It may have been the greatest Brainerd Warriors boys' basketball team never to make the state tournament.
The 1961-62 squad, anchored by Dale Brown at center, Bill Laumann and Gerry Blanck at forwards and Bob Rofidal and Russ Akre at the guards, is legendary in Warrior athletics lore. Brainerd averaged 80 points per game while limiting the opposition to 56. All five starters averaged in double figures.
Its success was the culmination of relentless full-court pressure, man-to-man defense, a fast-break offense and unselfishness. It was coached by two men who commanded the respect of every individual, head coach Fred Kellett and assistant Bob Miller.
The season was distinguished by a magical combination of team and individual accomplishment but was marred by a 72-66 loss to Crosby-Ironton in the District 24 championship game, which started three times because of a clock malfunction.
Brainerd lost the season opener at C-I 65-51, then reeled off 19 consecutive victories, including an 88-51 rout of the Rangers in January of 1962 on the Warriors' court.
In December of 1961, Brown set a school record that still stands, 41 points against Granite Falls. Less than a month later, Laumann scored 39 in the regular-season defeat of C-I. In February of 1962, the Warriors tied a school record by scoring 109 points against Staples.
On Aug. 9-10, at their 40th class reunion, the five starters were reunited for the first time since graduating from Brainerd.
"I was pleased to see that my teammates haven't changed in 40 years, well maybe physically, but not in character," Laumann said. "They still are great people, and a long time ago we played a pretty good game of basketball."
"We had a lot of fun with some great friendships," Rofidal said. "I have seen everybody at least once in the last 40 years, but never all of us together at the same time."
Following is a profile of each and their recollections of that season.
All five starters on the 1961-1962 Brainerd Warriors basketball team attended the 40th class reunion last month at Breezy Point. It was the first time all five had attended a reunion since they graduated. They are Dale Brown (left), Bob Rofidal, Bill Laumann, Russ Akre, Gerry Blanck.
Occupation: Sells human resources services and does HR administration on an outsource basis in Edina.
"What I remember most is that everybody on the team was very close. Everybody liked everybody. No personal problems. Great teams are partly successful due to how well everybody gets along.
"We were under so much pressure the week before the (C-I) game. I remember having trouble sleeping. After the loss, I was so relieved that it was finally over. It didn't really hit me until the next day.
"In 1964, I played on the University of Minnesota NCAA national championship baseball team. That was the greatest athletic accomplishment in my life. The loss to Crosby was my greatest athletic disappointment.
"I don't think about the loss any more. I only think about my university experience. I don't know how I would feel without the NCAA championship. Fortunately, I don't have to worry about it. I never root for underdogs unless I really want them to win. It still bothers me to see a great team lose a game they should win."
'Tremendous speed and shooting ability, coupled with fine rebounding, long passing, a devastating pressing defense and exceptional teamwork, have been hallmarks of this team all season.' Brainerd Dispatch article March 2, 1962
Residence: San Francisco, Calif.
Attended University of Minnesota-Duluth as a freshman, graduated in 1968 from the University of Minnesota in Minneapolis; married classmate and cheerleader Patty Anderson in 1966; traveled west in 1970 and ended up in San Francisco; has lived in California ever since; worked for several architectural firms, joined the University of California-San Francisco in the late 1980s.
Recollection of 1962 season:
"A brutal, brutal conditioning program by coaches Kellett and Miller; full-time all-the-time full-court press; man-to-man defense; every time a fast break."
Loss to C-I: "The whole town was in mourning, maybe still is.
"Two things stand out after 40 years: 1) The phenomena of an entire town really dominated by a basketball team, and 2) The camaraderie and respect of the five of us and our coaches.
"Kellett, in particular, could be tough as nails but also was a soft touch with a twinkle in his eye. He always wanted to win but he also cared about building the character of his players.
"After our usual tough scrimmage, and we were all showering, Kellett would once in a while practice his trick shot. He had a specific spot on the court, always on the right side, about 35 feet from the basket.
"Unlike the rest of us, who used a running one-handed jump shot, Kellett used a two-handed set shot. From his special spot, he would launch a very high trajectory shot that passed up and over a steel truss that supported the roof and, once in a while, with a perfect arc, swish through the basket. This was a very tough shot which Kellett would make maybe once in 20 tries. Whenever he made one he would grin from ear to ear and do a little Tiger Woods-like fist-pump."
Occupation: Retired teacher.
Taught high school in Palatine, Ill., for one year; in Mankato for one year, in Albert Lea for 30 years, drafted into the Army in 1969, spent nearly three years on active duty, Infantry OCS, played some Army basketball, went to Vietnam in 1971, spent seven more years in Army National Guard, company commander my last two years.
Had a tryout with Minnesota Muskies of the old ABA in 1967, was offered a contract to stay with the team for that season, but opted to stay in teaching. Coached at almost every age level, from freshman college basketball at Gustavus Adolphus to high school basketball, football and baseball. Also coached junior high boys' and girls' sports.
Recollection of 1962 season:
"We had a good team made up of great people who played their hearts out every game. We were not very big. I was the tallest at 6-3, but our strength was in our speed and endurance.
"Coach Fred Kellett had some of the best conditioned players in the state during his tenure and we simply won most of our games by wearing the other team down. My college coach at Gustavus once asked me what plays we ran in high school and for the life of me, I couldn't remember ever running a set play. We just ran. No shot up the court was a better description.
"On defense we never gave the other team a breather, ever. We had two of the best pressing guards I have ever seen in Bob Rofidal and Russ Akre. They were amazing. We also had Dale Brown, who at 6-1 or 6-2 played center like he was 6-8. Very few players could ever present much of a challenge to Dale. He could jump so high that his jump shots looked like a rocket fired from his extended hands downward into the rim.
"Naturally, we all were just devastated after losing to C-I. ... They were a good team but in the backs of our minds all these years, we knew we should have won that last matchup. They beat us by stopping the fast break, by dropping back quickly after they scored and, hence, took our most potent weapon away.
"In the C-I game at Brainerd I had a hot night and scored 39 points. Dale had set a school scoring record earlier by making 41 points against Granite Falls. Fred Kellett apologized to me a number of times for pulling me out with 4-5 minutes to go, thinking I had tied Dale for the record. It was after the game that he discovered an error in the record book. He always felt badly about that. He wanted us to share that honor."
Three-year starter and three-time all-conference player, tried out for Vikings in 1965, was pipefitter at Potlatch for 40 years.
Highlights of 1962 regular season: "I remember the losses more than the wins. Everybody was a good ballplayer. Everyone played well together. We didn't care who got the points, just so someone got the ball in the hole. We were just a good ballclub.
"The last two years I think we only lost three games, including tournaments. When I was a junior we were undefeated until we lost to Moorhead in the (semifinals) of the region.
"(The loss to C-I) was the most disappointing part of my athletic career. It all went down the tubes.
"I was real close to Fred. He made everyone work hard. He was a hell of a good coach. He was real disappointed. When I used to see him years after that he would always say, 'I can't believe that team got beat.' He would just about come out in tears. He was never the same after that."
Occupation: Brakeman for Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railroad.
Earned Associate of Arts degree from Central Lakes College in Brainerd, started on 1963 CLC basketball team, worked for railroad since June of 1962.
Recollection of 1962 season: "The favorite thing for me was being part of that team."
"Living in the Brainerd area the fans really never let you forget, still to this day (about the C-I loss). Every time I see some of them they say they couldn't believe what happened. It was a tough end to the year, but that's the way it goes. Living in the community I heard more about it than the ones that moved away."
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