Coaches, players and fans from a bygone era returned Tuesday for a reunion of sorts at Grunwald Auditorium in Sturgis.
Sturgis Brown High School activities director Mike Paris said the Throwback Night has been in the works for the past year or so.
“When they announced plans to redo the lighting and the floor we decided we wanted to show it off,” he said.
And what a coming out party it was.
On hand was Elwood Dietrich, who spent 20 years as coach with the Sturgis Scoopers. In 20 seasons as a head basketball coach his teams had a cumulative 248 win, 197 loss record, with four conference championships and five state tournament appearances.
Also in the bleachers was Twyla Barden who played many games at Grunwald and helped the Scoopers’ girls basketball team finish fourth in 1984 at the state tournament her senior year.
There were members of the third-place boys basketball team from 1964 and even seasoned basketball broadcaster Bob Julius.
Julius, who announced high school basketball games for more than 45 years throughout the Black Hills, said he covered his share of games in Grunwald Auditorium. He announced during the basketball era of both his sons, Bob Jr. and John Julius, now principal at Rapid City Stevens High School.
Being back at the old gym was a real treat, Julius said Tuesday.
“It’s such a nice facility,” he said. “I got down there on the court at half time and talked with some of the old ball players. I’ve not been out to just watch a game in years.”
In the 70s and 80s, a game against Belle Fourche would pack the house at Grunwald, Julius said.
“For a period of time there, Belle Fourche was really a stout opponent,” he recalled.
Julius said it was different watching the game Tuesday night from the west bleachers in the gym.
“When I broadcast I was always over there. That’s where the hookups were,” Julius said pointing to the east section of the gym. “I’ve never really watched a ball game from over here.”
During his tenure, Julius broadcast for several stations including KDSJ, KBHB and KBFS.
Scott Jensen, the current PA announcer for Sturgis Scooper athletics, said he recalls listening to Julius’ broadcasts.
Julius and former KBHB announcer Dave Maschoff broadcast games for years.
“I still remember Julius saying, ‘we’ve got ourselves a dandy ballgame here folks,’” Jensen said.
Announcing the games on Tuesday was a real honor, Jensen said.
“People have a lot of fond memories of events in this gym,” he said. “This was one of the premiere venues in western South Dakota before the civic center was built. It’s got this bowl effect, so if there were a thousand people here, it seemed like 5,000.”
Jensen, who graduated in 1988, commended those who came to the Throwback Night and attempted to fit into gear they had worn in high school.
“Scott Peterson (SBHS assistant cross country coach) had on his basketball warmup top. It looked like one of his kid’s shirts. I was glad to see everyone get into the Scooper spirit from way back in the day,” he said.
Sue Chaplin spent countless nights at Grunwald Auditorium following activities in which her children were involved. Her son, Marc Kenley was on the basketball team while her daughter Wendy, was pep club president, and daughter Kristi (Kenley) Jewett, was a cheerleader.
“Between the three of them I got a lot of time in on the bleachers,” she said.
Barden said she wished her old coach, Larry Hines, who died in 2014, could have been at the event.
“Mr. Hines would have loved it,” she said. “I thought it was entertaining, a bit nostalgic, and a great idea. It was nice to see the ‘old’ letter jackets out too.”
Pete Borup said he wished more people would have come out for the Throwback Night, but he understands some are self-conscious about aging.
“They should have just come and had fun,” he said.
Borup said that in the 1960s, the big rivalry games were against Rapid City, both in basketball and football.
“When the games were over we’d all end up at Phil-Town and a lot of times it would end in a fight,” he said.
Homer Hastings was the big scorer for the Sturgis basketball team in the 1960s.
So how did he get to be such a great shooter for the Scoopers?
“All I did was shoot growing up,” he said. “There was no TV, no computer, no cell phone, we just played basketball.”
He boasts that the Scoopers 1962 team on which he played was the last to beat Rapid City when they still had just one high school.
“It was 48-33. We shut them down,” he recalled.
Hastings said it was great playing in Grunwald.
“It was, by far, the best gym in western South Dakota for its time,” he said.
Hastings scored a record-high 43 points in one game during his career.
“If they would have had the three-pointer, it would have been 50 or more,” he said.
Ferguson said Hastings loved to shoot.
“Once you threw the ball to Homer, you weren’t going to see it again,” he joked.
Hastings, who was listed as 6-foot, 1-inch in high school, had a juke maneuver that left him open to shoot.
