History-making music group for UMM - morris mn

History-making music group for UMM - morris mn
The UMM men's chorus opened the Minnesota Day program at the 1962 Seattle World's Fair (Century 21 Exposition).

Friday, February 24, 2012

Remembering growth of hockey in Morris

Here's a file photo by yours truly (B.W.) of MBA Storm hockey. The initials stand for "Morris Benson Area."

Hockey was like "the little engine that could" in Morris.
I remember when the resources for hockey were threadbare or seemed to be. Hockey was a whole different proposition in the days before the Lee Center.
I remember being impressed by the resilience of those people. They were church mice.
Hockey could never reach a bona fide level when it was played outside. Nevertheless the sport's promoters did all they could. There was a definite "sandlot" quality to the sport. Each generation of kids was aware of the "rink rats" in their midst.
These kids had no hope of reaching the stature of the basketball stars. One got the impression they didn't care. They played hockey as best they could amidst the elements - so up and down of course. They were undaunted being outside the mainstream.
Basketball was well taken care of by the school system. The movie "Hoosiers" showed us how basketball, when it was just boys, was nothing short of a local institution. The state tournament was a single class. High school band directors didn't have to pull their hair out trying to keep up with all the games. It was a sleepy time by comparison to today.
Hockey was organized into "associations" that had nothing to do with schools. It was the total red-haired stepchild. (Is that expression politically incorrect yet?)
I was in the print media when hockey was going through its growing pains. Occasionally I did a feature article, interviewing devotees like Paul Watzke, with a message that there was hope for greater structure and attributes. Not everyone in town thought this was a good thing. It's hard to believe now but there was an air of controversy.
Were there enough athletes to support a fully established "new" sport? Could basketball keep its place in the athletic firmament? Could school district employees, most notably the athletic director, be persuaded to go along? Would hockey promoters have to "watch their back?"
Really, a friend of mine - a contemporary actually - whose middle name is "hockey" once told me "we know we have to watch our back."
Was there really an issue about the primacy of basketball? Would hockey promoters have to behave like insurgents? Well, they did and in the end not only did they prevail, they seem to have gotten their sport absorbed seamlessly.
And to the surprise of some, I'm sure, basketball was hurt not a lick.
The days of "Hoosiers" look so quaint. (Did Gene Hackman ever really "get the girl?")
The "insurgents" built up steam by bringing Herb Brooks to town. I remember well covering that for the print media. I have to append the initials "RIP" to Mr. Brooks and that's oh so sad. He of course coached the "miracle" USA team in the Olympics.
Brooks came to Morris as a goodwill ambassador for the sport. It's a testament to his charisma that I remember his appearance so well. He gave a formal speech at the Diamond Club. He "razzed" me good-naturedly because I was sitting there taking notes in my spiral notebook. The sight of someone taking notes just seems intimidating, like maybe I'm a lawyer or something.
He didn't exactly sound good natured but I knew he had to be. This was a public relations effort on the part of hockey and it had to give a back slap to the media.
"The media" were exclusive back then. We're talking the corporate media, and it had a lot of the advantages of monopoly. There was no Internet then with its dizzying and distracting array of devices for accessing it. No "data overload."
People sat rapt at their tables. This was like a hockey god talking to them. He would eventually be played by Kurt Russell in the movies. The only distraction in the room might be that newspaper guy, me, feverishly taking notes as he spoke.
Maybe Brooks felt slight suspicion about a newspaper person who might be part of that establishment being defensive for basketball. Believe me, that conflict was felt at the time.
We had wrestling but it didn't attract the same kids as basketball. Basketball seemed to attract the class of kids that didn't get in trouble a lot. Whatever you want to infer about wrestling from that, is up to you.
It took a while for girls basketball to fully take its place. Hats off to those legal and political people who firmly decided that girls sports would be fully established - not just some novelty. We take for granted today that girls sports are to be taken just as seriously as boys. It wasn't always that way.
The first generation of female prep athletes was like The Little Engine That Could, saying "I think I can." There were rough edges in their play. There had to be, because they just didn't have the background, yet. All the necessary strides were made with time.
In "Hoosiers" the girls were cheerleaders, and in fact we didn't get to know them at all. They were a hood ornament. Morris basketball had cheerleaders when I was in high school.
I remember when the pep band was persuaded to play for a wrestling match - a token sort of gesture, it seemed. I was totally bored. Later I came to appreciate wrestling but not so much because of any intrinsic entertainment quality. It was fun following the rivalries, personalities and the parents!
But I was very disturbed seeing the pressure a lot of these kids were under to lose weight. I thought it was an abomination and should be stopped, if it could. I'm also discouraged by the number of forfeits some teams have. But the sport seems alive and well today.
The tremendous flowering of hockey hardly torpedoed the existing varsity sports, as some prominent people had feared. So Brooks was totally right. I remember him emphasizing "how's it going to hurt basketball?" He coached local promoters on how to put forward that rhetorical question.
It seems quaint looking back now. When I was a kid I thought there were only a handful of truly talented athletes in the school and these were the basketball starters. Even the basketball backups had second-class status (like "scrubs," as we would meanly say). Little did we know there was a lot of athletic potential in our ranks - there just weren't enough avenues for it.
The hockey players were forced into their own world where they knew they wouldn't get a lot of attention. But they clearly weren't seeking attention. They were "rink rats."
Brooks put on airs in his speech where he wasn't meant to be taken seriously. One example was his "razzing" of me but there was a better example. He started off telling a story about how he first met one of our local hockey promoters who happened to be a physician. The story involved the two getting acquainted at a cocktail party.
Well, the physician was the type of person who would be averse to such a setting. Even though Brooks sounded serious, we all found out later it was completely made up, in a spirit of levity. The doctor actually called me at the newspaper to make sure I knew this. Oh, no one was upset. We just had to know the particulars.
As far as Brooks' attitude toward me, it was clear it was amicable when he approached me at the awards banquet.
Brooks' visit accomplished its purpose of giving momentum to the sport's advancement. The step that pushed the sport out of the shadows was the Lee Center. Pinocchio you're a real boy now.
The shining Lee Center allowed for high school hockey to flourish, because no longer would scheduling be at the mercy of the wildly unpredictable weather.
We had "Morris Area hockey" at the start - the Tigers.
I remember writing with some dramatic flourish about the first goal, by a fellow named Dan Zahl. I wrote about the irony of someone whose last name began with the letter "Z" and thus being at the end of lists, accomplishing this tremendous "first."
The Tigers didn't survive in hockey. I think that was unfortunate, but the numbers apparently dictated we had to pair with someone. We paired with Benson. The program became the "Storm."
I'm a little discouraged because "MBA Storm" doesn't point to a geographic place. Most people outside the area would be mystified.
I remember hearing there was some controversy at the time of the pairing - that some parents wanted to "go it alone" a while longer. Others thought we'd be "more competitive" with Benson. But a parent friend of mine laughed at that, saying we'd play Benson in the post-season and beat them. In a pairing we couldn't pick on them anymore.
We have the "MBA Storm" whether we like it or not, and the program seems healthy, although the girls varsity is going through a rough spell. We saw that coming. It's important to sell each generation on hockey.
It's too bad Herb Brooks isn't around to do it anymore.
"Hoosiers" is a fun movie but we had a far more shallow society then. Today the tapestry of sports participation is rich. The student athletes flying up and down the ice do their part.
- Brian Williams - morris mn minnesota - bwilly73@yahoo.com

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