Greatness of the ’72 Rustlers still resonates

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     On a winter night, 50 years ago, the Miller Rustlers met Britton’s Braves in a regular-season basketball game. At the time it was viewed as simply a matchup between two good teams that each had great potential. But the game turned out to be more meaningful than that.

     Miller trailed late but rallied to edge the Braves 66-63. It was a rare game in South Dakota history in which the eventual Class A state champion faced the eventual Class B state champion. And without the hard-earned victory the famed Cinderella season of the Rustlers in 1972 would not have been accomplished with an undefeated record.

     Bob Dockter was coach of the Rustlers. A native of Cresbard, he was only 28. Years later he acknowledged that Miller’s victory over Britton was a pivotal moment in what turned out to be a magical season for the Rustlers. The Braves of Coach John Bruce had went on to rule Class B, defeating Wessington 81-60 in the championship game.

     Miller had an enrollment of 375 students and was the smallest school in Class A. That contributed to widespread crowd support at the state tournament as the Rustlers beat big schools Sioux Falls Washington, Rapid City Stevens and Yankton to finish 24-0. Dockter relied heavily on Rick Nissen, Kim Templeton and Jeff Wilber. Nissen went on to become an all-time great at the University of South Dakota while Templeton did the same at Black Hills State. Wilber became a starter at Augustana. Templeton and Nissen are members of the South Dakota High School Basketball Hall of Fame.

     In the championship game Templeton had 21 points and Nissen 17 as the Rustlers, with Dan Gerdes their tallest player at 6-foot-3, beat Yankton 68-54 at the Sioux Falls Arena. The Bucks were led by their 6-11 sophomore star Chad Nelson with 21 points. A statewide group of basketball experts were on a panel assembled by the Argus Leader in 1988 to determine the greatest team in South Dakota history (Top 5 above). Miller of 1972 was the solid choice as No. 1.

Major college coaches were prep stars in S.D.

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     In the 1990s there were two players excelling on high school basketball courts in South Dakota who were destined to become coaches and fulfill major roles in the realm of big-time collegiate football. Kalen DeBoer is now head coach at the University of Washington and Josh Heupel at the University of Tennessee.

     DeBoer was a three-year basketball standout at Milbank. As an all-state junior he scored 17 points per game and led the Bulldogs to a 15-9 record and an appearance in the State Class A Tournament. Then during his 1993 senior season DeBoer paced Milbank to a 16-5 record.

     Also a talented football player, DeBoer became a University of Sioux Falls star as a receiver with 234 total receptions for 3,400 yards and 33 touchdowns. His head coaching career includes a 67-3 record at USF with NAIA national titles in 2006, 2008 and 2009. DeBoer was coach at Fresno State (shown at right in an FSU photo), guiding the Bulldogs to a 9-3 record this season, before accepting the position at Washington of the Pac-12 Conference on Nov. 29.

     Heupel was also a three-year prep basketball standout. He helped Aberdeen Central to three consecutive trips to the State Class AA Tournament in 1994, 1995 and 1996. The all-Eastern South Dakota Conference player was instrumental in the Golden Eagles going 18-6 during his junior season and 19-3 with an ESD title when he was a senior in 1996.

     As a senior quarterback Heupel led Oklahoma to a 13-0 record and national title in 2000. In two seasons with the Sooners he threw for 7,456 yards and 53 touchdowns. Heupel finished second in Heisman Trophy voting in 2000 behind Chris Weinke of Florida State. Heupel directs a Tennessee program in the Southeastern Conference that was 7-6 this season. The Volunteers’ home field is Neyland Stadium, fifth largest facility in the country with a capacity of 102,455.

Wachs, Fosness put trust, faith in S.D. talent

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     Eight hundred eighty-three. That’s how many college basketball wins were achieved in the combined coaching careers of longtime rivals Bob Wachs and Gordon Fosness. Both found great success while concentrating their recruiting primarily on players from South Dakota. The late Wachs led Northern State for 30 seasons from 1956-85. His overall record was 532-286. The late Fosness guided Dakota Wesleyan for 22 seasons, from 1962-83, with a career record of 351-195. Wachs and Fosness each won 10 championships in the South Dakota Intercollegiate Conference.

     The reliance of Wachs and Fosness on in-state talent was on full display when their teams met 50 years ago last Feb. 27 at the Aberdeen Civic Arena. It was the 1971 NAIA District 12 playoffs and all 10 starters in the game were former South Dakota preps. So were the four other players, two Wolves and two Tigers, who saw time off the bench.

