Dick Nelson

by Randy Olson, Bonanza Valley Voice

Dick Nelson was a star athlete on one of the only two Brooten boys’ basketball teams to win 19 games in a season. He has a simple explanation for part of why that team was so successful during his senior year at BHS in 1956-1957.

“Sherwood Sagedahl and I grew up together and played together at every opportunity we had. Our teammates were able to pretty much anticipate one another’s moves,” said Nelson.

The 1956-57 Buccaneers basketball team went a perfect 14-0 in West Lake Conference play with Nelson and Sagedahl as co-captains. Their overall record was 19-3 including a third-place finish in the District 20 playoffs.

With a 17-1 overall record and a Sub-District 20 championship to their credit, the Buccaneers easily handled Howard Lake in the district quarterfinals 68-43. They met their match in the semifinals, however, against a much taller Willmar team.

“At 6’2”, I played against a player who was 6’8”, and Willmar’s shortest player was 6’3”. I still managed 17 points in that game against Willmar, but we ultimately lost 83-58,” said Nelson.

“That was the only time we lost decisively that year. We had many close and exciting wins along the way.”

In the third-place game of the 1957 District 20 tournament, the Buccaneers prevailed 49-47 over Cokato to get their 19th win.

“In the one-class tournament, Willmar was considered to be one of the best high school teams in Minnesota when I was a senior. The Cardinals went on to lose a close game in the Region 5 tournament to Minneapolis Roosevelt, who won the state title that year,” added Nelson, whose senior class had 35 students.

“We made the most of our roster that year. We had just nine guys total, and just six guys regularly saw the floor. Living in a small community, we always had great support at home games. You had almost everyone there cheering you on, helping our determination to succeed.”

Nelson felt that their head coach, Jim Walters, was terrific at guiding and perfecting their 1-2-2 zone defense that was a hallmark of the team’s success.

As a freshmen in the West Lake Conference, Nelson averaged 15 points per game and then 20 points per game from his sophomore through senior years. As a senior, he averaged just over 22 points per game and about 15 rebounds per game.

“In my first game as a senior, I scored 45 points and set the school record. Overall I ended up with somewhere between 1,300 and 1,400 career points.”

Nelson, now in Dana Point, California, was one of Brooten’s most talented three-sport athletes of the 1950s. He was a member of the Buccaneers varsity teams in no fewer than 13 seasons: four in football, four in basketball and five in baseball.

In football, Nelson played either quarterback or end on offense and end on defense. In his senior year, he was named Honorable Mention as an offensive and defensive end to the All-State football team in Minnesota by theMinneapolis Star and Tribune.

In baseball, Nelson played either first base, shortstop or pitcher on defense. 

“My most memorable game was pitching a no-hitter in my sophomore year against Eden Valley in our first game of the season,” he recalled.

From BHS, Nelson attended the University of Minnesota-Minneapolis, where he made it on the Gophers freshmen baseball squad.

“Before I was out of high school, Whitey Skoog recruited me to play basketball for Gustavus Adolphus College where he was head coach. Skoog was a former U of M basketball star and former Minneapolis Lakers player. The U of M coaches were also encouraging me to be a walk-on with the Gophers. However, I did not play basketball for either school and stuck to baseball as a Gopher.”

During his college years, the Gophers baseball program was a powerhouse in the college ranks. In 1956, the Gophers won the NCAA college baseball championship. In 1960 the Gophers won another NCAA national title.

Nelson also played amateur baseball for Brooten. A year out of high school, Nelson led the CornBelt League with a .500 batting average in 1958. In 1957, Brooten was league champion.

“During my junior year at BHS, the U of M basketball program awarded Chuck Liermann a scholarship. He was a 1956 Kerkhoven graduate. I remember as a sophomore he edged me for the conference scoring title, but then when I was a junior I edged him for the title. I believe that along with the great athletes I played with at Brooten, playing in the West Lake Conference helped develop my talents to the point where I could play college baseball. Those were years I’ll never forget.”