Owen Wallin: Willmar's forgotten star

Since 1930, only six Cardinal boys basketball teams have finished the regular season undefeated. That figure won't change this season, of course --_ not after the Cards were upset at Litchfield Tuesday night. Not that the players or coaches were ...

Since 1930, only six Cardinal boys basketball teams have finished the regular season undefeated.

That figure won't change this season, of course --_ not after the Cards were upset at Litchfield Tuesday night. Not that the players or coaches were talking perfect season, but you can be sure a few fans brought it up after a torrid 3-0 start.

The Cardinals sent unbeaten teams to district in 1950, '54, '56, '64, '65 and '71.

Over the years, this reporter has had occasion to write about all these teams, except the first. The 18-0 squad in 1950 had flown under my radar.

The 1948-49 team, coached by Ace Hoberg (hired out of Mountain Lake), was only 10-8 in the regular season but had won District 20 before losing to Minneapolis Central in Region 5. (Central's star Johnny Blanchard went on to some fame with the Yankees).


The heart of Hoberg's lineup returned the next winter. Harlan Brogren (member of the Cardinal Pride Hall of Fame) and Al Ristow were at the guards tossing it to an all-6-2 front line of Owen Wallin, Butch Berg and "hook shot artist" Noel Paetznick. Jack Strom was the top reserve.

They ripped through the eight-team West Central Conference undefeated led by Wallin's loop-leading 17.1 scoring average. He and Berg made the five-man all-WCC first team.

The West Central Tribune's beat writer that year was Duane Netland, who wrote under the byline "Netty." A senior at the high school where he was a catcher on the baseball team, Netland boldly stated: "Owen Wallin is probably the greatest shot to graduate from the Willmar basketball system."

Wallin? Unlike the Cardinal stars that soon followed (Bob Anderstrom, Dean Anderson, Red Harvey, etc.), Wallin is much less talked about.

His sister Mary Lou Olson, who lives on the southwest side, could tell me a lot. Mary Lou graduated in 1948 and became one the city's best at golf and bowling.

"We were Northenders," said Olson. "Dad was crippled and couldn't work, so we were poor. Owen, when he got older, looked like Jerry West; I always liked to watch the Lakers play."

She produced a neatly kept scrapbook of the '49-50 season. In those days, high school and city basketball hogged the headlines.

Three wins claimed the District 20 title. Willmar (21-0) headed up to Williams Arena to play Robbinsdale in the region semifinals. Hoberg devised a defense to shut down Robbinsdale's 6-7 center Don Dale, but it didn't work.


Paetznick, the center listed in some reports at just 6-1, remembers playing in Williams Arena before 7,250 fans for the semifinals. "The floor there was so springy, you felt you could jump out of the gym," said Paetznick, a retired health and psychology teacher.

Asked about his teammate Wallin, he responded: "Owen was raw-boned Norwegian with good hands, sharp elbows and an excellent shot."

Paetznick, Wallin and Berg spent the fall of 1950 polishing their skills on the playground of Lafayette Grade School. Meantime, Don Magnuson was starring at fullback for the champion football team before joining the hoops team. Magnuson, owner of Magnuson Sheet Metal, grew up in rural Pennock where he played hayloft basketball, since there was no gym at the village grade school. He and Wallin became good friends, starting in junior high.

"Owen was just a nice guy, fun to be around with a beautiful jump shot," said Magnuson.

In a pattern that became all too familiar in the 1950s and 1960s, after dominating the teams on the prairie, Willmar fell short against the metro goliaths. Dale and the Robins ended the Cards' state tourney dream, 56-39. Paetznick, Berg and Wallin combined for 35 points. The next night, with Wallin out with the flu, Willmar fell to Buffalo in the consolation, 52-42. Berg scored 24 and was named all-tournament.

The first year out of school, Wallin led the City League in scoring before going into the Air Force. His military occupation was officially security but he spent much of the time playing service basketball. His sister said he was chosen for the all-military team that played in the prestigious AAU national tournament in Denver.

From 1955-59, Wallin played for Gustavus Adolphus. He scored 800 points, shot 89 percent from the line, was all-MIAC and set a scoring record of 40 points in a game.

As a senior, he received the Spondberg Award for "Scholarship, Leadership, and Basketball Ability." He won out over teammate Paul Youngdahl, now head pastor at Mt. Olivet Lutheran Church in Edina.


"He was a good outside shot and had a knack for drawing fouls," said Rev. Youngdahl, who recently delivered the eulogy here at the funeral of his good friend and former Gustie, Wilt Croonquist.

Wallin married Marcia Hedberg, the 1958 homecoming queen. They would have five children. Wallin went to Logan College of Chiropractic in St. Louis and established a highly successful practice and a civic presence in St. Paul where his patients included Hubert H. Humphrey.

In the fall of 1980, he was diagnosed with cancer. It was inoperable. He died two days after Christmas at the age of 48.

The funeral in St. Paul was the day after New Year's. The pallbearers included Magnuson, Paetznick, Berg and Youngdahl -- teammates to the end.

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