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Schnepf: Wyndmere team has lasting legacy from last Class B tourney in Grand Forks

FARGO -- There were no tweets, no Facebook, no emails, no cell phones. Communication went through the Western Union station in downtown Grand Forks.

That's where Ron Becker and his basketball teammates from Wyndmere went during the 1971 North Dakota Class B state tournament. There were plenty of telegraph messages for them.

They had just won the school's first and only state championship.

"It was the big thing back then," Becker said. "I think it still is."

For the first time since Wyndmere hoisted its championship trophy in the smoky and dusty air of the University of North Dakota Fieldhouse, the Class B will return to Grand Forks this week in the more pristine environment of the Alerus Center.

Whoever wins this week's state title, you can bet congratulatory messages will reach the players a lot quicker than they did in 1971.

"A lot has changed since then," said Becker, now a 57-year-old who runs a small computer software company in suburban Minneapolis.

Back in 1971, the average cost of a house was $25,000. A movie ticket cost $1.50. A gallon of gas was 33 cents. Texas Instruments just released its first pocket calculator. The Walt Disney resort in Orlando opened. And the voting age was just lowered to 18.

Becker wasn't quite old enough to vote. But as a 6-foot-4 junior, he averaged 24 points and 15 rebounds during Wyndmere's state tournament wins over Ashley, Mohall and New England St. Mary's.

His performance caught the eye of UND head coach Dave Gunther, who was doing the color commentary with Jim Adelson for KXJB's telecast.

"Afterwards, he told me, 'You need to come to my camp,'" recalled Becker, who later played for UND teams that won three conference titles and reached the Elite Eight twice.

This was back in the day when there was no summertime AAU ball, when no player -- even in North Dakota -- goes unnoticed. This was also back in the day when the UND Fieldhouse basketball court was placed on top of a dirt surface.

One week, elephants from the circus roamed the dirt floor. The next week, Wyndmere was playing basketball not only before a packed house, but a dusty and smoky house.

"Back then, people could smoke in the building in the corridors behind the stands," Becker recalled of a year when cigarette advertising was first banned. "You would see this big old cloud of smoke above you. And you could see the dust billow up from beneath the floor. It kind of blended in with the smoke."

One thing was crystal clear that year. Wyndmere, undefeated and unranked, was destined to win this tournament.

Even though legendary Forum sports scribe Dick Seal picked Ashley to beat Wyndmere in the opening round, the Warriors won by eight points. That led to a three-point semifinal win over Mohall.

"We all thought if we win one game up there, we would be really happy," Becker said. "I don't think anybody went up there thinking we could win it all."

It all came down to the title game against New England St. Mary's, the defending state champs. BrianVeit, a senior, hit an 8-foot shot with two seconds left to force the game into overtime.

Dick Sellner, a 5-foot-10 senior, hit a 10-foot jumper with 34 seconds left to give Wyndmere a 70-69 win.

"I remember getting a rebound and whipping the ball down to Sellner with a fullcourt pass," Becker said. "Then he hits that shot. That was his claim to fame."

And also for the southeastern North Dakota town of Wyndmere -- where nearly 300 cars lined up on Highway 18 to lead the state champs to a celebration in the hometown gym. That's where mayor George Carver said:

"For 42 years, I tried to put Wyndmere on the map, and these kids did it in three days."

And without any tweets, emails, Facebook or cell phones.

Schnepf is the sports editor for The Forum of Fargo-Moorhead, which is owned by Forum Communications Co.