Larry Blessing, a member of the 1964 boys basketball team which finished third in the state tournament, said it was great to be back in the old gym, but also great to still be alive to do it.
“It’s great. I love what they did to the floor. I wish we’d a had this,” he said.
Back in 1964, the Scoopers made a late surge to become the first Sturgis team in 12 years to gain a trip to the Class A state tournament, held in Huron that year.
Under then-head coach Buell Woodle, the Scoopers had last made a state tournament field in 1952.
Sturgis claimed the “A” title in 1947, placed second in 1948 and won again in 1951.
Sturgis boys teams have qualified 11 times for state since 1964, but none have placed higher than that year’s team.
Journal archives showed the Scoopers clubbed Belle Fourche 61-36 and downed Lead 40-35 in sectional play to advance to the state tournament.
Sturgis downed Aberdeen 51-40 in the opening round, before losing to eventual state runner-up Sioux Falls Washington 68-40 in the semifinals. They defeated Yankton 56-54 in the third-place game.
Their success was a suprise to many, Blessing said.
“We asked coach at our 30-year reunion if he thought we would go as far as we did and he said, ‘no,’” he said.
As Blessing recalls, the 1964 squad went 1-4 to start the season.
“We were a true ‘team,’” he said. “We had balanced scoring and we could make our free throws.”
Paris said it had been “quite awhile” since a high school basketball game had been held at Grunwald Auditorium.
“It’s always been a great atmosphere for basketball. We wanted to bring that atmosphere back,” Paris said.
Grunwald Auditorium was part of a project which district patrons approved, by 80 percent margin, in In the general election of November 1956. The bond issue was for a new high school (which now houses Sturgis Williams Middle School).
Stoneberger Construction of Lead was the prime contractor and the total cost was $858,783,51. The 3,000-seat auditorium was later named for E.E. Grunwald, who served as superintendent from 1930-1965. Dedication of the new school and auditorium took place March 15, 1959. Presiding over the dedication was South Dakota’s governor at the time, Ralph Herseth.
Paris was assistant basketball coach in the 90s when then activities director Bob Peterson encouraged district officials to replace the old tile file in Grunwald with a wood floor. That was done in 1995.
Last year, the district included on its capital outlay project budget the refurbishing of both the Grunwald and Williams building gym floors. The contract for both was awarded to Derksen Floors of Rapid City who specialize in the installation and finishing of genuine hardwood floors.
“They sanded the floor all the way down to the bare wood,” said Cody King, Meade School District director of buildings and grounds. In Grunwald, we decided to change the color. We went with the big red border instead of black. Black gets dirty easy.”
They also chose a different stain color for the three-point area on the court.
“I think that really sets the court off,” said King.
Sanding shavings from both the Grunwald and Williams floors filled two dumpsters, King said.
“They estimated that there were 400 coats of finish on that Williams floor,” King said.
Some areas of the Williams floor had water damage, so King and his staff went in search of replacement planks to patch it.
“We found 16-foot lengths of that oak floor in the basement of the Williams Building. They were still in the box. They sat there for 80 years,” King said.
The contractor was a bit hesitant to cut the preserved planks, King said.
“You don’t find those 16 footers much anymore. They’re pretty valuable,” he said.
King was amazed at the transformation of both gym floors.
“After we saw how well the gym turned out, Mr. Paris said we had to have a game in here. It is so nice. They like that better than the high school floor.”
In addition to refinishing the floors, new LED lighting was added to the gyms.
“I don’t know how we ever played basketball games in there before because it was so dark,” Paris said. “It was an eye-opener to a lot of people compared to what it used to be.”
Paris said the Throwback Night brought in about double what a normal game night brings to the west gym at Sturgis Brown High School.
Barden said it was well worth the effort.
“All in all, including the work it took to prepare the venue (shot clocks, scorer’s table transport, etc.), it was an evening well spent with great memories and good friends,” she said.
Scott Sabers, who played basketball for the Scoopers in the 1990s, said he hopes the Throwback Night will be an annual event.
“Grunwald was always a great gym to play in,” he said. “Not that the new gym isn’t great, but in Grunwald the fans are really close to the action. It was like an afternoon game versus a night game playing there.”
Paris said he is committed to hosting another Throwback Night.
“We will do it again next year at probably a different time and Black Hills Conference school,” he said. “Who knows, maybe we will do a throwback wrestling night too.”
Here are the answers to the questions from A1