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Basketball took this town to new heights

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Basketball took this town to new heights
Willmar Minnesota 2208 Trott Ave. SW / P.O. Box 839 56201

Long ago and not far away, Sally Anne Madson was a vocal part of the Wayzata Trojan team that won the state basketball tournament.

It was March 21, 1959. The Saturday night game drew 18,051 to Williams Arena. Tens of thousands more from Edgerton to Ely watched on their black and white TVs.

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Sally was a spring-legged cheerleader with a strong chin and outgoing manner. No doubt, she would have excelled in interscholastic sports. But Title IX was still more than a dozen years away for Minnesota school girls.

There were after-school activities under the Girls Athletic Association Banner -- dues 50 cents. But the glory all went to the boys.

Wayzata's was not the upscale village it is today. Main Street stores like Allen's Grocery, Shaver Hardware and Supplee Drugs, where Sally worked as a soda jerk after school, looked over the tracks at Lake Minnetonka.

Her graduation class had only 119 students, small by Lake Conference standards.

"We had a lot of country kids that were bussed in from around Hamel," recalled Sally. "The other schools called us the 'Farmers'."

If you were a girl and liked athletics (or the athletes) you went out for cheerleading. Competitive tryouts were held each fall in front of a full assembly with the student council voting. The squad cheered for football, basketball and hockey, an outdoor sport until Sally's senior year.

Wayzata basketball was just OK. The last state tournament team was in 1926 and the most recent district title was a year later. No one predicted this would be the winter when everything changed.

The Trojans finished third in the prestigious Lake Conference behind Minnetonka and St. Louis Park, but ahead of Edina, the most elite of the schools in the nine team affiliation. But the Trojans handed Tonka their only conference loss to end the regular season and then won four sub-district and District 18 games to reach the Region V final four.

Willmar was in the region for a fourth year in a row led by Red Harvey and Dean Wick, holdovers from the Cardinal team that took third at state the year before. But Minneapolis South topped Willmar 61-48 while the Trojans trounced Maple Lake 65-39. (Willmar then beat the Irish in the third-place game to finish 21-2.)

Most observers favored South, out of the powerful City Conference, to beat Wayzata in the final at Williams Arena. But the Trojans' press and fast-break cut down South 61-47; on the same night Granite Falls beat Sanborn for the Region III title at Gustavus Adolphus College.

The coverage in the Minneapolis papers was lavish. The famous sports writers all shared the high-school beat: Ted Peterson, Tom Briere, Jim Byrne, Charles Johnson and Sid Hartman, then in his early thirties. Dwayne Netland, on his way to a career at Golf Digest, was eight years out of Willmar High School but had numerous bylines with his photo.

Writers tabbed Wayzata's journey "rags to riches" but Carlton, a small logging community south of Duluth, wore the Cinderella mantel. Austin, the defending champion which had nudged Willmar in the 1958 semifinals, was the favorite.

"Everyone, every business, got behind us," said Sally. "The coaches and the wives got the royal treatment."

In a three-day run before standing-room-only crowds at Williams, the Trojans mowed down Mankato, Austin and then Carlton 55-41 for the championship.

"I can remember sitting at the end of the court, around the corner from the players," said Sally this week. "We'd jump on the (raised) floor to cheer. The place was packed every time. It was so much fun; such a wonderful experience that I wish every boy and girl could have."

Sally Madson married Don Cole, a basketball player from Redwood Falls, who had gone to college at the University of St. Thomas before going into the armed service. Married 47 years, the Willmar couple has raised three sons. Don, who taught sixth grade, coached hockey with Bob Glaesman and cross-country under Gayne Stone.

The Coles have one grandson and six granddaughters, all of whom take advantage of the interscholastic sports programs at their respective schools.

But none will experience what their grandmother knew that March 50 years ago when all eyes were on Williams Arena to decide which of the state's 480 public schools would stand alone at the pinnacle of high school basketball.

The coach's daughter

Jill Lewis Becken, who took full advantage of school girl equality, guided Centennial all the way to the Class AAAA championship game before her Cougars (29-3) fell to Tayler Hill and Minneapolis South.

Jill's dad Mel was alternately a football and basketball coach at the college here from 1967 to 1979 before taking the football reigns at Minnesota-Morris, where he built them into a small college power before leaving for Wisconsin-Eau Claire.

Jill played for Judy Aagesen her junior year and then Lynn Peterson as a senior. Also on the 1978-79 was another girl headed for a coaching career, Bonnie Henrickson, who would be team MVP though only a 10th grader.

Jill married her classmate Pete Becken, who played for Shorty Schroeder on the 1978-79 team that won the program's first Central Lakes Conference title with a 14-0 record.

The Becken's daughter, Kahla, directed the Cougars' offense this season. She's only a sophomore.

This is Becken's 15th year as a head coach, and fifth trip to state; she took Forest Lake in 1993 and Centennial four times in the last seven years.

Evans chooses NAIA's Briar Cliff

Kelsey Evans, Willmar's leading scorer, will attend Briar Cliff, an NAIA Division I college in Sioux City, Iowa.

She was recruited by a number of NCAA Division II schools but settled on the alma mater of both her father, Steven Evans, and mother, Carrie Evans Smith.

She plans to study for a career in pharmacy or ophthalmology.

Evans also has made the 10-player Minnesota Girls Basketball Coaches Association AAA All-State team. Her awards also include AP honorable mention and West Central Tribune All-Area first team.

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