     Dennis Smith (Glenham), Gary Evjen (Sioux Falls Washington), Rich Andrzejewski (Arlington), Bill Luther (Sioux Falls Washington) and Rhys Schmidt (Pierre) were in the Northern lineup. Also seeing action for the Wolves were Tim Davies (Aberdeen Roncalli) and Les Hinds (Aberdeen Roncalli). Wesleyan starters were Tom Miller (Stickney), Jim Hall (Spencer), Jim Martin (Chamberlain), Mike Mebius (Wessington Springs) and Greg Hansen (Hurley). The Tigers also got minutes during the game from Harvey Fridley (Mount Vernon) and Steve Withorne (Rapid City Central).

     Northern won 92-91 in one of the most memorable games in the long-running rivalry. Luther hit a 15-foot shot with two seconds left for the winning margin. Hall’s desperation shot from midcourt bounced off the rim as the final horn sounded. The Wolves went on to the NAIA National Tournament where they defeated Illinois Wesleyan 88-76 before losing to Stephen F. Austin (Texas) 99-62. DWU was SDIC champion that season at 10-2 with the Wolves second at 9-3.

S.D. player helped traveling team gain fame

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     Traveling from city to city, state to state, the All American Red Heads was a touring basketball team that entertained crowds across the United States for a half-century from 1936 to 1986. Each year the team covered thousands of miles.

     One of the more acclaimed players to ever suit up for the Red Heads was a talented young woman from Parkston. Allegra Winter and her Red Heads teammates made a significant contribution to the evolution of women’s sports in our country. Learn about her in the 2021 Fall Newsletter of the South Dakota High School Basketball Hall of Fame.

     Among other featured stories is a look at a player with roots in South Dakota who moved from the state and became a national record holder with a career unsurpassed by any other prep in the history of high school basketball in America.

     The free newsletter was mailed Oct. 29 to the more than 1,350 people on our mailing list.

South Dakota influence is evident in Power Six

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     Several players with connections to South Dakota will be in action during the upcoming season for teams residing in the Power Six men’s basketball conferences. The six leagues are the Atlantic Coast, Big East, Big Ten, Big 12, Pac-12 and Southeastern.

     Among those players is Dawson Garcia of Prior Lake, Minn. He is a 6-foot-11 sophomore forward for the University of North Carolina of the ACC. Garcia, before joining the Tar Heels via transfer, averaged 13 points per game last season for Marquette and was chosen as a member of the Big East all-freshman team.

     Garcia’s mother, Stacey (Nelson) Garcia, helped Milbank win the Class A state girls championship in 1987. Garcia is shown with Dave Wagner, executive director of the South Dakota High School Basketball Hall of Fame, in the SDBBHOF photo at left.

     Yankton product Matthew Mors is a 6-7 freshman forward at the University of Wisconsin. The Badgers are members of the Big Ten. Mors produced 2,707 career points as a prep with the Bucks.

     Mason Miller is from Germantown, Tenn., and is the son of former Mitchell Kernels standout Mike Miller. He is a 6-8 freshman forward at Creighton University. The Bluejays reside in the Big East. Jace Piatkowski, a 6-3 redshirt freshman guard from Omaha, plays for the University of Nebraska Cornhuskers of the Big Ten. His father, Eric, starred as a prep at Rapid City Stevens.

     Stanley Umude and Parker Fox, who both excelled at in-state schools last season, are now with new teams. Umude is from San Antonio, Texas, and transferred from the University of South Dakota to the University of Arkansas. He is a 6-6 graduate senior guard for the Razorbacks of the SEC. Fox, a 6-8 junior forward from Mahtomedi, Minn., left Northern State University for the University of Minnesota of the Big Ten.

These records have withstood the test of time

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     A nationally known sportswriter once addressed the importance of historical perspective in college basketball programs when he wrote this about players: “Young guys may not grasp history, but they understand record books.”

     Progressive programs encourage their current players to learn about those who went before them, and to appreciate and respect the contributions those former players made in helping to establish tradition and culture. The names that appear in a school’s record book are reminders of past glory and of the effort and dedication that has led to today.

