Does Brainerd have a basketball history?
How many teams in Minnesota's prep cage history have appeared at Williams Arena six times and returned home with first, second, third, fourth and fifth place honors?
Unmatched in the '50's was the record of Coach Fred Kellett's Warriors in gaining the classic in his first season (1948- 49) and then placing third in 1951, first in 1954 and second in 1958.
Kellet was unable to get another club into the state meet despite some other exemplary seasons during the '60's, including a quint which averaged over 80 points per game for the 1981-62 season while winning 19 games in a row. A stunning 72-66 upset in the District 24 tourney at Staples at the hands of C-I, which had fallen 88-51 to the Warriors Jan. 14 on the Brainerd court, ended the dream.
A year earlier, his team had presented him with his first un-beaten regular season (17 wins) and was 20-0 when it tasted defeat at Moorhead at the hands of the Moorhead Spuds in a regional opener.
RUNNERUP IN 1958, this Brainerd high school basketball team dumped state tourney favorite Bemidji and then Mankato before bowing 68-63 to Austin in the title game after averaging 78 points per game during the regular season, but losing two regulars for training violations prior to the tournaments. Shown here is the state tourney squad (left to right) front row-- Gary Zech, Tim Templeton, Tom Lyscio, Jim Isle, Don May, Jimmy Brown, Wayne Anderson, student manager Bill Ecker- ly; back row, Coach Fred Kellett, Larry Whitson, Jeff Smith, John Emerson, Bill Cowman, Roger Moilanen, assistant coach Bob Miller.
It was Moorhead administering the coup de grace to two other strong clubs (1967 and 1968) in regional play, seasons in which the Warriors ran up records of 16-7 and 14-9, respectively.
There were other fine records established, such as 17-4 in 1960 when Brainerd settled for second in the district; 19-4 in 1963 when it was fourth in the region; 13-9 in 1964 when it was second in the region and 19-2 in 1966 when it took third in the district.
Kellett still has fond recollections of that 1962 array, which had Dale Brown as its scoring leader with a 17.4 average, followed by Bill Laumann's 16.4, Gerry Blanck's 11.4, Bob Rofidal's 10.6 and Russ Akine's 10.3. These five accounted for 66 of that 80 points per game average and matched the Warriors single game scoring record of 109 points (first achieved by the state champion '54 outfit in a 109-56 district tourney semifinals win over Sebeka) in a game played at Staples.
Brainerd won 109-59 Feb. 2 and may have set a state record in the fact that reserves accounted for 46 of those points. First stringers rode the bench a large part of Brainerd's games that season as the Warriors outscored the opposition, 80 to 59.6.
HIGHEST SCORING basketball team in Brainerd high school's history, one which averaged 80 points per game during the 1961-62 season, boasted five regulars all in double figures for the season. Left to right, they are Bob Rofidahl, Russ Akre, Gerry Blanck, Bill Laumann and Dale Brown. The latter holds the school record of 41 points for a single game, scored against Granite Falls, and Laumann tallied 39 that season against Crosby-Ironton.
Rated at the top of the St. Paul Pioneer Press high school basketball poll since it started in January, the Warriors performed brilliantly in game after game. Brown set a single game scoring mark for the school with 41. Dec. 28 at Granite Falls, which fell 99-81 and Laumann nearly matched it in that rout of C-I, hitting 39 before being removed with half of the final period remaining. Other big wins that season came here 86-65 over a Cloquet team which finished second in the state the following campaign with virtually the same lineup and 74-52 at Sauk Centre over Billy Sc7 lisker's 6-8 Issy Schmiesing-led array, a third placer in the state in 1963.
In his 22-year tenure, Fred Kellett's Warriors presented him with 368 wins as against only 130 defeats and the Brainerd fans, joining with many of those players, saluted him and assistant coach Bob Millein (with him 21 of those campaigns) at Fred Kellett Appreciation Night May 23, 1970 at the new Brainerd high school cafeteria.
They recalled how the Iron-wood, Mich. and Moorhead State graduate came up from the junior high ranks here in 1948-49 to succeed Mike Hyduke and despite only a 11-9 regular season, got his club past some formidable obstacles into the state tourney. A big win scored during the regular state was by a 42-36 score over C-I, which had won 18 times in a row over Brainerd quints dating back to Jan. 11, 1941.
