Editor’s note: As the world deals with the COVID-19 pandemic, most sporting events have rightfully been postponed. But while the Leader is focused on bringing readers up-to-date information on the health crisis, we also hope to provide relief from the world’s trouble, if only for a brief moment.
With that in mind, while there are no current sports to report, we hope you will enjoy a look back to the past with this story written in 1995 about the 1945 Hutchinson boys basketball team’s thrilling trip to the state tournament.
You can imagine the scene as if it was yesterday.
A bunch of high school kids jaunted down to the Hartman’s Drug Store for some ice cream at the soda fountain. Some of the guys ordered malted milks, others ordered ice cream sundaes. It was just a group of guys getting together after school fooling around.
But when Jim Corson placed his order he was turned down. No malts for Jim. No ice cream sundaes with hot fudge and whipped cream. Just 7-Up. A plain, color-less beverage.
You see, a lot of the guys sitting at that soda fountain that one afternoon 75 years ago were playing for the Hutchinson Tigers boys basketball team. Coach Jack McClelland thought that Corson was a bit too portly, so he went around to some of the local establishments and issued a gag order. No one was to serve Corson anything but 7-Up.
Corson sat at the table with his buddies sipping the “uncola” while everyone else sipped malted milks and sodas. All for the good of Tigers basketball.
“They were all in there with chocolate sundaes and some were drinking the best milk shakes in town.” Corson said. “All I could have was 7-Up. That’s it.”
It was 75 years ago on March 22 when Hutchinson entered the Minnesota State Boys Basketball Tournament as one of the favorites to win the crown. The Tigers had a crisp-passing lineup and a talented young coach. Together they marched their way through the season beating teams as close as Hector and Litchfield and as far as Red Wing and St. Cloud Tech.
In 1945, basketball was the sport.
“That was the only game in town,” Carly Hoeft said. “There weren’t any other athletics. There were sellouts with crowds lined up out the door.”
There wasn’t hockey. And for fans, there wasn’t much else to do.
The world was involved in a massive war. The Russians were knocking on the gates of Berlin, the Allies had bridged the Rhine and the Marines had evicted the Japanese from Iwo Jima.
In Hutchinson — as well as across the country, there were gas and food rations. Basketball, to many locals, served as an escape from the frightening realities of the world. And that year, the Tigers happened to be one of the best teams in the state.
Hutchinson entered the state tournament with a 22-3 record. Its only losses were to Redwood Falls and metro powers Minneapolis South and Minneapolis Patrick Henry.
If there was a basketball game in town, the rest of Hutchinson was quiet. Most of the population was in ticket lines wrapped through the halls and out the doors of the Merrill Building, which incidentally burned down 45 years ago. The building was near the current location of Park Elementary.
The gym was always packed. And the fans were usually treated to a good show.
“We had them lined up outside the school for tickets,” Carl Bretzke said. “And the people who came to see us play ... they wouldn’t miss those games for anything. They were exciting days. It had to be because 50 years later (back in 1995) we’re still basking in that 30 seconds of fame.”
“When you were struggling with the war there was no gasoline and there wasn’t any place to go,” Dick Dobratz said.
The Tigers didn’t just play in front of raucous capacity crowds because it was the only sport in town. They were good, too. Hutch opened the season by routing Hector 67-8. The Tigers ended the regular season thrashing Litchfield 66-37.
“We probably scored a half of our points on the fast break,” Bob Prochnow said. “We were a good passing team and before the game we’d go through passing drills and the fans came to see that, too.”
The Tigers captured the District 12 Tournament by beating Lester Prairie, Olivia and Brownton. Hutch won two close games in the Region 3 Tournament to advance to state. The Tigers beat Montevideo 46-43 in the region semifinals and topped Tracy 50-44 in the region finals.
The final destination for Hutchinson during its memorable trek of 1944-45 was the University of Minnesota fieldhouse — home of the state tournament. The Tigers beat Red Wing 47-35 in the quarterfinals; lost to Ely 43-41 in the semifinals and lost to Mankato 44-32 in the third-place game. Looking back, the game results don’t mean nearly as much as the cherished memories that these players shared with each other and the community.
“That was a big deal to make the state tournament back then,” Dobratz said.