Edgerton remembers its improbable 1960 basketball title

1960 championship
The Edgerton team celebrates on the floor of Williams Arena after winning the 1960 state basketball championship before 19,000 fans.
Photo courtesy of Ken Kielty and Tom Tomashek

Much of the old high school has been torn down, but there's still an important physical reminder of Edgerton's claim to statewide notoriety -- the basketball team's 1960 title run.

The tiny gym where the Edgerton players practiced and started their winning streak still stands as a testament to those glory days.

"See how big it was?" asked Larry Schoolmeester, a member of the 1960 team. "Kind of small isn't it."

Fifty years ago today, the 1960 Edgerton boys high school basketball team became the smallest school ever to win Minnesota's state tournament.

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At a time when big schools and small schools competed together, the team from a town with only 961 residents in southwest Minnesota was not expected to go far. But Edgerton managed to defeat several big city teams on their way to the title. The 1960 team will be honored Saturday evening at the boy's 4A title game at Target Center in Minneapolis.

As he stood recently in the old gym, Schoolmeester said it still looks pretty much like it did 50 years ago. The same hard wood benches line one side of the court. A stage still flanks the other side of the floor, though it's used now for weightlifting. On three sides, the gym's walls still crowd the court, a foot or two from the out of bounds lines.

The only sound in the gym that day was of Schoolmeester trying a few shots for fun on the floor where Edgerton made history. But 50 years ago the gym -- and the town -- were exploding with excitement.

Dean Veenhof
Edgerton's Dean Veenhof with the ball. Number 43 on the Richfield team is Bill Davis.
Photo courtesy of Ken Kielty and Tom Tomashek

Back in 1960, the Edgerton band played for basketball rallies and those rallies got bigger as the team kept winning.

But the players paid little attention to their success, said Dean Veenhof, Edgerton's leading scorer.

"We were just glad to be playing. We had a coach who knew what he was doing," Veenhof said. "And we never thought about district or sectional or state championships. We just played game from game to game to game."

Game after game, they won. Edgerton ended the regular season undefeated. As the playoffs for the state tournament began, Minnesota basketball fans started taking notice.

Edgerton beat their first big city team, Mankato, and the buzz grew louder. People started calling them giant-killers. In the first round of the state tournament, Edgerton sailed past another small town, Chisholm, from the Iron Range. The team's next game though launched the Edgerton legend into orbit.

Home town celebration
Thousands of people attended this welcome home celebration for the state champions on Edgerton's mainstreet.
Photo courtesy of Ken Kielty and Tom Tomashek

Edgerton's second state tournament game, against Richfield, was a classic small town-big city matchup. The little town on the prairie versus the muscular metro suburb.

"Going into the state tournament Richfield was rated number one in the state," said Bill Davis, a star player on the 1960 Richfield basketball team.

The squad had great athletes, and all five starters went on to play varsity sports at the University of Minnesota, he said. Davis eventually captained the Gophers' basketball team and later signed a professional baseball contract with the Cleveland Indians.

Although sportswriters made Richfield a heavy favorite against Edgerton, the 19,000 basketball fans that night at Williams Arena had other ideas. Davis remembers the greeting Richfield got when they walked onto the court.

1960 Edgerton team
The 1960 team poses in their home gym. Left to right: Darrell Kreun, Larry Schoolmeester, Norm Muilenburg, Bob Wiarda, Dean Verdoes, Dean Veenhof, Rob Dykstra, Jim Roos, Daryl Stevens, Darwin Fey, Leroy Graphenteen, Tom Warren, Coach Rich Olson
Photo courtesy of Ken Kielty and Tom Tomashek

"The boos started to come," he said. "And it became very apparent there that Edgerton was the crowd favorite and that we had our work cut out for us."

And they did. The nip-and-tuck game was tied at the end of regulation play. In overtime, Edgerton could only score on free throws, but took a thin lead anyway. The tension is clear in a recording on WCCO Radio. Richfield had the ball as the final moments ticked away.

"Six seconds to go, 63-60 the score," the radio announcer said. "They've got to get a three point play. Over to Dennis Johnson, moves forward, shoots a one hander, not good. Tip and a tap, it's over!"

Edgerton's sharp-shooting from the foul line won the game. They made over 80 percent of their free throws against Richfield. After the game, Edgerton Coach Rich Olson told WCCO Radio the team's great shooting was no fluke.

This is where Edgerton played its home games in 1960. It's still used; a baseball batting net is in place now. The stage is a weight room. The only permanent seats are hard wood benches.
MPR Photo/Mark Steil

"They shoot baskets from morning 'til night most of the year, they're in the gym on Saturdays, they stay after practice, we do shoot quite a few free throws," Olson said. "Every time I take a break and they're tired in practice they don't rest, they shoot free throws."

The following night Edgerton played Austin for the state championship. Coach Ove Berven lead Austin through a great season that year and into the title game. But that final contest was almost anti-climactic compared to the dramatic Richfield game. Edgerton led by 12 at halftime and cruised to the title. Two days after the victory Edgerton threw a welcome home celebration for the champs. A student entertained the thousands attending with a poem titled "Epitaph for Austin".

"Ove Berven's famous Austin team, came out on the floor with lots of steam. The boiler soon cooled, the fire went out. Of Edgerton's championship there was no doubt."

Many in the crowd were from neighboring communities. Nearby high schools sent their bands. It didn't matter that Edgerton had defeated the schools during the basketball season. These former rivals helped build the Edgerton legend by adopting the team as their own.

That enthusiasm swept through towns all across the state. Edgerton's long-shot, underdog win meant a lot to the team's newest fans. If Edgerton could pull off the impossible, maybe they could too.

The 1960 Edgerton boys high school basketball team will be honored Saturday night at the boys 4A championship game at Target Center in Minneapolis.