The Warriors lost the second meeting 51-50 to the Rangers. Over the years, there has been no more worthy or pluckier foe than C-I; but the Kellett-era brought 38 triumphs in 55 engagements, many of them heartbreakers for each side as neither could count on owning the upper hand without proving it on the floor.
THIRD PLACERS in the 1951 State High School basketball tournament was this Fred Kellett-coached edition, which includes (left to right) front row--Ernie Martz, Jerry Hill, Jim Smith, Bob Anderson, Ron Hess; back row, assistant coach Bob Miller, student manager Howie Thorsen, Jim DeRosier, Bob Falconer, JoIm Waldman, Ed Bondy, Bill Selisker, Coach Kellett.
In 1949, the two did not meet in the district tourney and Brainerd swept through the district and then downed a highly-favored Fergus Falls team 24-23 to claim the first regional championship for the school since Hoop Smith-Tom Heikkenen & Co. earned that trophy under Coach Bill Damman in 1933.
Brainerd trailed Mankato 20-15 at halftime, but fell behind rapidly to lose 52-34 following three baskets by the Scarlets starting the third period. Dawson then rolled over the Warriors 63-43 in the consolations to eliminate them.
Tremendously strong the following campaign as it won 22 of 23 during the regular season and three straight in the district, including a 34-33 edging of C-I in the finals, the Kellett-men bowed to Alexandria 40-35 and Fergus Falls 58-45 in the regional.
Then came 1951 and t h e great exploits of 6-2 center Jim Smith, whose 36 points against Breckenridge Dec. 17, 1949 stood as a team single game record until 6 - 4 John Emerson tied it twice during his three-year stardom stint (1956 - 58). Smith scored 25 points and was named all-state as the Warriors nipped Melrose 43-42 despite Smith's injured leg to win the regional and stopped East Grand Forks 66-54 in its state tourney opener.
FIFTH PLACERS in the 1933 State High School basketball tournament and the first Co represent the Warriors in the state classic was this array (left to right) front row: Bill (Hoop) Smith, Elmer Hautala, Clarence Moistad, student manager Erickson, White, Tom Heik. kenen, Anderson; back row, Coach Bill Dammann, Gene Swanson, Mickey Garvey, Schaefer, Cliff Dybvik.
The win over the Region Eight champs came despite 33 points by its 6-7 center Jon Haaven, the Alexandria-TV announcer; and the foul troubles which developed in the course of the game. Brainerd led 38-28 at the half and then lost Bob Falconer, John Waldmann and finally Smith himself with 4:02 to play.
The Warriors could do nothing right in their second game as Canby built a 12-0 lead and hiked it to 36-12 at the half, en route to a 63-34 triumph. Brainerd battled back to defeat Mountain Lake (as it also did in 1933 in its final game) for third place honors with a sophomore guard named Bill Selisker performing heroically. Other members of that team were Ron Hess, Jerry Hill, Ernie Martz (Ch 11 TV) and Jim DeRosier.
Kellett's Warriors of 1952 and 1953 also were strong cIubs, showing records of 14-5 and 17-6 with towering Aitkin administering an upset in a district clash at Aitkin in '52 and Moorhead stopping the Warriors at Moorhead in the Region Six final after having lost by 32 points in an earlier contest.
1954, however, turned out to be all for the good; but no group of fans was subjected to as heart-taxing a state tournament as Brainerd's that spring. Coming on fast after the holidays, the Warriors finished 15-3 on the regular slate, then dumped Little FaIIs, Sebeka (109-56), C-I, Starbuck, Alexandria, Red Wing, Austin (the pre-tourney) favorite and Bemidji to take the big prize for the first time.
Those last three wins, came by a total of four points, 56-55 and 57 - 56 verdicts over Red Wing and Austin, and 49-47 over Bemidji.
Led by all-staters Rod Skoog and Jon Jelacic, the Kellett-men boasted unusual bench strength with Jim Johnson, Gene Loya, Len Hildrebrandt, Merle Speed and Darien DeRocher backing up starters Skoog, Jelacic, Jim Gum, Ken Wasnie and sopho- more sensation Roger Adam.
