A long-time tailender in the Northern Junior College conference in basketball, the Brainerd State Junior college Red Raiders have taken on a new look under the guidance of Coach Harold Palmer, finishing second the past two campaigns in the Northwest division with 10-4 records trailing Crookston's 11-3 in 1969-70 and Fergus Falls' 11-3 this past campaign. An increasing enrollment and their new, location in southwest Brainerd, complete with a Tartan floor gymnasium and a combination baseball-practice football field immediately to the west, have helped the Raiders to add on some new sports and to resume football once again. Under Don Thompson, former Bemidji State star, last fall's grid team was a respectable 3-4 in the Northern division in a first-year situation which found them with only a few sophomores ready to play the game.
The Raiders also are competing in wrestling during the winter and in baseball, tennis and golf during the spring, with Thompson handling the mat team, athletic director Terry Larson tennis and golf and Glen Peppel baseball.
But only in basketball have the Raiders scaled the heights. That was a trip to the National Junior CoIlege tournament at Hutchinson, Kans. during the 1948-49 season with Ed Tonish the coach and the scoring star our present Crow Wing County Sheriff Chuck Warnberg.
Basketball was launched at Brainerd JC in 1938 with Lloyd Gilbert the first coach. In their first game, the Raiders lost to Crosby Junior college, which dropped out of existence after World War II, by a 40-30 score. The game was played Dec. 17, 1938.
Several other contests were scheduled that first season, mostly with independent quints; and the club also competed in the Brainerd City league. Its members included Leon Gabiou, Les Peterson, Pete Zimmerman, Frank Little, Don Hill, Kirk Wells, Vein Bidwell, Perry Hickerson, Earl Wolleat and co-captains Neil Whiting and Ken Porwoll.
Under Ben Taylor as coach the following season, the Raiders entered the Northern Junior college conference, winning two of 12 games.
Tonish came on the scene after four lackluster seasons by Taylor and promptly hit the jackpot with a roster which included Tuffy Kovatovich, Arnold Swanson, Gene Ebinger, Louie Perpich, Norm Flaaten, Wiljo Toumi, Gordie Hawks, Roy Smith, Sam Vranish, Joe Pavelich, Wally Juntunen, Arvid Edeburn, Henry Nyquist, Fred Markwardt and Harold Carlson.
The team won 12 of 14 games to claim the loop title; whipped Bismarck JC for the Region 13 title, 82-57; and then won its opening game in the national, 70-68 over Campbell college of Buie's Creek, N. C. Misfortune struck after that as the Raiders bowed to Tyler (Tex), 78-63, and then lost 71-65 to Olympia JC of Bremerton, Wash. to end up in sixth place in the meet.
Tonish stayed on two more seasons (both below .500) and the reign of Don Adamson as head mentor (1952 through 1957) produced a best of 10-10 in 1953 and a low of 1-18 in 1956 - 57 although Ron (Cup) Hess was second high scorer in the conference with a 17A average in 1953-54; Gene Loya third in 1957 with 20.0 and Jim Johnson fourth in 1956 with 21.6.
Hess, a member of Brainerd high school's third place state quint of 1951, took the coaching helm in 1957-58 and brought the Raiders back to the heights, a tie at 9-3 with Hibbing for the NJCC top spot; but when Laurie Selisker, third high scorer in the loop (20.5), was ruled in-eligible for tourney play, the Raiders fell to Ely JC in the regional finals after a 14-6 season in which the club lost four pointers early to Virginia and Hibbing and didn't taste defeat again until dropping a one-pointer late in the campaign at Itasca.
That one permitted Hibbing to gain a share of the loop diadem. Other losses were one-pointers to Rochester JC and Augsburg JV, both away games, and a two-pointer here to Concordia JC of St. Paul.
