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Laker coach hit winning basket to go to state 30 years ago

Laker assistant coach Tim Swenson has been the defensive strategist for the Detroit Lakes girls’ basketball team. But he was also pretty good during his high school playing days. DL NEWSPAPERS/Brian Basham

By Thomas Hintgen

Thirty years have gone by since Tim Swenson scored the winning basket in the final seconds of the 1984 Region 8AA basketball title game, vaulting Fergus Falls to its first state boys basketball appearance in 27 years.

His winning basket from 20 feet away and near the base line came with only two seconds remaining in regulation. This gave the Otter boys a 46-44 upset victory over favored St. Cloud Tech at Halenbeck Hall on the campus of St. Cloud State University.

Swenson is now an assistant girls’ basketball coach in Detroit Lakes and also is employed by the Midwest Minnesota Community Development Corporation.

The Laker girls lost in overtime this year to Alexandria in sectional quarterfinal action.           

“As a coach, when another basketball season comes to an end, I realize how special and lucky we were to play in a state tournament and how tough it is to get there,” said Swenson. “What a great team bond we had.  Every player, manager and coach on that ‘84 team was an important piece of the puzzle that was our team.”

Swenson said he feels very fortunate to have been a part of that group of guys who went to state and represent Fergus Falls in 1984. The Otters narrowly lost to Minneapolis North in quarter-final action. Steve Thom starred for the Otters in the game against North at Williams Arena.

Those were the days when there was a two-class system in Minnesota basketball. It was the same year, 1984, when Pelican Rapids won the Class A state boys basketball title.

In the Fergus-St. Cloud Tech regional title game, the 6-4 Swenson dribbled to his favorite spot near the base line, to the right side of the basket, with only five seconds left in the game. Swenson, guarded by St. Cloud Tech star Sam Skarich, decided to double pump.

Skarich took the bait. That left Swenson open for the final shot from 20 feet away. His shot was perfect, nothing but net as the common saying goes.

Otter basketball coach Bob Bjorklund, a Henning native who later became men’s basketball coach and athletic director at Bethel College in St. Paul, said that Swenson was able to put good touch on the shot, even with some contact by Skarich.

Tech played its standard 1-3-1 zone the entire game, making it tough for inside play by Swenson and the Otters’ Jon Thunselle, Thom and Scott Grohn. But Fergus put full-court pressure on Tech all game long, making use of the basketball skills of Len Kretchman, Tab Meyer and Keith Pearson.

The 1984 regional title game also is remembered for the outstanding defensive scheme designed by assistant coach Roger Olson, a former Battle Lake athlete. As part of that scheme, Swenson took a defensive position at the opponents’ free throw line, stopping the offensive flow of guard Skarich.

The other assistant coach for the Otters in 1984 was Steve Atchison, who had played high school basketball at Moorhead.

Other team members were Todd Fjestad, Eric Linder, Doug Weatherly, Fred Schulz, Kevin Kjellerup, Brian Roers, Todd Johnson and Mark Fjestad. Cheerleaders were Paula Schoon, Penny Schoon, Lynn Dornfeld, Emily Stricker and Linda Orandi.

Student managers were Don Wahl, Mike Beyer and Mark Drayna.

Swenson, with his love of basketball, was a teacher and coach in various locations, including communities in Wisconsin and in Frazee prior to his assistant coaching duties in Detroit Lakes.

He and his wife, Melissa, general manager of the Perham Focus, have three children, Zachary, Amanda and Grace.

Swenson’s winning basket that vaulted Fergus to state in 1984 kindled basketball enthusiasm throughout the community. Otter boys went to state only once between 1920 and 1984, and that took place in 1957. That team featured star players Curt Reinan, Chuck Weiss and Jon Rosengren.