Adam, who caught fire in a come-from-behind victory over Little Falls in the district, combined with Skoog for 41 points in the 58-53 regional tourney finals triumph over Alexandria. They kept on riddling state tourney zones, the most formidable being that applied by an Austin team which was unbeaten and boasted a trio consisting of 6-6 Jerry Olson, 6-5 John Lightly and 6-5 Hugh Hall, the latter a guard who got arm and leg weary trying to run with th~ Warriors who were 6-3 across the front court.
Reserve Jim Johnson emerged as the hero of the Red Wing tangle as Skoog and Adam drew four fouls apiece in the first half. Johnson scored eight points in his reserve role, getting two free throws with the score tied at 52 with 1:41 remaining. The stalling Warriors had missed nine of 10 gift throws to this point as a 36-28 lead steadily shrunk.
Brainerd out shot Austin, 337 to 32.3 percent, but won from the gift lanes with 15 of 20 compared to the Packers' 12 of 31. Guards Adam and Skoog were spectacular as they hit 16 and. 13 against the zone and Jelacic added 14; but again it took a reserve (Loyat to save it after a 55-48 Warrior lead with 2:05 to play was whittled.
Skoog fouled out and Brainerd missed four of six gift throws to complicate things. Adair's free throw with 56 seconds left made it 57-54, but Hall's goal put the pressure back on. Loya missed both chances at the line, but redeemed himself with five seconds to go by tying up Hall after his try at the hoop had missed.
The Warriors were a decided favorite over the shorter Bemidji quint, which had found trouble gaining the final against St. James and Renville in a recognized weaker bracket. Brainerd started like a house afire before the 18,077 fans in William Arena, building a 14-3 edge. A full scale rout appeared in prospect as the lead mounted to 18-6 with Skoog and Adam accounting for 16 of the first 19 points Brainerd put on the scoreboard.
Skoog, who ended with 19 points, never made a basket which proved more fantastic nor more vital than the one which was intended to be a high pass to center Ken Wasnie under the hoop. There was no arch apparent but the ball whistled cleanly through the net.
Although it was Bemidji in the full court press, Brainerd was drawing the fouls and its lead was down to 36.27 at the half and 44-41 into the final period. Built back to 49- 43, Jack Whiting, Don Hoffman and Bob Parker rallied the Lumberjacks to within two; but although the 'Jacks three times broke up the Brainerd stall for shots on the hoop in the final 10 seconds, they couldn't score and Brainerd took the state crown home to a waiting mob of well-wishers.
Hoping for a return to the state meet with Guin, Wasnie and Adam returning, the Warriors built a fine 18-4 season; but a heart murmur sidelined the 6-3 Wasnie just as he was coming into his own as a big scorer and the Warriors fell 52- 47 to Staples in the district finals.
Brainerd was 14-7 in 1956, Emerson's first season as a regular; then won 21 of 24 in 1957 with Fergus Falls beating the Warriors 61-54 in the Region Six title game en route to a third place state finish with a team unbeaten through the regional.
Fergus Falls, with a rebuilt team, nearly knocked the 1958 Brainerd powerhouse out of the regional in a first round clash.
Brainerd had to go overtime for a 72-71 conquest aided by a pair of clutch free throws by Jimmy Brown to send it into overtime. The 5-8 Brown went on to become the darling of the state tournament and the particular nemesis of pine-tourney favorite Bemidji with its 6-6 Ray Cronk, 6-5 Fred Swenson and 6-4 Mark Kolden.
His 31 points helped knock off the 'Jacks in a game which will be long remembered. In his History of Minnesota State High School Basketball tourna- ments, Ed Simpkins of Prior Lake declares: "These two teams displayed some of the most explosive and rapid shooting this game of basketball has ever experienced. If it's a lot of scoring the fans like, they got their money's worth in this game as Brainerd outlasted displays of fast breaks and full court presses through-out most of the game."
Bemidji led 47-46 at the half, but foul, troubles for Cinonk forced Coach Bun Fortier to go to a zone and Brown was fantastic as he whipped in shot after shot from the top of the key. Brainerd won 77-72 a n d then got past Mankato 59-56 with Brown and Emerson, who scored 14 points and worked the boards hard, combining to with- stand the 20-point second half efforts of Herb Stanglund.