The 1957-58 club was led by Selisker, Russ Noreen (second high loop scorer at 18.4 the following season and an all-region-all choice), Ken Jacobs, Bob Speed and Sid Sycks, with Rod Sycks, Henry Moilanen, Curt Norwood, Bob Kelley, Merritt Linzie and Ken Sugden lending the reserve support as needed.
Bob MacLeod, Cal CarIson (whose 1961-62 team was 12-7 overall and who turned out a 16-4 edition in 1966-67), Larson and Peppel took a hand in guiding the Raiders until Palmer came here after a long span at Gogebic JC of Ironwood, Mich. for the 1968-69 season.
Bit John Pecarich of C-I topped loop scorers with a 24.9 average in 1966-67 and the Raiders, who were 11-3 to Fergus Falls' .11-2 in the NJCC, looked like a good candidate to make the nationals until running into a juggernaut in the regional at Wahpeton, N. D. in the Wahpeton Science Wildcats.
Others who had a hand in that fine season include Steve Tomljanovich, Dave Landree, Terry Fiero, Jim Gavigllo, Tom Pikula, Steve Heald, Al McKellips, Bo DeLaHunt, Mike Conner and Jon Peterson.
Palmer's Raider editions of the past two seasons were led by Terry Grewe, the six-foot sharpshooter from Deer Creek whose 24.9 average topped the league and 24.8 mark was best in the state in 1969-70 as he scored 469 points in 19 games. The Raiders were 11-8 overall and 11-9 this past winter with Grewe falling to fourth in conference scoring with a 21.9 standard but being fifth high on a 15-man all-state. squad as he tallied 422 points in 20 games a tremendous two-year output of 991 points.
--------------- FOOTBALL doesn't have as glittering a past here, the Raiders failing to claim a conference crown and putting in two seasons (1947 and 1951) when they managed to score just one touchdown during the entire schedule.
The sport was first started in 1947 and as he did also in basketball, the advent of Tonish produced something to cheer about on the gridiron as his 1949 edition opened with a 7-6 triumph over Hibbing, reputed to be the strongest Cardinal eleven in a decade.
Brainerd outdowned Hibbing nine to four and out rushed the Iron Rangers 206 to 139, but won only by the merest chance as fullback Matt Hills place-kick was low, striking the helmet of the crashing end and "Bouncing slowly, crazily and terrifyingly over the bar for the point after touchdown which won the game," The Daily Dispatch sports page of the following day noted.
The Raiders followed that up with a 7-6 loss the next week to Itasca JC, then managed ties with Ely (13-all) and Gogebic (6-all). A 31-0 crushing of Eveleth JC, was followed by 46-14 and 6-0 losses to Duluth JV and Virginia.
Things got even better the next fall as Tonish's 1950 outfit lost only to Hibbing (13-6) in the NJCC. However, after trimming Itasca and Gogebic by 13-0 scores and Eveleth 20-0, the Raiders fell out of the running for the title with a scoreless tie against Virginia and a 7-7 deadlock with Ely.
Members of that team were ends Frank Brown, Don Markwardt, Bruce Lee, Jerry Hill; tackles Raoul Bowden, Elliott Perovich, Bill Maxe; guards Jim Provost, Earl DeRocher; center Al Schierholtz; and backs Don Smith, Eddie Imgrund, Bob Melenich, Don KIein, Wayne Little, Dennis Flanagan, Tom Hegstad and Art Tangwall.
A. Leslie Smith and Frank Mdulton guided other Raiders in elevens until the sport was disbanded in the late 50's. Smith's best club was a 1955 team which bowed 33-0 to Virginia and 12-6 to Eveleth starting off, then got past Itasca 12-6, lost 19-13 to Hibbing and smashed Ely, 46-0. Sparking that eleven was the passing of quarterback Pete Lubovich, the running of Stan Krueger and Frank Caswell, and the defensive play of tackle Matt Hill and guard Gil Gessner.
Reproduced from the Centennial Edition of the Brainerd Daily Dispatch (1871-1971).