.

NCC shootout was longtime holiday tradition

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     The North Central Conference Holiday Tournament was a popular tradition that for 25 years put some of the country’s finest NCAA Division II basketball competition on display before crowds at the Sioux Falls Arena.

     Held annually between Christmas and New Year’s Day, the inaugural event was staged Dec. 28-30, 1965. A ticket good for all 12 games cost $5. Fans in attendance saw Sisseton product Jack Theeler (at right in USD photo) become the first of several Most Valuable Players who had prepped at South Dakota high schools.

     Theeler’s late-game basket, part of a 26-point performance, lifted South Dakota past South Dakota State 77-75 in the quarterfinals. The 6-foot-4 forward then had 27 points, including four free throws in the final seconds, as the Coyotes beat North Dakota State 68-65 in the semifinals. The losing Bison were coached by Doug Cowman, who had guided Canistota to the Class B state championship in 1958.

     North Dakota, rated No. 4 nationally, stopped USD in the finals 83-64. Phil Jackson was the Sioux star before moving on to NBA fame as a player and coach. But it was Theeler who led the tourney in scoring with 69 points and was MVP.

     Six other former South Dakota preps later earned MVP honors: John Thomas (Alexandria) of SDSU in 1967, Chuck Iverson (Vermillion) of USD in 1972, Ron Wiblemo (Mitchell) of SDSU in 1973, Steve Brown (Hamlin) of SDSU in 1977, Mark Tetzlaff (Hamlin) of SDSU in 1982 and Pat Freidel (Armour) of Augustana in 1988.

     The final tournament was held in 1989. SDSU finished as the leader with five championships. The Jackrabbits won the event in 1968, 1969, 1973, 1977 and 1979. Augustana followed with four titles, winning in 1974, 1980, 1984 and 1987. UND, NDSU and Nebraska-Omaha were next with three championships apiece.

Fosness dies at age 85 after a life well lived

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     Gordon Fosness graduated from Presho High School in 1953 and went on to make an indelible mark on South Dakota basketball as a player and coach, then later as an advocate. He was a man of faith who served as a spiritual advisor to many. Fosness died Dec. 15, 2020, in Sioux Falls. He was 85.

     At the time of his Dakota Wesleyan University graduation, Fosness was the Tigers’ career scoring leader. He totaled 1,805 points with a career average of 23.4 points per game. Fosness was chosen all-South Dakota Intercollegiate Conference during each of his four seasons. He was then selected by the Minneapolis Lakers in the 1957 NBA Draft.

     Fosness (shown addressing his players during a timeout in the DWU photo at left) coached at Cavour and Gregory before returning to Wesleyan in 1961. He guided the Tigers for 22 seasons before retiring in 1983. Fosness’ teams won 10 SDIC championships. His career record, in an era when teams played far fewer games than they do today, was 351-195.

     After leaving coaching Fosness accepted the position of Director of Development at Wesleyan. Then from 1988-2000 he was the state director of the Fellowship of Christian Athletes. Fosness was a member of several halls of fame, including the NAIA Hall of Fame. He was inducted into the South Dakota High School Basketball Hall of Fame in 2011 and has served on the organization’s board of directors.

Colleges feature former South Dakota preps

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     With the new basketball season tipping off in a time of uncertainty, which high schools in the state have produced the most players who are currently listed on varsity rosters of the colleges in South Dakota?

     Among the men, Sioux Falls O’Gorman leads with five. Dell Rapids, Harrisburg and Sioux Valley have three each. Knights in action are the Cartwright brothers, Matt at Augustana University and Jack at the University of Sioux Falls, as well as Akoi Akoi at Augustana, Luke Ronsiek at Mount Marty University and Cole Bruhn at Dakota State University.

     Sioux Falls Lincoln has six graduates on women’s teams: Morgan Hansen at the University of South Dakota, Izzy Van Veldhuizen at Augustana, Anna Brecht at USF, Lexi Hochstein at MMU and Sydnaya Dunn and Mya Wilson both at Dakota Wesleyan University. Following the Patriots with three each are Brandon Valley, Hamlin, Harrisburg and Lennox.

     There are 53 men who are former prep players in South Dakota and are now on in-state college rosters. They represent 34 different high schools across the state. Among the women, there are 70 players from 45 high schools.

Iverson, Renowned player and coach, dies at 90

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     Jim Iverson, among the most celebrated figures in South Dakota basketball history, died Oct. 26, 2020, in Fort Wayne, Ind. He was 90. Iverson was a star player at Platte High School and Kansas State, and a championship coach at South Dakota State. He was a charter member of the South Dakota High School Basketball Hall of Fame.

     After helping Platte to four Class B state tournaments before graduating in 1948, Iverson was a 5-foot-11 guard at Kansas State when the Wildcats lost to Kentucky 68-58 in the national championship game in 1951. The following season, as a senior, he averaged 12.9 points per game and captained Kansas State to a 19-5 record.

     Iverson was chosen by the Boston Celtics in the second round of the 1952 NBA Draft. But after fulfilling his military obligation he entered coaching. SDSU finished 22-5 and won the NCAA College Division championship under Iverson in 1963. His career record as coach of the Jackrabbits was 142-65. Iverson guided SDSU to championships in the North Central Conference during the 1957, 1959, 1960, 1961 and 1963 seasons.

     Iverson later had a career in banking. He was a longtime resident of Sioux Falls before moving to Fort Wayne.

Pandemic plagued S.D. and the world in 1918

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     A little more than 100 years ago the 1918 influenza pandemic took a tragic toll. Often referred to as the Spanish flu, its deadly impact was felt across the globe. In the United States alone an estimated 675,000 lives were lost.

     The South Dakota High School Basketball Hall of Fame has published its 2020 Fall Newsletter. Featured is a comprehensive look at how our state coped during the 1918 pandemic and of South Dakota’s effort to maintain some degree of normalcy by forging ahead with prep basketball and the single-class state tournament.

     Also in the newsletter is a profile of a proud program that battled its way to the threshold of South Dakota basketball glory only to endure far more than a fair share of heartbreaks. Another story in the newsletter remembers an eminent personality whose venerable handprint was visible on our state tournaments for many years.

     The 13th edition of the biannual newsletter was mailed free on Nov. 11 to the more than 1,200 people on our mailing list. They reside in 41 states. All past editions can be accessed in the Newsletter Archives section of this website.