The NCAA Final, Hurdsfield and Sykeston

Tonight in downtown Minneapolis MN either Virginia or Texas Tech will be National Champions in College Basketball.  You won’t see us among the 74,000 in the stands.  Easier to watch it on TV.

My contribution to the tournament is some reminiscences of country North Dakota Basketball in the 1950s.  More about the photo in a moment:

Pictured above is the Sykeston Wildcats of 1957-1958.  I’m top left, next to my Dad, who was coach more of necessity than interest or coaching ability.  He was also the Superintendent of the tiny school (nine seniors that year).

We did pretty well that year: 15-4, winning the County Tournament at Fessenden (photo above).  We played Hurdsfield twice, beating them at Hurdsfield 71-38; and a second time in Sykeston 80-41.  At the end of this post is a bit more about our team and our season.

But this blog, before Virginia and Texas Tech tip off tonight, is about a marvelous piece of North Dakota history, forwarded to me a few weeks ago.  It is about Hurdsfield High School in 1953-54 and it speaks eloquently and humorously about the reality of tiny town basketball on the prairie.

The description is six pages, well illustrated, and can be read in its entirety here: Hurdsfield ND 1953-54001.  The author, then, was a first year teacher from Wisconsin.  When he wrote the article he was a retired history professor with a distinguished career.

The article unleashed a flood of personal memories for me, as I would guess it would similarly jog the memories of other old timers, with their own stories from their own towns.

I’ll leave this post with the two pages from the tiny Sykeston yearbook of 1958, for those interested in more information about our basketball team of 1954-58: Sykeston 1957-58001.  (An earlier Sykeston team, in 1950, won third in the ND State Class C tournament.  I was 9 years old at the time, and at the game, but don’t remember anything about it.  But I was there! Sykeston 1949-50001.

May your favorite team win, and may it be close!

POSTNOTE comments April 10, 2019:

The NCAA final was awesome. In the end, Virginia defeated Texas Tech in overtime.  The official story is here.

From Larry: Thanks  for the photo.  I remember Jerry Sondag from long ago at VCSTC, as well as, of course, Dick Bernard!  from Dick: Duane Zwinger also went to Valley City State Teachers College.  Arlo Neumiller became a dentist.  I’m not certain of the others.

Two other notes came after the initial posting:   from my sister, Mary: Great fun…these guys put a lot of energy into March Madness as did the slightly less aggressive and talented from the old days – course the Flos and the Marys of the era remember the importance of the cheerleader! 

Dick: Ouch!

from the 1958 Sykeston Annual:

Sykeston Cheerleaders, 1957-58

From the Sykeston Yearbook for 1949-50: Sykeston Girls 1949-50003

In 1957-58, I don’t have record of a girls team.  I do remember that girls basketball, as it was, then, restricted any team member to half-court only.

A note from Darleen, who was a PE teacher in the 1960s:  “I read the article on Hurdsfield after I returned home and it is a winner!!!    I had not planned to read it & definitely not the entire article, but as I read, I couldn’t put it down.   I taught in some of the gyms that he wrote about — of course none that had a trap door in the middle of the court or a ladder to get to the latrine.   Carrington’s “old gym” was similar to what [the author] described and Rugby’s I’ll have to tell you about — a real classic.

Rugby is where Phil Jackson played in his Junior High yrs.”
“Phil Jackson” struck a chord – NBA legend who learned basketball in ND.  When I was in 8th grade, in Ross ND, the high school team played in the county tournament in the brand new fieldhouse in Williston ND.  My recollection is that we were to be part of the first game to be played in this fieldhouse, which was also where Phil Jackson played his high school basketball a few years later.
None of the other team members wanted to lead the team out for the game, so I ended up with the honors (this was an afternoon game, and I don’t recall more than a few in the stands.)  For years, the fieldhouse was named in honor of its famous Alumni.  Here’s an article about it.   Memories….
Oh, by the way, the Women’s NCAA champion 2019: here.
from Debbie: I appreciate your story about your HS basketball team.  My uncles, the Messner boys, (from 6 to 11 years older than me) were basketball players too and good ones.   My mom used to take me to their games in Pekin Auditorium before I even started school, so I’ve been a basketball fan forever.  The Messners won a regional tournament back in the late 50’s and it was a great triumph for tiny Pekin.  My uncle Melvin is receiving the award.

Pekin High School Basketball Team 1950s, winner of Regional tourney in Class C.


1 reply
  1. Dean Zimmermann
    Dean Zimmermann says:

    I loved the article about Hurdfield. My mother was from Sykeston and I still have relatives there, mostly named Hewitt. I graduated from Carrington, ND in 1960. Carrington is also on the old unpaved Highway 7 (now paved and named 200), Carrington was a bigger town, 2500 people and was Class B, so we never played any of the mentioned Class C teams. But, I remember the gyms we played in:. Esmond’s gym was a Quonset hut which was barely heated. The court was so short that there was no “Center Line”, rather the playing area for each end of the court was marked with a line touching the other end’s free throw circle. In Leeds, one end of the court ended at the theatre stage, and Leeds’s students would be sitting on and shaking the backboard and basket support frame while our team was shooting free throws.
    Debbie mentions the old Carrington Gym. About 1955 or 1956 we moved to a new gym in the Carrington Armory. Bigger, good seating, good locker rooms and room to spare at the end of the court. However, the tile floor was slippery, no traction.– until we learned that by wiping ones shoes on a towel soaked in the wax/cleaner that was used on the floor, players got excellent traction. There was some discussion about whether or not to give the visiting team a soaked towel–common sense prevailed and I, as team student manager, always made sure the visitors got one too. At first they were suspicious, thinking I was trying to pull a fast one on them, but it took very little time before they used the towel.
    And yes, it was cold, for away games, no one was allowed on the bus unless they were wearing overshoes, mittens and a warm coat.
    I observed that from junior high until I graduated, biased refereeing gradually diminished. By 1958 or so, I remember all of the referees for our home games came up from Jamestown, and thus had no stake in the outcome of the game.


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