Brainerd then met another towering Austin quint in the finals and enjoyed a 17-16 lead at the quarter. Led by 6-5 Roger Voss, Austin moved into a 53-49 third period lead, only to see Brainerd tie it in a matter of 44 seconds before foul troubles set in and the Packers cashed at the line to open up a 66-57 lead with 3:25 to go. Final score was 68-63.
Emerson, forward Roger Mollanen and Brown all were named all-state and Jeff Smith and Wayne Anderson performed nobly after being called up from reserve status at the start of the tournaments due to a pair of 200-point scoring regulars being removed from the squad by school administrators as a disciplinary action. Emerson in three seasons averaged 19.4 points per game with a total of 1,318 and his 36-point efforts came in games against Aitkin and Hibbing as a junior.
Kellett, during that tournament, was honored as "Coach of the Year" in Minnesota by WCCO-Radio's Prep Parade program. In his first decade Brainerd led District 24 teams nine of 10 years during the regular season, won the district title seven times and led the CentraI Six conference seven times.
Until he appeared on the scene, however. Brainerd had not won a district tourney since 1939 when it downed Staples 27- 19 and went to the regional final before losing 28-26 to Breckenridge under Coach Ralpk Engebretson. In the next nine years. C-I won the district crown eight times and Wadena once.
But better known than that 1939 club was the '33 team which had Hoop Smith (only a soph but named all-state tourney). Tom Heikkenen, Mike Garvey, Cliff Dybvik and Gene Swanson as its stars. That team won 13 of 19 during the season. but then swept through Aitkin, C-I, Little Falls. Alexandria and Elbow Lake to reach the state meet.
It wound up with fifth place after losing 21-19 in its opener to Red Wing although Brainerd had been favored at the outset and Red Wing went on to the state crown.
Red Wing held a 7-1 lead at the quarter, but led by just four (11-7) at halftime. A long shot by Heikkenen tied it at 12-all, but the Wingers enjoyed a 16-12 lead into the final period and with 45 seconds to go, Bill Holtquist, a substitute guard, hit the field goal which settled the issue.
Brainerd came back to blister Ada 41-10 and then beat Momtam Lake 31-27 for fifth place and then a crowd of 10,000 saw Red Wing beat Minneapolis North 16-13 in the title game. Bill Damman coached that team, which held its 25th reunion during the 1958 tourney with Smith's son Jeff one of the Brainerd starters. Most of the members were present including Damman a longtime athletic director at Minneapolis Patrick Henry.
The present District 24 setup was initiated in 1925 and Brainerd won its first crown in 1926 with H. C. Beresford the coach, beating C-I in the finals but losing to Alexandria in the regional. The 1928 team, under Warren Kasch, downed C-I and then Glenwood before losing to Appleton in the regional final. Damman replaced Kasch and came up with his first winner in 1931, stopping C-I 19-18 in the finals before losing 16-15 to Moorhead in the regional.
The fourth place finish in the state was attained this spring by a never-say-die group molded by Clar (Corky) Johnson, who moved up from assistant in 1970 to Kellett's successor in 1971 and guided them to a 19-5 record with all five losses totalling a mere 15 points.
Brainerd lost by six points to Superior Central early in the season, then by 59-56 to No. 1-state ranked Willmar and by 63-62 to Moorhead, ranked No. 10. Under the new Class AA Region C tournament setup, the Warriors eliminated St. Cloud Apollo, Fergus Falls and Alexandria (upsetter of Willmar) in succession to gain the state tourney.
There, they polished off the cream of the Lake conference (Robbinsdale) 67-56 in a rugged battle. Favored Duluth Central and its 6-8 1/2 center Como Pontliana rallied late in the game to beat out the former Bemidji high school star's first edition here, 63-59. Pontliana meshed a startling 16 of 18 free throws to help wipe out a 21 to 19 Warrior field goal edge. The third place loss the following afternoon to the all-Negro Minneapolis Central five was by a 54-53 score in a contest up for grabs throughout.
Larry Bunnell, 6-5 senior center; Mickey Timmons, 6-0 senior forward; and Mike Morgan, 5 5-7 sophomore guard, all were named all-state and nearly 1,000 fans were on hand to welcome the Warriors home. Duluth went on to defeat North St. Paul for the Class AA championship and then Eliminated Melrose, the Class A titlist, in a special playoff.
Reproduced from the Centennial Edition of the Brainerd Daily Dispatch (1871-1971).