Remembering the 1956 state runner-up Blue Earth boys basketball team
BLUE EARTH – Bill Holte knows how difficult it was for a team to reach the boys state basketball tournament during the one-class tournament era.
He also knows a disappointing loss in a championship game doesn’t diminish the significance of an appearance in the state tournament.
In 1956, Holte, in his sixth season as the Blue Earth coach, directed the Buccaneers to the program’s first state tournament berth in 33 years. The Bucs have not been back to the boys state tournament since.
In the state tournament, the Buccaneers, with a starting lineup of David Abel, Bruce Cherland, George Dean, Darryl Germann and Allen Henke, defeated Glenwood in the first round and Winona in the semifinals to reach the championship game.
In the championship game on March 24, played at Williams Arena on the University of Minnesota campus, the Bucs faced Minneapolis Roosevelt.
It was the second meeting of the season between the two teams. On Feb. 13, at Williams Arena, Roosevelt edged the Bucs, 60-58. The contest was a preliminary game before the Gophers basketball team defeated Michigan State in a matchup of Big Ten Conference teams.
Roosevelt dominated the rematch, defeating the Bucs, 101-54. The 47-point margin of victory stood as a record for a boys state basketball championship game until last year when Minnehaha Academy defeated Alexandria, 80-29, for the Class 3A championship.
“Our team was so disappointed,” said Holte, now 96 and living in Eden Prairie. “They didn’t like that we had lost by 47. I don’t blame them. I just reminded them of the big picture.
“I told them, ‘Did you imagine when we were playing our first game of the season, that we would still be playing in the final game played in the state?'”
Terry Armon, a member of the team, said, “Bill gave us a nice talk after the (Roosevelt) game. Just playing in the Barn (Williams Arena) was such a fantastic experience.”
Holte grew up in Minneapolis and attended Minneapolis Washburn High School. He graduated from Washburn in January of 1944.
“The next day I left for Biloxi, Mississippi for military service,” said Holte. After completing his service, he enrolled in the fall of 1946 at Augsburg College in Minneapolis. After graduating from Augsburg in 1950, he accepted a job in Blue Earth.
When Holte first got to Blue Earth, Wells, led by coach Lloyd Stussy, was a dominant team in District 5. Wells won four district championships in the first half of the 1950s.
“Lloyd was a great coach,” said Holte.
Fairmont won the District 5 and Region 2 titles to reach the state tournament in 1955.
Early in the 1955-56 season, the Bucs lost to Fairmont by two points. The Bucs defeated the Cardinals by seven points later in the regular season and finished the regular season with a 15-5 record.
In the District 5 tournament, the Bucs defeated Trimont and East Chain to reach the district title game where they faced Fairmont. The Cardinals had defeated Sherburn and Wells to return to the district finale.
The game was scheduled for March 10 (a Saturday), but was postponed by a snowstorm. On Monday, March 12, the Bucs defeated the Cardinals, 65-55.
At the Region 2 tournament, held at Gustavus Adolphus College in St. Peter, the Bucs edged Mankato, 62-53, behind Abel’s 25 points.
In the championship game, the Bucs defeated Luverne, 68-57, behind the balanced scoring of Germann (17 points), Cherland (16), Abel (14) and Henke (14).
In the state tournament, the Bucs defeated Glenwood, 53-43, and Winona, 62-57. Dean led the Bucs against Glenwood with 14 points, while Abel scored 18 against Winona.
In the championship game, the Bucs trailed by 17 at halftime before the Teddies outscored the Bucs, 54-24, in the second half.
“We got beat by a hot shooting ball club,” said Holte. “When they beat us in the first meeting, they were hot for the first half. In the championship game, they were hot the whole game.”
When the Bucs returned to Blue Earth the day after the tournament, they were greeted by 1,200 fans.
Holte said the community support is something that really stands out from that season.
“I have a lot of good memories from that season. One thing that stands out is that everything in the town stopped for the state tournament,” said Holte. “We appreciated the support.”
Armon said it was a memorable season.
“The community was great. We got to play four games at Williams Arena. It was an unbelievable and wonderful experience,” said Armon.
The Bucs repeated as the District 5 champion in 1957, edging Huntley, 60-55, for the district title.
At the Region 2 tournament, Blue Earth lost to Mountain Lake, 48-38, in the semifinals.
Minneapolis Roosevelt repeated as state champion in 1957.
Holte left Blue Earth High School after the 1960-61 season. He coached Minnehaha Academy (in Minneapolis) for one season before becoming the coach at Eden Prairie High School in 1962.
After retiring from coaching in 1977, Holte continued to teach drivers education at the school until around 2008.
1956: MEMORABLE YEAR IN BLUE EARTH
Reaching the championship game of the boys basketball team wasn’t the only noteworthy happening in Blue Earth in 1956.
• The school’s new gymnasium – Lee R. Pemberton Auditorium – was opened in early 1956. Superintendent Lee Pemberton was in his 33rd year at the school. Prior to 1956, the Bucs most recent appearance in the state tournament was in 1923, Pemberton’s first year at the school. The Bucs’ first state tournament appearance was in 1913 – the first year of the state tournament.
• The Minneapolis Lakers played an exhibition in Blue Earth on Feb. 4. The Lakers, with Vern Mikkelsen, Dick Garmaker, Clyde Lovellette, Whitey Skoog and Chuck Mencel, defeated a team of All-Stars, which included Bud Grant, 125-75, before 2,000 fans. Mikkelsen and Bucs coach Bill Holte had played against each other in college. Mikkelsen played at Hamline and Holte at Augsburg. “We played Hamline four times,” said Holte, “and it was my job to guard (6-foot-7) Mikkelsen. Everybody thought you had to stop Mikkelsen, but he would just dump the ball off to (teammate) Hal Haskins. I also competed against Hamline in track. Mikkelsen and I went against each other in the high jump.”
• Three weeks before the state basketball tournament, the Bucs wrestling team won their second state title. The Bucs, who had won their first state title in 1953, went on to win the state title in 1957 and 1958.