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Published March 19 2012

Detroit Lakes heads to state boys basketball tournament for the first time since 1918

DETROIT LAKES, Minn. - Going through a 94-year drought does have its advantages. The Detroit Lakes boys basketball players are learning that after they qualified for a Minnesota state tournament for the first time – ever.

Officially, this is the second state appearance for a Detroit Lakes boys basketball team. The last was 1918 – when the Lakers did not advance but were invited to state.

That’s a long time ago – a year when Woodrow Wilson was a president dealing with World War I, when the Boston Red Sox beat the Chicago Cubs for the World Series championship, when “Tarzan of the Apes” debuted as the first Tarzan film.

“It’s nice for them to be the first guys to ever earn their spots,” said Robb Flint, head coach of this year’s Lakers. “Detroit Lakes hasn’t been a huge basketball town so to share that success with football and go get young kids interested has been an exciting time.”

Detroit Lakes begins its Class 3A state experience Wednesday against DeLaSalle at Williams Arena on the University of Minnesota campus in Minneapolis.

The last time the school made it to the state tournament, the town was known as Detroit, according to an article in the Detroit Lakes Tribune newspaper.

The Lakers lost only one game in 1917 and 1918. But they fell short of a state tourney berth in 1917 after a 21-20 playoff loss to Fergus Falls.

Jack Bush, a member of the 1917 and 1918 teams, told the Becker County Record Centennial newspaper in 1971 that a winter storm prevented the referee from making the game.

According to Bush, the referee’s replacement was the Fergus Falls coach.

“I won’t say he was partial,” Bush said in 1971. “But Fergus made one field goal and 19 free throws and we got 10 field goals and not one free throw.”

The Lakers bounced back in 1918 reaching the state tournament, which then had 14 teams. Back then, the first two rounds of the state tournament were played on one day.

The Lakers lost in the second round to eventual champion Waseca.

“They threw a zone defense at us and we didn’t know what to do,” Bush was quoted as saying in the 1971 article. “We couldn’t take long shots because we’d never worked on them and we didn’t know how to work the ball past a zone.”

Beating a zone defense, however, isn’t the reason the program had a hard time returning to the state tournament.

Detroit Lakes athletic director Mitch McLeod said reaching the tournament years ago was a bit more demanding – when a team had to win eight games just to reach state during an era when there were only two classes.

There was the sub-district round, then a district round and then the regional tournament.

Ever since Minnesota expanded from two to four classes, these days it takes just six wins to win a state championship.

“Great thing about it is you finally broke the seal on the pickle jar,” said McLeod, a Detroit Lakes native. “Sometimes it takes time and you can’t break through and then finally you do, and you’re going to the state tournament.”

McLeod and Flint both said returning to the state tournament has given the community a reason to be excited about basketball again.

McLeod said his son, Lakers point guard Kirk McLeod, had people congratulate him at church Sunday. Flint, who is an elementary school teacher, said he’s had many of his students order T-shirts.

“Those kids and their parents are even going down to watch,” Flint said. “We are not a 1A school where the entire town shuts down, but the following we’ve received from everyone has been outstanding.”

Flint admits he’s in charge of a program that appears to making strides for the future. The last two seasons have seen Detroit Lakes reach the section finals.

“Kids are excited about spring basketball and even playing AAU,” Flint said. “Our numbers peaked last year and we didn’t even get to state. The excitement is definitely there.”

Readers can reach Forum reporter

Ryan S. Clark at (701) 241-5548.

Clark’s Force blog can be found

at slightlychilled.areavoices.com

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