March: Time for snow-filled hoops
March 16, 2017
If you grew up in the Midwest, you learned early in life that March blizzards and state tournaments go together like Ma and Pa Kettle. You couldn’t speak of one without hearing about the other. Nationally, the NCAA basketball tournament may be called March Madness or the Road to the Final Four. In South Dakota, that moment in time was simply referred to as “State Tournament.” Those two simple words can conjure up more recollections than all of the “Down Memory Lane” columns ever written.
I eventually moved to Minnesota only to discover “State Tournament” was slightly more inclusive. Hockey came with even more intensity and passion than basketball for many fellow Minnesotans. Watch a game and you will see why. As a native South Dakotan, hockey somehow never struck a nerve in my sport’s bravado to the point of finding pleasure in screaming at referees and fans and players from opposing towns. Besides, I could never keep up with the action and I never understood the rules.
So, we’ll get the puck out of here and talk about big white snowflakes the size of saucers that accompany St. Patrick’s Day and talk about basketball. Mid-March has arrived and a very mild Minnesota winter was interrupted last night by snow. Accompanying the snow was not the wind required to give us blizzard status, but a much rarer phenomena. The Minnesota Gophers have fielded a team more than worthy of a No. 5 seed at yesterday’s invitation to compete in the NCAA basketball tournament. Our young coach, Richard Pittino, has turned the university’s basketball team into a powerhouse that should have Gophers fans whooping and hollering for years to come.
If you grew up in rural South Dakota, you learned many a town’s pastime was centered on their high school’s basketball team. It certainly was in Chamberlain. As a youngster I would sit on the floor at the feet of our cheerleaders, encouraging our Cubs on to victory. Sixty years later, I come to realize some of the most precious memories from childhood come from sports. How else would I remember guys from the '50s and '60s, like Bob Weideman, Smokey Steckelberg, the Sexton brothers and Ace Fisher? Ace was my cousin. I was much too short for the days of basketball that had yet to invent the three-point shot. I also remember the older of the skyscraper Bailey boys, Frank, who played several years before my classmate, Bill Bailey. Yes, my class of 1964 had a player to whom we would always sing, “Won’t You Come Home, Bill Bailey?”
At one of my first state tournaments, I remember players from the early 1960s matching up with a particularly talented Cheyenne-Eagle Butte team. Not matching up would be a much better description. The boys came out like a fire had been lit under them. Meanwhile, I distinctly remember one of the most intense players in Cubs history, Tillie Miller, running all over the court in Huron, South Dakota, desperately trying to stop the bleeding. Although, by the end of the first quarter, the Cubs were down by 20 points, it really didn’t matter. What mattered was the fact it was the state tournament and we were in it!
I heard through the grapevine that the current Chamberlain Cubs are not only going to state, they have a good chance of winning the whole show. In honor of the stars from my days, Terry Woster, Tom Binder, Jerry Melcher, Bobby Doran, Dale (Freddy) Fredericks, Ray Strand, Don Schoenhard, Roger Hammerbeck, Wayne Saukerson, Kenny Soulek and the many I left out, I ask this year’s team to write the first headline that says, “Chamberlain Cubs win the state tournament!”