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Memories of the 1963 championship season

March 25, 2013
By Ellayne Conyers , Marshall Independent

Part III

The boys were initially sent off on the Tuesday morning before the tournament with a special pep fest, after which everyone formed a tunnel for them to walk through to the bus. As Porter points out, the Tigers also had a tremendous cheerleading squad. Sandy Peterson, the mascot, " did such a phenomenal job," he says. "She was dressed up as a tiger, and I think she was in non-stop movement for three games there - her heart was really into it!"

All of that support helped. Many townspeople did go up and stay overnight for the games. Porter's father booked a hotel for three nights and, as Porter recalls, "My mom said, 'Well, you guys better win that first game, cuz we got two more nights after that!'" He claims she and Winnie Johnson (Whitey's mom) "were probably the loudest people in the arena, the way they would scream!"

Courtesy of the Minnesota State High School League, all the teams in the tournament stayed at the Curtis Hotel, a classic, well-appointed hotel in downtown Minneapolis, complete with a little clothing shop, a barber shop, and a gift shop. Breakfast, lunch and pre-game meals were served to all the players in a banquet room there. Before playing Austin in the first tournament game, the Tigers had a big breakfast, seated about one table away from their opponent. Porter remembers, "It kinda felt awkward you wanna kick their ass, but they're sitting right next to you!"

In the final game, Porter explains, "It was really man-to-man that we played against Cloquet. You could really see the match ups and how each player was doing. Going into that game, Meissner was kind of acknowledged throughout the state as the best guard. But, what was just so inspirational to me was how Whitey dominated him during the championship game, which was a major reason we ended up winning. I don't think Meissner stole the ball more than once against Whitey of all the times Whitey was bringing the ball up. And he handled that all himself. I just stayed out of the way and let him really dominate Meissner. And Nefstead was playing against Cloquet's big guy, Dennis Breitbarth he was a big husky football player. And it seemed like every time that I was looking on the inside like for rebounds, Nefstead had him blocked out, and when you're going on one-on-one matchups you really need two or three guys to really beat their men individually. Those were two of the reasons why we won." Porter doesn't mention his being the top scorer for the Tigers in that game 22 points!

In 2003, Star Tribune sports writer Patrick Reusse reviewed his coverage of about 40 state tournaments. It was still his opinion, so many years later, that the Marshall/Cloquet final game was the best tournament game he'd ever seen , considering the shooting element, the close score and being a game that was played wide open game rather than conservatively. Ted Peterson, another highly respected sports writer, also said that in his 51 years of sports writing it was the best game overall. Reusse noted two categories in which the '63 Marshall team excelled. Porter sums it up: "Our free-throw percentage was phenomenal. Red shot like 88 percent that season, and he did just as well in the tournament. And we had only about 5 turnovers in the last two games. Some teams commit five turnovers in one quarter. But, those two critical components of the game we were consistently good at. And those are two parts that add up to either winning or losing. You still see college guys who play every day, year-round shooting about 50 percent-60 percent. Our team average was 78 percent. And Red shot like 88.8 percent. So it was good that he was shooting the free throws at the end of the game. We were behind by one point and then Forrest missed the front of a free throw. Red got the rebound and they fouled it. So Red made two free throws with like 10 or 11 seconds left to put us up by one. Then Cloquet had the ball and Forrest came down. And then, luckily, he missed the jump shot to end the game, and then we got the rebound and the celebration started!"

After the tournament, the team returned home the next day. At that time Marshall had a population of about 5,800 in town, and Marshall High had fewer students than Central Catholic High School at the time. But they arrived home on Sunday afternoon to a packed Main Street with people standing atop every building. There were people from other towns, even some opponents, like Tracy and Granite Falls there. Enroute through Redwood Falls and Gibbon there were people standing on the side of the streets waving at the passing players. Porter surmises that this support from even surrounding communities arose because " they liked the fact that southwest Minnesota, a bunch of small town, hardworking people, came and kicked butt! They loved it! Edgerton had won the state championship in 1961. Then we win it in 1963. In 1964 Luverne, another member of our conference, wins it. So it really showed that southwest Minnesota, this little farm area, had some real competitors out of the 468 schools throughout the state. You know, the skill level is gonna be as good or better throughout the Twin Cities area. But sooner or later that competitiveness wins out. If you wanna beat your man, you're gonna find a way, even if he can jump higher or run faster, or he's taller.

One of the best parts of looking back for Nefstead and Porter, along with many others, is the fact that there was only one class of teams. "Having all the classes now takes away the importance of it," Porter opines. Marshall was the second smallest school in the '63 tournament: that year's senior class numbered only 68, Nefstead points out. They played Anoka, by far the largest school in the state, at the second game in the semi-finals. Bloomington was the second biggest high school in the state and played Cloquet in semi-finals. So, when the scrappy, small-town teams made it to the final game, they KNEW they were the best in the state!

Nefstead, Porter and Johnson were named to the All-State team which, while highly rewarding for all three, was certainly especially poignant for senior Nefstead. He cites not only that honor but being captain of this great team to be among his most treasured memories of his final high school year.

After graduating from Augustana College, Nefstead went on to teach and coach basketball and football at Minneapolis Edison High School, subsequently serving as superintendent of Ceylon, Blooming Prairie, and Cannon Falls Public School Districts over a 12-year period. He then went on to work for Northland Securities, serving as Senior VP before retiring. Nefstead holds a masters of science in administration and finance from South Dakota State University in Brookings, S.D., and a doctorate (Ed.D) from the University of South Dakota in Vermillion, S.D.

Porter was awarded a basketball scholarship to St. Cloud State College where he set an all-time leading score career record of 1,694 in 1968 which remained unbroken until 1982. After college, Porter worked as a sales account rep for Munsingwear and eventually as a rep in the insurance, lawn and garden, and pet supply industries before retiring in 2011 and returning to Marshall.

The team members that remained around Minnesota keep in contact. Porter sees Nefstead and Red Schroeder every once in a while, and Whitey continually. Sadly, three of their teammates are deceased: Dave Webb, Dave Markell and Brian Murphy. Sandy MacDonald lives in Wisconsin, John Kirscht in Arizona and Dick Larson in California.

"It's extremely rewarding to go back and talk about the tournament," Porter said. "Maybe some embellishments (are made)but most everything, obviously, is documented."

(continued next week)



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