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Glory days of the single-wing

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The 1946 football team at Willmar High School won its first six games to claim the West Central Conference crown, but lost the final game at Redwood Falls, 2-0, on a blocked punt that went for a safety.

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A fourth player on that team goes into the Cardinal Pride Hall of Fame this month with the induction of Kenny Johnson, the squad's left halfback and linebacker.

Those were single-wing days, a formation that would be overtaken in the 1950s by the T-formation which in turn gave way to the I, veer, the shotgun spread and other formations.

Allan Backlund, a junior in 1946, would snap the ball to either Johnson or fullback James Gustafson. Occasionally, the snap went to quarterback John Carlson for a pass. Marvin Brogren was the blocking back. He was backed up by his kid brother, Harlan, who didn't play enough to letter but would be a star by the time he graduated four years later.

Typical of Bill Hansen's early teams, not many points were scored. A 21-14 win over Benson was the highest output and also the most points allowed by the defense.

"Bill didn't substitute a lot that year," remembers Backlund, who turned 80 this year. "Myself, Bob Hartwick and Marv Brogren played every down."

The Cardinals home field was the infield of the race track at the fairgrounds.

This was one year after the end of the war. Non-graduated veterans, even those over 19, were eligible to play. Backlund, who lives outside Kandiyohi then and now, named Gustafson, Jerome Lawler, Virgil Mertens and Gordon "Red" Peterson as the slightly older returning heroes.

Kenny Johnson was elected captain.

"There were 20 lettermen that fall," said Backlund. "I think half of them are gone."

Also in the HOF from that team are Harlan Brogren, Jonathon Johnson (no relation to Kenneth), Backlund and coach Hansen.

Also inducted this year will be Jon Habben, a football player and swimmer from the Class of '75. The induction banquet is at the Holiday Inn Convention Center on Sept. 24, prior to the homecoming game where both Habben and Kenny Johnson will be honored at halftime. Banquet tickets can be reserved by calling Pam at 320-222-7168.

Diamond draw

Bob Zellman of Norwood Young America is secretary/treasurer of the Minnesota Amateur Baseball Association. Bird Island, Spicer and Willmar all hosted for the first time, a baseball tradition that began in 1924.

Zellman provided the breakdown for gate sales at the three sites: Bird Island 5,175; Willmar 3,919; Spicer 386. Advanced ticket sales were 1,767. Spicer hosted only two games opening night. Bird Island got a bump from the local teams, Raymond and Sacred Heart.

As always, Class C towns put more fans in the seats than the Class B entries, said Zellman.

Part of the chatter at the tournament is that the next time Willmar bids, it could team with Spicer while Bird Island could go with Fairfax, which is about five miles closer than Willmar.

Top guns

Recent athletes honored by their conference:

MCAC Setter of the Week: Ridgewater's Molly Hurrle, a freshman from Kimball, who provided 80 set assists in key wins over Central Lakes and previously unbeaten Rochester.

In the Central Lakes Conference: Willmar doubles team of Heather Horning and Kassy Linbo earned Top Performers in tennis after picking up five early-season wins.

In boys cross-country, senior Anders Byberg was recognized at a Top Performer after he placed runner-up at the Moorhead Invitational.

On the fly

- University of St. Thomas freshman C.J. Seifert ran in his first varsity meet at Grinnell, Iowa, on Saturday. He placed 43rd out of 204 finishers running the 8,000 meters in 27:56.

- The Central Lakes Conference's geographical makeup could be mangled. Little Falls has long wanted out. Who can blame them? They're outnumbered in most sports, most notably by Brainerd which has 2,200 students in grades 9-12. With a vacancy, the CLC might have to deal again with independents looking to link up. Bemidji and Moorhead have a foot in the door now and Grand Rapids and two Duluth schools have inquired.

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Rand Middleton

Covers Willmar and area high schools and Ridgewater College, plus amateur baseball, stock car racing and fitness events in summer. Writes weekly column since 1980. Began working in radio and at weekly newspaper in Munising, Michigan, in 1972. Started parttime at West Central Daily Tribune Sept. 1974. Fulltime beginning Feb. 1979. Married to Tribune news clerk Donna (Miller) Middleton, formerly of Kerkhoven. 2 grown children. 

(320) 214-4334
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