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Kevin Schnepf, Published February 21 2011

Schnepf: Memories endure in Class B basketball

Even though it was back in the winter of 1979, the memory remains fresh of driving to Forman, N.D., to cover a high school boys basketball game.

As a rookie sports reporter for the Wahpeton Daily News, it was my first exposure to the flat terrain of the Red River Valley and its 30-below temperatures.

There were times I thought I was going to drive my tiny, blue Chevette off the edge of the earth.

It was also my first exposure to North Dakota Class B boys basketball. The small gymnasium in Forman was packed – most to watch a Sargent Central team that would go on to win the state championship.

“That’s a long time ago,” said Craig Kretchman, a starting guard for that Sargent Central team, who is now a seventh-grade teacher at Fargo’s Ben Franklin Middle School.

But the memories are still fresh. Kretchman easily recalls the 1-2-1-1 fullcourt press that his team used to rattle many of its opponents. He easily remembers the state championship win over Halliday. And he was quick to pose this trivia question: “Who was the player who played on two state championship teams that year?”

The answer: 6-foot-8 Steve Larson, who started the season with Class A state champion Wahpeton before transferring to Sargent Central.

That’s the beauty of Class B basketball – memories that will last a lifetime. And Kretchman, who went on to create plenty of Class B memories as a coach, is now watching his son do the same. Tanner Kretchman is a freshman guard for Kindred.

The Vikings are one of eight teams hoping to reach the coveted Class B state tournament when the Region 1 Tournament begins in Wahpeton today.

“It is definitely an exciting time of year,” Kretchman said. “I can’t wait.”

Kretchman should know.

From 1989 to 1993, he coached Ashley to a couple of region tournaments.

Ironically, one of his starting guards was Brad Woehl – now the man who is coaching Kretchman’s son at Kindred.

“I started playing him at a very young age,” Kretchman said. “He even saw some time as an eighth-grader.”

Ironically, Woehl started playing Tanner Kretchman as an eighth-grader. As a freshman this season, Tanner Kretchman is Kindred’s leading scorer – somewhat reducing the fears Kretchman and his wife had about their son playing at such a young age. In much the same vein, Kretchman was a young and unproven coach when he coached Woehl at Ashley.

“He was pretty young back then,” Woehl recalls. “I’m sure he will tell you he’s a much better coach now. He does know the game, that’s for sure.”

Kretchman proved that when he created more Class B memories as the head coach at Central Cass. In 1997, his team finished fourth in the district tournament before going on a Cinderella run – winning the Region 1 Tournament before losing in the state semifinals by one point.

“We came close to playing that great Mayville team for the state championship,” Kretchman recalled, referring to a Mayville-Portland team that claimed a state championship before nearly 12,000 fans in the Fargodome.

And now, for the first time since 1986, Kretchman will not be coaching. After he quit coaching at Central Cass in 2002, he coached numerous youth traveling teams until this season.

Now, like many others, he will be creating Class B memories as a parent and as a fan.

“It’s really been different,” Kretchman said. “I have found out it’s tougher to sit in the stands.”

Welcome to Class B basketball.