Korby's Connections: Last starter living from 1955 Esko team shares memories
October 9, 2020
Gerald Anderson recently called about a column I wrote about the 1955 Esko basketball state tournament team. Of the starting five that year, Jerry is the only one still alive after he lost friend and fellow starter Don Terwey, who died on Sept. 30.
Jerry said he met Terwey when Terwey moved to Esko in the fourth grade. They were lifelong friends and had a hunting shack together for many years, Jerry said.
Jerry was one of the starting guards on the 1955 team. He offered some of his memories of that magical season.
Esko lost to Duluth's Morgan Park that season, the team's only regular season defeat. It was early in the season and the game was at Morgan Park. Jerry said starter Ron Korby was ill and didn't play, and others were "under the weather." When they played them again at Esko, the home team won by more than 20 points.
Jerry well remembers the first opponent in the state tournament, New Prague and star Ron Johnson. "He was 6-6, was a tremendous shooter, and could jump like a kangaroo," Jerry said. New Prague was the second and only other team to beat Esko that season.
Johnson was a junior in 1955. He scored more than 90 points in his three games at Williams Arena. The next year, Johnson again led New Prague to the tournament and scored more than 100 points in three games. It was a record that stood for 20 years until seven-footer Randy Breuer of Lake City came along.
Johnson was the first Minnesota basketball player to score more than 2,000 points in his career. He was an All American for the Minnesota Gophers, averaging 19.7 points per game. He was the 12th pick in the 1960 NBA draft by the Detroit Pistons. The first two picks in that year's draft were Oscar Robertson and Jerry West. I understand why Anderson thought this should be mentioned. It was no embarrassment being beaten by a Johnson-led team.
"At that exciting first tourney game, in front of over 18,000 screaming fans, Esko was down 16 points at halftime," Jerry said. "But we only lost to New Prague by 18. It inspired us to feel we belonged, and we won our next two games and the consolation title."
Much to the chagrin of other Esko coaches, Jerry didn't play fall or spring sports in high school. "I had jobs in the fall and spring that kept me away from sports, but in my mind basketball was king," he said.
He averaged double digits in points per game on that 1955 team. He was one of the few that utilized a jump shot, which was fairly new to the game. "I kind of copied my shot from a Floodwood great named Lincoln Poupere," Jerry said. "There was one outstanding ball player." Jerry married Lois, who was a 1955 basketball cheerleader and homecoming queen at Esko, and they live on Old Highway 61. He worked for the Wood Conversion Company and the Raiter Clinic in Cloquet and Elliot Meats in Duluth. Jerry and Lois are celebrating their 64th wedding anniversary on Oct. 13.