Note: This story ran in the Princeton Union-Eagle's special section for the All-Class Reunion in July 1995.
For three weeks in the winter of 1932 they were the toast of the town.
The Princeton High School basketball team gave its followers something else to think about other than the Great Depression, upsetting Milaca to win the district tournament, winning the region tournament in St. Cloud, and then moving on to the state tournament.
The Lindbergh kidnapping was on the front page of the daily papers but it was the PHS basketball team that dominated the front page of the Princeton Union.
And Vince Orton and Paul Westman, two members of that team still living, remember it like it was yesterday.
"It was the thick of the Depression," Orton recalled. "There wasn't much money. There was not as much traveling to the games."
"But if we won an important game, there were always malted milks at the Kallas Cafe," Westman countered.
Basketball wasn't just a passing fancy in Princeton that year.
In February the battery (National Guard) team pulled off an upset of major proportions at the armory, beating the Harlem Globetrotters, 46-31, that result putting an end to the Trotters' 59-game winning streak.
"The manager of the colored team stated," the report in the Union said, "that his men were not up to their usual form as a result of the game they had in Minneapolis the preceding evening when they defeated the Minnesota all-Stars."
There was a crowd of 200 and the Union report also said the Globetrotters began using rough play in the second half when they could see they were going to lose.
The next night, at what is now the cafeteria in the middle school, the high school team beat the Mora Blue Streaks, 17-13, and it was apparent the Princeton team was going to be one to be reckoned with at tournament time.
Chet Lessard had six points in that game and Orton scored five.
The next week the announcement was made that the district tournament would be held in Princeton at the armory. And, the Union noted, Milaca and Princeton would play each other in the finals if they won their other games.
"This arrangement was made partly because these quints were recognized as among the strongest teams . . . and also because it is desirable to give them a chance to go through to the finals in order to draw the attendance which will make the tournament a financial success," said the Union story, the bottom line apparently just as important then as it is today.
That week Princeton lost at Milaca, 28-23, as Lessard scored 14 points, a high total for that era.The next week the boys knocked off Anoka and Elk River and appeared ready to do well in the district tournament.
Princeton Superintendent Hugh Nixon made an appeal to townspeople for rooms to house 50 boys from the other teams to stay overnight, with the sum of 75 cents going to those residents who helped out, or $1.50 if two boys stayed overnight.
"Basketball will hold the center stage in Princeton this weekend," said the Union on the front page of the March 3, 1932, edition. The story labeled Milaca as the favorite because there were four starters back from the district championship team of 1931, and Orton and Lessard were the only Princeton starters returning.
The Tigers beat Onamia, 21-10, and then beat Cambridge, 17-14, to advance to the finals against Milaca. Princeton's only conference loss during the season had been at Milaca.
Milaca led most of the game and had a four-point lead in the fourth quarter. But Princeton rallied to within two points.
"Lessard passed to Orton. Orton, who is not a spectacular player but a remarkably cool one, took careful aim and planted the ball squarely in the ring. It was no fluke shot but a neat goal and it tied the game," the Union story said. "A few seconds later the pistol was fired."
That play sent the game into overtime and Princeton won 20-17, Orton's nine points leading the way.
"Princeton Quint Wins District Basketball Championship" said the banner headline in the March 10 Union. And the team picture that accompanies this story was on the front page, an unusual occurrence in that era. Every game of the tournament, including the first-ever consolation round, was reported in detail with a box score. Attendance was estimated at 1,000 for the title game, although Westman and Orton say today they are sure not that many people could be jammed into the armory.
It was off to St. Cloud to take on Litchfield in Region 5 and Editor Grace Dunn took time on the editorial page to praise team members.
"Those boys gave the community a fine object lesson," she wrote. "When the odds against us are heavy is the time to work the hardest. It is just as yellow to back off the field in the economic or social world as it is in the field of sport. Those boys are not quitters; we do not breed that kind of spirit into our youths and we want to remember that we cannot afford to give them that sort of an example."
The team was picking up support around town but Orton wasn't so sure the team would do well. "My thought was that we'd get our pants knocked off," he said.
"I was more confident," Westman said. "I thought we'd win."
Princeton did beat Litchfield, 22-12.
"The guards (Otho) McMillan and (Orville) Gamradt did marvelously good work and Orton was in top form," the paper reported. "Time and again he carried the ball down the floor on a fast drive to make a goal."
Orton, the tallest player on the team at six feet, led the scoring with 10 points and captain Lessard had six.
