The man was a huge basketball fan, but when his friend became ill and couldn't go with him to the Minnesota boy's state basketball tournament in 1949, he asked his 19-year-old employee if he'd like to go instead.

Lowell Hunt agreed; unknowingly starting a tradition in his family that has lasted more than 70 years.

"It teaches kids competition, which life is full off," Hunt said.

Hunt, now 91, of Detroit Lakes, has attended 67 of the last 70 state boy's basketball tournaments since 1949; only missing the annual event in 1986, 2013 and 2015. He said missing his first tournament in 1986 was due to being an usher in his niece's wedding.

"I have fun with that one," said Hunt.

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He continued: "I see her every year, or two, and I'd say, 'now remember, I told you, you have to stay married.' I said, 'I gave up my first state tournament for your wedding,' and she said, 'we will, don't worry, Uncle Lowell.' So I have fun with that one."

In 2020, the tournament was canceled due to the COVID-19 pandemic. He will be missing his fourth tournament this year due to the event's attendance restrictions, but he still remembers how his tournament fever began.

After enjoying the tournament final in 1949, Hunt, originally from Canby, Minn., a small town 25 miles northwest of Marshall along the South Dakota border, moved to the Twin Cities at the end of 1949 with his wife, Vivian. The couple will enjoy their 71st wedding anniversary on April 2.

The following year, in 1950, Hunt found his former high school playing in the tournament, which meant he needed to attend his second tournament in a row to root them on.

"They lost the first round," he said. "And then, (Canby) got in again in 1951 and they got second place that time."

Those three tournaments caused Hunt to ask some of his friends about getting on the ticket priority list going forward.

"They told me that you have to write a letter to the Minnesota State High School League asking them that you want to apply to be on the priority list, so I did that," he said. "They wrote me back and said as soon as there's an opening, and about that time, the only way there were any openings was when there was a death. It was really, really tight."

In 1952, he stood in line for tickets in the Minnesota cold and received an obstructed view ticket behind a pole. The following year, he said, he was able to apply for obstructed view seating, which he did for the next five years. It wasn't until 1958 that his vantage point improved and he was put on the priority list, but those tickets landed him near the top of Williams Arena in Minneapolis, under the roof.

In 1960, he was able to reserve two tickets: one for him and one for his spouse.

"So then Vivian and I started going," he said. "We had a (daughter) in 1952 … and when that child was 10, I was able to get three tickets, so we'd start taking our oldest child."

Hunt ended up having 7 children, four girls and three boys, 15 grandchildren and 25 great-grandchildren.

By 2017, due to seniority on the priority list, Hunt was sitting in third row from the floor and was reserving 19 tickets for himself, his close friends and family members. He said he's made lifelong friends from all across the state from attending the tournaments over the years.

Not all of his favorite tournament memories revolved around the basketball that was played. In 1969, his family was living in Luverne, Minn., and there was a snowstorm. Lowell and Vivian sat in the storm and waited for the city to plow the road for two-hours.

"We got to Marshall, and we had dry pavement all the way from Marshall to the Twin Cities," he said.

He also remembers 11 inches of snow awaiting him and Vivian to exit the title game in 1951 and said it took them more than an hour to drive from Minneapolis to the neighboring city of Columbia Heights, where they were living at the time.

One of the record setting games Hunt was glad he saw at the tournament was the 1997 semi-final game between Wabasso and Red Lake. A record 230 points were scored in the game with Wabasso pulling out the 117-113 victory in overtime.

"That game, I'll tell ya, everything went in the bucket," he said. "Whatever they threw up. I'll tell you what, you talk about wild crowds, they had one that night."

He remembers Minneapolis Patrick Henry high school getting 139 rebounds in 2002 during a single tournament, something, he said, he doesn't think any school would ever be able to top.

"I liked Edina," Hunt said.

Edina won three consecutive state boy's basketball championships from 1966 to 1968.

"They had a guy that I remember and watched, he played all three years … name was Bob Zender," he said. "He was a forward, but one of the best rebounders I ever saw, and the best feed in guy, assist guy, I ever saw … he'd bring it up, as a forward, he'd feed it, and then he'd be down there, and the rebound, boom. He was just an outstanding player."

Lowell Hunt, 91, of Detroit Lakes, smiles while holding Minnesota state boy's basketball tournament programs from 2019 and 1965, on March 18, 2021. Hunt has attended 67 of the last 70 boy's basketball state tournaments dating back to 1949. (Michael Achterling / Tribune)
Lowell Hunt, 91, of Detroit Lakes, smiles while holding Minnesota state boy's basketball tournament programs from 2019 and 1965, on March 18, 2021. Hunt has attended 67 of the last 70 boy's basketball state tournaments dating back to 1949. (Michael Achterling / Tribune)

In Hunt's living room, stacks of basketball programs are sorted on the floor by decade. He has nearly every state boy's basketball program dating back to the 1950s. Hunt was even able to get programs for the three tournament years he missed because his nephew was kind enough to get the programs for him when he attended the games.

Growing up, Hunt only played basketball his freshman year of high school. He was only 5-foot, 7-inches and weighed 145 pounds, so he felt he was much more suited to play guard on the football team in the mid-1940s. However, he does still love basketball, but not for the usual reasons.

"I like to watch the coaches, how they respond to different defenses, and how they respond period," said Hunt. "There were a lot of coaches I didn't care for because they were too rough on the kids."

Watching a coach chew out a high schooler in front of 16,000 people for making a mistake was the kind of teaching, he said, that wasn't helpful to the student at all. Hunt said he prefers coaches that let the athlete alone when they make a mistake and then they take them aside, one-on-one, to talk about it before going back into the game.

"You know who is really good at that, the coach from Perham, Dave Cresap," he said. "He's one of those that when a kid makes a mistake, he just subs him, and the kid knows what to do and he goes to the end of the bench and sits … Dave lets him sit there for a while, then he walks down, talks to the kid, next thing you know, he's back out there."

Hunt said he believes some games are won, and lost, by how coaches react to their players successes and failures.

Overall, he said he's seen more than 1,500 basketball games during his lifetime and he's not done yet. He hopes to go to the tournament next year and see the Target Center crammed with basketball fans as they cheer on their hometown teams. Hunt will be right along side them, in section 131, keeping a scorecard in his tournament program.