     An examination of the oldest single-season records still intact at South Dakota’s colleges reveals they go back to the 1950s. Bob Minick, a Sioux Falls Washington product, went 96 of 121 in 1954 to set the Augustana field goal accuracy record of 79 percent. The oldest free throw accuracy record had been at South Dakota State, set in 1957 by Onida graduate Jim Sutton when he shot 92 percent on 127 of 138. However, that school standard was surpassed in 2011.

     The oldest records that still exist at any South Dakota colleges for scoring average in a season and for rebounding average in a season were both established more than six decades ago. Gayle Hoover (above left), who like Minick played as a prep at Sioux Falls Washington, netted 28.5 points per game for Sioux Falls College during the 1957 season. Cresbard native Bob Swanhorst (above right) pulled down 15.2 rebounds per game for Augustana in 1960.

     Not all colleges in South Dakota list single-season records in all categories. Records for assists, steals and blocked shots were not regularly tabulated until later years. And the 3-point goal was not introduced until the 1980s.

The Hall of Fame Class of 2020

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     An appreciative crowd gathered at the Ramkota Hotel in Sioux Falls on Aug. 28, 2021, to honor members of the Class of 2020 as they were inducted into the South Dakota High School Basketball Hall of Fame. Thirteen former greats were honored during the 11th annual induction ceremony and banquet. They bring Hall of Fame membership to 171.

     The Class of 2020 is pictured above at the banquet. From left, front, Dave Thomas, Sarah Mannes Homstad, Jayne (Even) Gust, Jerry Even, and Bart Uhlir representing the late Stanton Uhlir. Back, Dennis Womeldorf, David Perrin representing the late Sam Perrin, Arlo Mogck, Janel Birrenkott, Dick Thornton representing the late Loren Thornton, and Bob Pidde. Not pictured: Austin Hansen and Joe Krabbenhoft. (John Simko Photo)

     Plaques recognizing the Class of 2020 will be displayed in the Hall of Fame area of the Sanford Pentagon.

     In the weeks ahead, the Hall of Fame’s board of directors will be involved in the important process of evaluating nominees for next year’s class of inductees. Those selected for induction will be announced this winter. To see a list of the selection criteria, and to download an official nomination form, click on Nomination Form on this website.

Scoreboard was symbol of basketball at Wallace

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     The scoreboard shown at right was state of the art when it was originally created. The inscription on the plaque beneath the quarter designation reads: ‘Electric Scoreboard Built And Donated by Selmer Hjermstad To The Wallace High School November 1939’

     Wallace basketball fans welcomed the new addition to the town’s gymnasium. It allowed the Bulldog faithful to follow a game’s progress by viewing the information clearly displayed on the homemade scoreboard.

     As the years passed, and newer more modern scoreboards started to appear with regularity in the gyms of schools throughout South Dakota, the old scoreboard at Wallace remained as a reminder of a more basic era …. a time when the work of an industrious local craftsman could produce a product such as this scoreboard that an entire town could enjoy with pride.

     The Bulldogs continued to use the scoreboard for 23 years until Wallace High School closed its doors in 1962. Wallace is about 25 miles northwest of Watertown. This South Dakota High School Basketball Hall of Fame photo was taken recently at the town’s community center, where the scoreboard now adorns a wall along with other WHS memorabilia.

Mailing by HOF sends touch of S.D. to 42 states

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     The South Dakota High School Basketball Hall of Fame believes that our state has always had a unique appreciation of, and respect for, the game. Many who grew up here but now live in other states also cherish their South Dakota basketball memories and heritage.

     One of the most tangible benefits of the newsletters we publish twice yearly is the way in which they allow former South Dakotans to return to their roots and reconnect with South Dakota basketball history. Since the 14th edition (at right) of the free newsletter was published in May, we have been contacted by numerous people wishing to be added to our mailing list. Those new requests have extended the total number of copies we mail past 1,300.

     People from 42 states and the District of Columbia are on our mailing list. Understandably the majority are from South Dakota – 1,091 of the total 1,317. Of our 226 readers from outside the state, 46 reside in Minnesota. We mail to 21 people each in Arizona and Nebraska as well as 17 in Colorado and 13 each in Iowa and Texas.

     Here are states we mail to: Arizona, Arkansas, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Florida, Georgia, Idaho, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, Nevada, New Mexico, New York, North Carolina, North Dakota, Ohio, Oklahoma, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, Virginia, Washington, Wisconsin and Wyoming.

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.