McMillan and Lloyd Westman, Paul's older brother, got in early foul trouble in the championship game against Waconia at St. Cloud and the Princeton troubles were compounded when Lessard badly sprained his ankle and didn't return.
"Paul Westman, however," as the St. Cloud Times stated, 'proved the hero of the day by filling his captain's place with honor and played a great game of basketball,' " read the Union's report. "He played with the coolness of an old-timer though it was his first appearance on the floor in the regional tournament. Spectators watched with much satisfaction his tousled head bobbing around on the floor, and he delivered when opportunity afforded. What Westman lacks in stature, he makes up in what is above his ears."
Princeton won the championship game 34-27 and Orton led with 14 points. Lessard had 8 in his short playing time. Orton, Lessard and McMillan made the all-tournament team.
The Union reported that Princeton fans made up half of the 1,200 who attended that game.
A tall Chisholm team that scored an unheard-of 58 points in one game that season was to be Princeton's first opponent at the state tournament in the University of Minnesota fieldhouse.
Lessard was sent to Minneapolis on Monday and the University of Minnesota trainers took care of him that week, trying to get his ankle in shape so he could play. He played but was slowed by his injury, which included a chipped bone, and Princeton lost 20-16.
"They had a big slow guard and I think Chet would have gone right around him all night if he hadn't been hurt," Westman said as he and Orton reminisced last week. "I think we would have won."
The Union reported that Orton was the high-point man in both state games, as he had been in the regional, and that Westman gave a good account of himself as usual.
Princeton lost 25-18 to Northfield in a consolation game after rallying to trail only 19-18 in the final quarter.
"I wasn't very interested in that game," Orton remembers.
Lessard didn't play in that game. That made Paul Westman a starter and he played the whole way. Orton had 8 points, Westman 5.
It was a heady experience for boys from a small town. "I had never even heard of the state tournament," Orton recalled.
The eight-man team and coach Frances Maroney stayed at the Curtis Hotel.
Orton recalls it as "a boring time" but Westman remembers seeing the well-known Cab Calloway and his band at a nearby theater.
About 300 fans showed up from Princeton for the game and the Princeton team did win the sportsmanship trophy.
Bob Beebe, a veteran reporter for the Minneapolis Tribune, reported that Princeton had a scrappy team and that it had a superior team, even without Lessard, and should have beaten Northfield.
The team attended a banquet for all the teams on Saturday night at the Minneapolis Athletic Club and then it was back to Princeton and the real world.
Two weeks later a banquet was held in Princeton for both the basketball team and the football team, which also won the the district title and didn't lose a conference game.
The next year Orton was the only starter who had graduated and the team again won the district title.The Tigers won their first region game but then lost to Red Wing, the eventual state champion.
Both Orton and Westman, Princeton natives, have lived in this area most of their lives. Orton, 80, lived in Grand Rapids a couple years but has lived on the same block in town for more than 75 years. Westman, 79, spent 32 months overseas during World War II but came back to Princeton and has been here ever since.
Their schooling took place at what is now the middle school. "We went from one end of that school to the other (to complete all 12 grades)," Westman said.
Westman has continued to follow basketball through the years, while Orton hasn't. Both agree that today's athletes are far superior to when they played.
"If we had to go up and down the floor like they do today, we'd be dead by halftime," Orton said.
The two rarely see each other, although they are friends and have lived in the same town for decades.
But seeing some old clippings, and being able to hold the trophies they won 63 years ago, got them reminiscing a little last week.
"We'll see you here again in 10 years," Westman said to the reporter who was content just to listen to the memories of two of Princeton's Boys of Winter in 1932. "We'll talk about it again."
"I shot baskets at every basket in town," said Paul Westman. "We were always playing. Jimmy (Kallas) and I would shoot at a little basket down at the (Kallas) cafe and sometimes the ball would go right in the soup." — Paul Westman.
"I remember playing in the old potato warehouses along the railroad tracks . . . You could always tell when we were going to have a good team because you would see guys shooting in the summer." — Vince Orton.
A reporter's note: Twenty-five years have fled by since I wrote that story. It was so enjoyable to listen to those two guys talking about something that had happened 63 years ago. The Kallas Cafe mentioned is the K-Bob Cafe today, the middle school mentioned is where Princeton Health & Fitness and Crystal Courts Apartments are today and where all 12 grades were from 1920 to the mid-50s, the potato warehouses that once upon a time were a serious part of the lifeblood of Princeton are gone and have been replaced by houses near the former railroad depot, and the armory is now the site of the Williams-Dingman Funeral Home on Rum River Drive. Joel Stottrup took a great picture, as he always did, of Westman and Orton standing in front of the armory, holding those old trophies that I heard had been found in the basement of the armory. What a story from a different time, Orton saying he didn't even know there was such a thing as a state tournament. Vince and Paul are both gone now but they provided the reporter a wonderful story to tell. I hope that any of you who read it this time around enjoyed it as much as I did writing it 25 years ago.
