Sports Memories: A look back at Albert Lea High School sports

Published 8:40 pm Friday, February 24, 2023

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Sports Memories by Tom Jones

In 1937, the AhLaHaSa at Albert Lea High School published their 25th anniversary of the edition with a look back at 25 years of high school athletics in Albert Lea. I thought I would look back at some of the highlights in my column this week. Thanks to all the writers who contributed to this column some 85-plus years ago.

Tom Jones

The school colors of cherry and blue were chosen in 1902 by a committee of members of the three upper classes. These colors were chosen over maroon and gold when it was remembered that those were the colors of the University of Minnesota.

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The first Albert Lea basketball team originated in 1906 with the arrival of a boy from Des Moines who brought with him the interest of getting a team started here. The players had to provide their own uniforms and basketballs, for which they were reimbursed from proceeds from their first game. If their was a profit from the games, the school took the money, and if there was a loss, the boys split it up. Albert Lea would go on to win the state tournament in 1919.

Track started at Albert Lea High School in 1907 when an interclass tournament was held. With little interest in the sport at the time, there was no further competition in the sport until the Tigers entered a team in 1925 at the Southern Minnesota Track Meet in Blue Earth. It was again discontinued in 1935 due to lack of interest.

Baseball began at the high school in 1913 but was again dropped due to lack of interest. Diamondball began in 1934, and Albert Lea won three straight Big Eight championships. It was noted that baseball would be replacing diamondball as more students favored this.

In 1927, school representatives from Mankato, Faribault, Albert Lea, Owatonna, Rochester and Austin met in Owatonna and formed the “Big Six” Conference. Red Wing and Winona would join in the next year and the league was re-named “Little Eight” and eventually the “Big Eight.”

The Albert Lea vs. Austin rivalry actually began with a rugby contest between the two towns that was played in Austin in 1892. At one time in the early 1900s, the rivalry was not held in sports due to roughness between the two teams.

One of the big highlights that occurred in the first 25 years of Tiger sports happened in 1928 on a cold Thanksgiving Day with the score tied 0-0 between Albert Lea and Austin in football. “Fat” Nelson saved the Tigers football team at Abbott Field with a 105-yard punt that started under his own goalpost in a snowbank and rolled to a stop at the Packers’ five yard-line.

Records of girls’ basketball go back to 1913 where the Tigers competed with Owatonna, Waterville and Wells. The girls wore middy-blouses with black windsor ties and long black bloomers. The influenza broke the regular schedule in 1920, and games were only played with the faculty.

And where would we be without lockers, which were installed at the high school in 1922.

I hope you have enjoyed a look back at the early part of Albert Lea High School sports this week.