A blizzard couldn’t stop the 1965 Franklin boys basketball team from going to State
The 1964-1965 boys basketball season is still fresh in the memories of former Franklin High School basketball player Ron Deming and basketball coach Ron Eickhoff.
In a memoir about how Franklin changed his life, Eickhoff said he never heard of Franklin when he began looking for a job after graduating from St. Cloud State in 1960. Eickhoff was initially hired to teach business education and coach junior high football and basketball.
“Franklin was a great place to start my teaching career,” Eickhoff wrote. “There I met many great families with great kids. I learned that if I treated these students with respect, that’s what I got in return.”
Eickhoff became the head coach for football, basketball and baseball when the former coaches got jobs in bigger schools.
“That was not my only stroke of good fortune that first year in Franklin,” Eickhoff wrote. “I also met Sharon Sather, who became my wife two years later.”
Before Eickhoff came to Franklin, the school set the state record at 44 consecutive football losses. He went farm to farm, recruiting players. Franklin was unbeaten in football in 1963 and 1964.
The basketball team was 3-16 in 1961-1962. The next year, they won twice that many games. The following year, the Franklin Tigers won 17 of 18 games and were seeded first in District 10. A last-second, half-court basket by Springfield kept Franklin from advancing to the regional in 1964.
A new school gym and classroom addition was completed in Franklin for the 1964-1965 school year. Excitement followed with an unbeaten football season.
Basketball hopes were high with just one starter graduating the previous year. The Tigers were 20-2 during the regular season, losing their last regular season game. A fan filmed the game and shared it with the team who used it for motivation to improve.
Franklin topped Lamberton, Walnut Grove, Redwood Falls and Springfield to win the district title.
Eickhoff said he used a diamond and two defense, putting two players on Springfield’s best player to keep him from bringing the ball up the court, “holding” him to 15 points.
Beginning the following Wednesday, the 1965 St. Patrick’s Day blizzard dumped 16 inches of snow on much of Minnesota. Highways, roads and even railroad track were blocked. School was not held for a few days.
Franklin players stayed in town with family or friends so they could keep practicing for the regional tournament at Gustavus field house.
“The roads were so blocked with snow, we had to go through Sanborn corners to get to St. Peter,” said Ron Deming. “Just about everybody left town to watch us play tournament games. I don’t know if the police stayed in town or not.”
The Tigers beat Tracy and Granite Falls to earn the school’s first-ever state tournament trip.
With 69 high school students, Franklin was the Cinderella team in the state tournament at Williams Arena at the University of Minnesota.
“We were cheered on (the way to Minneapolis) by students and towns folk lining the highway in Fairfax, Gibbon and Winthrop,” Eickhoff said. “That was just thrilling for us, to see the support of other communities. It was really fun to be a high school ball player in those days.”
Franklin faced the largest school in the tournament, Minnetonka. With great fan support, the Tigers led by a point in the third quarter before their shooting went cold and Minnetonka won by 20.
The team bus was escorted by fire trucks and a car caravan from Fairfax to Franklin. The City of Fairfax presented the team with a cake that contained every team and coach’s name, the opponent and score of each game played.
After teaching and coaching in Franklin, Eickhoff moved on to teach and coach at Owatonna for one year, then to Sauk Rapids where he taught business education and coached boys and girls basketball when needed.
“I enjoyed teaching sales, marketing and business law. There is still a big need for it. I helped lots of kids go to school half a day and work,” Eickhoff said. “It was very rewarding. Many of the students I taught now own businesses in Sauk Rapids.”
Eickhoff said nothing in his coaching career compared to coaching at Franklin.
“Most of the kids at Owatonna and Sauk Rapids were okay, but it wasn’t like Franklin where they did whatever I told them to do,” Eickhoff said.
Deming attended Willmar Junior College where he played basketball and baseball.
His Franklin teammate Dick Zeman was a defensive football coordinator at Lakeville and Lakeville South for decades, beginning in the 1970s.
Another one of Eickhoff’s players, Bob Hoffman, attended the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, N.Y. and played for the U.S. Army football team.
Story by Fritz Busch
Photos submitted by Ron Deming