PRINCETON SPORTS MEMORIES
July 15, 1965 —The Legion baseball team led the North End League with an 8-1 record after Mike Rajala struck out 15 in a 10-2 win over Chisago City as Aet Skarohlid had three hits, and Frank Kosloski pitched an 11-3 win over Cambridge.
July 15, 1970 — Ron Deglmann beat Morris and Howie Solheim beat Duluth Lakeview before the Legion baseball team lost 4-1 to Superior (Wis.) in the title game of the tournament at Marble.
July 16, 1975 — Dan Kne struck out 16 but the town team lost 9-2 to Soderville . . . Pete Steinhagen and Fred Jenson got the wins as the Legion baseball team swept a doubleheader with Milaca, winning both games 8-1. That clinched the league title and the team's record was 20-1 at that point.
July 17, 1980 — Sam Anderson got the win as Princeton beat Elk River 7-2 for its only win among three games in the Princeton Legion baseball tournament . . . Helen Sanborn had a hole in one on hole No. 1 at Rum River Golf Club.
July 18, 1985 — After beginning the league season 0-3, the Legion baseball team won nine straight North End League games in 16 days to win another league title as Tim Vagle struck out seven in a one-hit 12-0 shutout of Chisago Lakes, Mickey Branchaud hitting a homer.
July 19, 1990 — Kathy Adair and Troy Anderson were the new junior champions at Rum River Golf Club . . . The Legion baseball team beat Cambridge twice to win its 12th straight North End regular-season title. Winning pitchers were Troy Kinney and Matt Skarohlid.
July 20, 1995 — Mark Stay (5-1) beat Cambridge 9-4 in Legion baseball and John Vollan pitched a three-hitter in a 14-0 win over St. Francis . . . Matt Skarohlid beat the Forest Lake Lakers 6-5 on a five-hitter for the Princeton Panthers as Brian Dorr had four hits.
July 13, 2000 — Trailing 5-0 the Legion baseball team (7-2 in league play) rallied for a 13-6 win over Chisago Lakes as Dane Larsen had three hits. The team lost its two games in the Princeton tournament after going 1-2 in the Alexandria tournament, Luke Bakken pitching a three-hitter in a 13-3 win over Osseo . . . The Princeton Panthers (14-4, 13-2 in league play) beat St. Francis 5-3 behind Jason Miller (6-0) and beat the Forest Lake Lakers 7-2 behind Joe Nelson. Chad Campbell drove in three runs in the St. Francis game and Brian Dorr (second grand-slam of the season) drove in five against the Lakers.
July 21, 2005 — The Princeton Panthers, 14-2 in league play and nearing a division title, beat Chisago Lakes 10-5 with Eric Deglman getting the win as Jesse Zimmer drove in four runs and Brian Dorr three . . . The Legion team (8-13) lost to the state-ranked Apple Valley and Tri-City Red teams in the local tournament, hitting into five double plays in a the 3-1 loss to Tri-City, but beat Andover 3-2 as Tyler Roehl got the win in relief, Brandon Knoll driving in the winning run with a squeeze bunt.
July 22, 2010 — The Princeton Panthers (20-7, 14-2 in league play) beat Chisago Lakes 9-0 behind Eric Deglman, beat Hinckley 12-1 behind Joe Swanson, and beat Quamba 21-0 behind Deglman (4-0, 0.97 ERA) who extended his shutout streak to 35 innings. Jake Maros had 8 RBIs in the Hinckley game, tying the team record set by Brian Dorr in the 1999 state tournament, a state tournament record he still holds with two other players . . . The Legion season ended with losses of 5-3 to Mora and 4-2 to Cambridge in league playoffs.
July 16, 2015 — The Princeton Legion baseball team (17-1) won all four of its games in a week, Nick Zeroth beating Pine City 8-3. The team also beat North Branch 2-0, Cambridge 3-2 and Chisago Lakes 2-0, coach Troy Kinney lauding the team's pitching and defense after Princeton gave up only five runs in the four games. (No other details listed in the coverage.)