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Willmar notebook: Back on the Yellowstone Highway

Tribune file photo by Rand Middleton In what turned out to be his last game in the gym at Willmar, Bob Brink, right, with player Christian Pedroza, remained for the most part calm and seated during a tense game won by Willmar 57-54 on Jan. 27, 2012.

Tyrone Wacker (Stewart, ‘62) stopped this week to burrow through our boxes of old black and white photos in storage. The 212 Conference historian had hoped to find some vintage photos but had little success.

Unlike today, sending a Tribune photographer to an out-of-town sports event happened much less seldom than it does today. However, sports editor Lefty Ranweiler who presided here through the sixties until his death from cancer in March 1974, sprinkled mug shots across the two-page section to break up the game reports that came in from Brownton to Appleton and all points north and south before the days of pairing and consolidations.

Wacker is a retired teacher who started coaching in 1967 and is still coaching part time at Morningside College, about two hours from his home in Jackson. He has built a marvelous website on the history of the eight-team highway conference 1947-74.

Town by town, sport by sport, it’s all there. Champions and All-Conference teams. Action photos and portraits, plus profiles of the top athlete year-by-year. Of course, it all about the boys, though there are a few cheerleading photos. Newly hatched Title IX was just beginning to fly.

When I pull up Danube’s 212 history there was a photo of Roger “Shorty” Schroeder (‘53) in a leather football helmet. The caption read “… All-time great athlete, all-state quarterback, excelled at guard on football team and shortstop in baseball.” The former leader of the Hawks eight-man football squad would later helm Willmar Cardinal basketball teams to four state tournaments.

Neil Schendel, assistant principal of the senior high school, graduated from Danube in 1968 and would have two sons wear the Cardinal colors this century. Below a photo, it states “3-time conference pole vault champ, all-conference football and basketball.”

Staying on the Danube page, there is a photo of the Hawks’ 1961 district basketball championship team taken in the Willmar gymnasium, then just two years old. In the front row are Gary Hoffman, Red Zaske, Bob Bruggers and future Kandiyohi County sheriff Larry Kleinhuizen, wearing black-framed glasses.

The next year Danube, led by Bruggers considered one of the state’s best athletes, won region and went to the state tournament losing to St. Louis Park in the semifinals.

Wacker has found a cause in semi-retirement. He continues to expand and refine the site. Response is not what he had hoped. He frets that the athletes of the era don’t spend a lot of time noodling through cyberspace. However, while I don’t recognize most of the athletes (I didn’t first drive 212 until 1974) many of the last names are familiar today as their progeny excel.

Wacker said he’d appreciate photos from the era from a scrapbook or shoe box. Contact him at 507-840-1104 (cell) or The site is easy to Google by typing 212 athletic conference.

Schneider leads 6A

Hunter Schneider is one of the most exciting puck carriers to come along in quite some time at Willmar. He can weave his way around the enemy zone until he finds an opening or spots a teammate clear for a shot. The senior center collected 3 more points in Tuesday’s loss to Sauk Rapids and now has 10 goals and 16 assists. He’s on top of the Section 6A scoring leaderboard.

Linemate and fellow senior Zech Streed is in the top five with 9 goals and 15 assists. Goalie Joey Benson is fourth in save percentage (89.0).

Willmar is at a girl/boy doubleheader today at the Runestone in Alexandria. The Alex girls are 4-4-2. The Alex boys (2-2-1) lost 3-1 on Tuesday to Little Falls, the top team in the section. The Flyers (5-0) have so far outscored foes 22-4.

‘Battle at Big Bear’

The Willmar wrestlers head to the far north for the two-day “Battle at Big Bear” starting 11 a.m. Friday in Cass Lake. Wrestlers from 35 teams will compete in 14 weight classes. Fifty top-10 ranked wrestlers are in the field, according to a release (Austin Miley is No. 9 at 132 and Colton Carlson No. 9 at 160). Morris Area is the only other area team signed up.

Rocori without Brink

Bob Brink started coaching at a training school for boys in Plankinton, S.D., in 1961. He coached his last game in the Class AAA state tournament where the Spartans lost to favored Minneapolis Washburn 52-49 on March 21 this year.

That concluded 51 years of coaching. He came to Cold Spring in 1972, the second year of the new district. His teams would win 11 Central Lakes Conference titles, though the Spartans didn’t join the loop until the early 1990s. Before that were 11 Central Gopher titles and all together 14 state tourney trips.

In 1988, Rocori won the Class AA title when there were just two divisions. In a memorable game at Williams Arena, the Spartans knocked off Willmar in overtime in the quarterfinals.

His 986 career victories are second only to Chisholm’s Bob McDonald.

Last year, Rocori and Willmar split, each winning at home. The Spartans could have tied Willmar for the conference title in 2012 but fell in overtime to St. Cloud Tech in Brink’s final regular-season game.

Brink has a hobby farm outside of Cold Spring where he lives with his wife Judy. They’ve been married 55 years.

Like John Wooden, Brink wore a suit and tie, though the jacket might come off and the sleeves roll up. He could be boisterous; he would fume. He was fun to watch.

After the game, he was always helpful, almost confidential in tone as he provided a frank assessment of goings-on. It won’t be the same. A few don’t just coach, they are a Coach.

His former assistant Nate Guetter is the new head coach. This is Rocori’s second game; the Spartans won 69-63 at St. Cloud Tech on Tuesday.

Willmar Bronco football

The Broncos amateur football team begins monthly indoor practices on Sunday at the armory. The three-hour open practice runs 4-7 p.m.

Franchise owner Steve Pepin has 59 ex-college/high school/neither players signed up. Over half played their football in the area, Pepin said, including Ridgewater College. He plans no cuts.

The team colors will be orange and blue. Players will need to pay a participation fee. The Broncos have been accepted into the Premier Football League.

Four home games and four away games are planned starting the end of April and going into early July. Pepin hopes to win approval to use Hodapp Field but is meeting resistance, despite his willingness to pay a $1,000 rental fee.

Pepin, who owns Peps Sports Barbershop on First Street, played football at Ridgewater College and then two years for the Willmar Mustangs, the area’s first try at amateur football for young adults.

If interested in joining the teams phone Steve at 612-499-0419.

Cardettes 4th

at Hutch

The Willmar Cardettes danceline placed fourth of eight teams at the Hutchinson Invitational.

Standings: (1) Hutchinson (2) Belle Plaine (3) Montevideo (4) Willmar (5) Glencoe-Silver Lake (6) Litchfield (7) Annandale (8) New Ulm

Sandberg gets honor

Madison Sandberg earned CLC Performer of the Week (girls hockey-defense) for her shutout in a 1-0 win at Cambridge-Isanti. She stopped all 29 Bluejacket shots.

12U Girls second

The Willmar 12U girls hockey placed second recently at the Princeton Tournament.

Team members are: Natalie Amon, Emily Haefner, Savana Knutson, Hannah Kobienia, Serena Monson, Sydney Olson, Bridget Reuss, Alayna Ritz, Rachel Swanson, Ava Swart, Payge Swenson, Natasha Turrubiates.

The coaches are Ben Olson, Jordan Baker, Matt Monson.

Rand Middleton
Tribune photographer/videographer. Began working in radio and at weekly newspaper in Munising, Michigan, in 1972. Started parttime at West Central Daily Tribune Sept. 1974. Fulltime news/sports beginning Feb. 1979. Married to Tribune news clerk Donna (Miller) Middleton, formerly of Kerkhoven. 2 grown children. 
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