Guest column: Thanks Cloquet, for all the support

 

March 31, 2023

University of Minnesota Athletics

March Madness is a great time of year if you are a basketball junkie. With multiple media outlets allowing for the televising of games, you can hardly miss any of the scores or stories that surround the tournaments. Even high school scores are readily accessible, such as this year when the Cloquet girls played Grand Rapids in the regional championship. Tough loss, though it is my belief that I would rather be in the game and have a chance to win than to never have been in the game and always wonder about what could have been.

Growing up in Cloquet, I remember very clearly a personal side of March Madness. For two years, 1977-78 and 1978-79, the Cloquet girls basketball team had its own version of this madness. Cloquet hosted the regional championships both those seasons.


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To this day, I can't remember who we beat to reach the 1978 regional final. What I do remember is that the city of Cloquet could not have been more supportive. There was a buzz around town and the gym was packed. As my sister, Dee, the team manager, and my dad remember, there was purple and white everywhere. Never in our wildest dreams could we have imagined playing in front of that many people.

Zane Gray was leading the band in playing "Sweet Georgia Brown," which was played for me before every game.


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People were really into the game. On every possession you could hear the sigh or the exhilaration of those watching. Coach Dave Burgett was wearing his lucky yellow sweater. Classmates, parents, people of Cloquet and the surrounding areas were there to cheer us on. When the final horn went off and we were on our way to the state tournament, fans stormed the floor. Being carried on the shoulders of my classmates is a feeling I'll never forget.

Time has moved on, but the memories remain.

The following year, we were upset in the sub-region. Even with the upset, Cloquet still had to host the regional championships. I remember walking home from shooting at the Cloquet Civic Center and passing the junior high school where the games were being hosted. Teacher and coach Monette Steinhaus, who was working the ticket booth, let me go up the stairs to see the games, but my disappointment was so deep that I could not bear to stay for long. Although part of me felt that I had let the people of Cloquet down with that year's loss, I still wanted to relive the wonderful experience of the previous year - to relive the joy I felt on that one night.

As I reminisce about how it started, I think of the old Civic Center. Warped floors, walls as the out-of-bounds and a lot of guys trying to get into games. The first time I went down to play, my dad came along to help me get acclimated to a new gym.

Pickup games are hard no matter where they are played. In choosing teams, the guys would pick other guys they knew and who they thought could help them win and keep the court. So, when I got there for the first time, I got picked. I was nervous, wondering if I could play with these guys while the guys were likely thinking: don't hit her, push her, or do anything to hurt her, Cloquet girls basketball team needs her.

It wasn't until years later in conversations with some of those players that I learned of the thoughts going through their minds.

There are many reasons for the success I have celebrated. Know this: My teammates were as much a part of the success as I was. The Civic Center guys made me better by allowing me to play against stronger, quicker and better players. They challenged me. And without the city of Cloquet and all the people who cheered us on, we would not have had the memories we have today. That one special night, when it all came together, held a celebration to last a lifetime.

To the city of Cloquet, thank you. Thank you for being a special part of the team's memories. And thank you for supporting me as I went on to the University of Minnesota. Cloquet will always be home.

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Deb Hunter is a member of the M Club Hall of Fame at the University of Minnesota and the DECC Hall of Fame in Duluth. Here is the description of her career in the annals of the U of M archives:

One of the most decorated women's basketball players in University of Minnesota history, Debbie Hunter was All-American and All-Big Ten in 1983, the first year the conference sponsored the sport.

The Cloquet native was an Association for Intercollegiate Athletics for Women All-Region honoree in 1981, and a Kodak All-Region honoree in 1982 and 1983.

Twice the team MVP, Hunter led the Gophers in assists and steals for three straight years, and set many records that stood for years, including best career free throw percentage (771), most career assists (632), most assists in a game (15), and most steals in a game (12). She posted a career total of 1,361 points, a career field goal percentage of .519, and a career steals total of 216.

The Gophers were 84-36 with Hunter on the team, advancing to the AIAW Tournament in 1981 and 1982.

Hunter later became head women's basketball coach at Austin College in Sherman, Texas. For an interview with photos and video highlights of her in a Gophers uniform, visit

https://gophersports.com/showcase/embed.aspx?Archive=8559&autoplay=false

 
 

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