By Marlys Kruger
Although it was a little short notice due to scheduling problems, nine of the 12 players along with both coaches from the Colfax 1978 State Champion basketball team were introduced to a large crowd during halftime of the boys’ basketball game Jan. 18. It was 35 years ago this March that head coach Dick Diener, in his first year as the leader of the team, along with assistant coach Doug Russell led the Colfax “short people” as they were called, to the first state championship in the history of the school.
After realizing just before Christmas, the 35th anniversary of this amazing feat was approaching, District Administrator Bill Yingst along with athletic director Wes Grambo looked at the boy’s schedule for a Friday night home game and discovered the only one left was on the 18th. Believing a Friday game would work best for people from out of town, they quickly put things together for the celebration.
Diener, along with players Bob Fehr and Mark Lofthus were interviewed before the game by a local TV station to start the evening off. At halftime players including Steve Cook, Gregg Dobbs, Fehr, Todd Knutson, Mike Kiekhafer, Lofthus, Steve Obermueller (sportin’ his red afro hairdo from ‘78) Tim Prince (not sportin’ his same hairdo as that year) and Robbie Railton’ were introduced along with Diener and Russell. The two coaches then moved to center court and accepted the Gold Ball on behalf of the team like they did 35 years ago-only in a different venue.
Diener addressed the crowd, stating it seemed like just yesterday, coaching the guys and feeling all the excitement.
“Every group of boys I coached when I was here were great kids,” he said. “This group played the game the right way. They were unselfish and very easy to coach.They practiced hard and we had a little luck along the way but their hard work is what won us the championship. They were great athletes and they all turned out to be great men and are wonderful members of the communities they live in. And the Colfax fans were exceptional. I will always remember seeing the whole town sitting in the stands for all of our games. Colfax will always have a special place in my heart, you gave me more than I ever gave you,” he added.
After handing the microphone to an unsuspecting Mark Lofthus, Mark told the crowd how grateful he and his teammates are for the reception.
“Raising three daughters in a big school in the Twin Cities is so different from this,” he said. “I tried to explain to them what living in a small town is like and it is nights like this that makes us realize how important coming home is.”
After watching the current team beat Spring Valley, “78 team members had a chance to catch up with friends and former fans in the lobby after the game. A screen was set up with the state championship game playing and a few of the offspring of the players were heard to say, “I’ve seen that game a few hundred times”. Several players from ‘78 wondered how many points they would have scored if they had a three point shot back then!
Players unable to attend were Jay Miller, Craig Johnson and Jeff Luer. Cheerleaders for the team that year were Shawn Matalas, Shari Hainstock, Kristy Hoyland, Merri Wilson, Shelly Brockman and the mascot was Jodi Kiekhafer, according to the state tourney program. Managers for the team were Dan Maukstad and Dave Winget.
Colfax finished the ‘78 regular season with a 16-2 record, losing to Cameron early on and Spring Valley in the last game. A school enrollment of 250 kids put them in Class C and they started the trip to state by beating Glenwood City in a sub regional game 85-68. They went on to beat Osceola 63-60 and won the regional by getting revenge on Spring Valley 74-64. In the Spooner sectional they won a barn burner over Prairie Farm and the Mau twins 71-70, then beat Bayfield 73-66. In front of a crowd 12 times bigger than the population of Colfax in the Field House in Madison, they defeated Coleman 61-56, and the rest as they say is history as they won the championship over Pardeeville 75-61.
It appeared everyone had an enjoyable time at the 35 year reunion, and I do believe I saw some players and coaches sign a few autographs!