Basketball and HamlinePublished 7:12am Friday, November 27, 2009
Minnesota’s sports scene is stable. The Vikings are winning and the Gopher football team and the Timberwolves are losing. I thought a nostalgia piece brought on by my 50-year class college reunion might be in order. Hamline was still there and after some preliminary help I was able to make my way across campus.
I enjoyed my reunion helped by friends of 50 years ago and former roommate and friend Eldon, who is the same moral Christian guy wishing to change the world for the better I knew and liked 50 years ago. We looked back on those times when our society was much different. Ike was President and we felt nothing bad could happen. Some of us were a little suspicious of Ike’s vice president, but he’d probably never become President anyway. It was the last generation of innocence. At least for us middle class college students. Shortly thereafter came Vietnam, the Watts riot and the rebellious “60s” We were innocent or perhaps more accurately, not aware. We were not only going to make money, but also help make the United States a more just place to live. We tried and I guess that’s all you can ask.
There were many fine schools in Minnesota, but we felt Hamline was up with the top schools academically and we had that one thing that the other schools didn’t have — basketball! And as I look back all those years, basketball was what helped define Hamline. “You go to Hamline? Boy, they have some good basketball teams there.” You would modestly say: “Yes, they do.” And they did.
In 1949 Hamline University was ranked fifth in the nation. That was not just small schools, that was among all schools big and small. It was the same year that Hamline’s Vern Mikklesen was named All-American and went on to define the power forward position with the Minneapolis Lakers.
There were still remnants of Hamline’s glory years when I started school in 1955. One of the basketball forwards was drafted in the second round by the Baltimore Colts pro football team. A friend who graduated a year behind me was drafted by the Detroit Pistons.
Basketball was king at Hamline and the new school president was having a difficult time deemphasizing it. Not a popular move with some of us students. In the years shortly before my arrival at Hamline the school had the best basketball team in the state. Not the University of Minnesota —Hamline University.
During my reunion I visited the new fieldhouse and was very impressed by the Olympic-size swimming pool, the racquetball courts, the spacious gymnastic area and the many other amenities. But, it couldn’t replace the ambience of the old Norton Fieldhouse.
Hamline home basketball games were an event, not only on campus but in the Twin Cities. The memories of those nights stick with me. It was not only a game, but a social event. Friends would come over and you would scavenge for an activity book from some poor sick soul or somebody trying to finish a term paper for Saturday’s class. We would gather together leaving the dorm in plenty of time. The walk to the fieldhouse was half a block through the cold, peering through the snowflakes some nights as cars pulled along side us and discharged their passengers. The shouting of the boys and the sweet voices of the girls as we came together heading toward the game.
Entering and trying to take it all in, the heat, the lights and the smell of popcorn. One side full of Hamline fans, the other side not. We expected to win over the other team invading our territory. Nine times out of 10 we did and we went back to the dorm satisfied with our team and our school. Both, we thought, were the best in Minnesota.