Fifty years ago this spring, a new senior high school on 7th Street Southwest graduated its first class, 239 students strong.
The last class to graduate from the old high school on Minnesota Avenue in 1959 numbered 252, the largest in school history at the time.
The transition from old to modern was sudden and dramatic, especially so for student-athletes. The football and track teams now had on-site locker rooms. A cinder track circled the original Hodapp Field, now a soccer pitch.
Until the fall of 1959, Russ Adamson's basketball teams, perennial contenders in powerful Region 5, often practiced on the cramped auditorium stage while home games were held at War Memorial Auditorium four blocks north.
But in September 1959, students in grades 10 through 12 had gleaming classrooms and a spacious gym that had fanned glass backboards and seating for 1,500 fans.
"It was an absolutely monster change," said John Dean, who was a junior guard on the first team to play in the new gym. "Suddenly, we were playing in a gym with 'no walls'. It was a definite advantage for us. Most all the gyms we played in were cracker boxes. There was maybe three feet from the end line to the wall."
Edmond Anderson was a 6-2, 140-pound forward, the only senior in the starting five in the 1959-60 season.
He recalls the aging junior-senior-high buildings as the center of the community and "a magical place."
The more ancient junior-high gym to the east was a walk-down dungeon with a small amount of terraced seating. This is where Hattie Rosentretter, the chief of girls physical education, conducted classes.
Jacque (Vigen) Jensen, who is helping organize the 50th reunion, remembers wearing "ugly one-piece uniforms" for exercising and occasionally games of half-court, Iowa-type basketball.
In 1960, the opportunity for girls to express themselves athletically in interscholastic competition was still a decade away.
The first football team in the new two-story school started with Bill Hansen's teams on a 31-game unbeaten streak. The Cardinals, led by returning halfback Norton Pederson, tied at Hutchinson 6-6 to reach 32 on Sept. 18, a feat reported by this paper as tying a state record held by St. Cloud Tech. The next week the streak ended in a crushing 34-7 loss to Alexandria.
The basketball team with four first-time starters was 10-8 at the end of the regular season but won the District 20 Tournament before falling to top-ranked Richfield in the Region 5 final at Williams Arena.
Speaking from his home in Gresham, Oregon, Anderson barks the score at the mention of the game: "66-39."
The rail-thin Anderson went up against 6-foot-6 Bill Davis, already a high-school legend and a future Gopher. At the state tournament, favored Richfield fell to giant-killer Edgerton.
Anderson is still 6-foot-2 but now weighs 220 pounds, he says. He earned a PhD in Linguistics from Georgetown University and spent 28 years teaching and managing language programs in the Far East before settling in the Willamette Valley in 2003.
He was a pole vaulter who topped out at 10-6 on a cane pole. "The pits were sawdust," he said. "It got to be hard on the ankles landing."
The new high school graduated 34 more classes before a new building opened in 1994 by a prairie on the edge of town. After a 100 years, the senior high no longer was the community hub.
The old high school on 7th Street -- no worse for wear -- was renamed Kennedy Elementary and daily serves over 900 students.
The Class of 1960 will unite to rehash the high-school years -- before and after the move -- a half-century later on Sept. 17-18.
On the Fly
- Concordia College senior Josh Dahlke was named to the first-ever MIAC All-Defensive Team. The 10-player team consists of one player at each position, a starting pitcher, and a relief pitcher. Dahlke, who is playing for the Rails this summer, did not make a single error while patrolling center field for the Cobbers. He had 35 putouts and one assist on the year.