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Korby's Connections: Girls basketball pioneer returns to Cloquet for a talk

Deb Hunter, a Cloquet High School and Minnesota Gophers women's basketball legend, was back in town sharing her hoops knowledge Tuesday. She was invited by Cloquet girls basketball coach Heather Young to address current Cloquet players and coaches.

Hunter starred at Cloquet in the late 1970s and has had her Gophers jersey retired and her likeness forever displayed on a banner in Williams Arena on the University of Minnesota campus.

Coach Young introduced Hunter and asked Cloquet players and coaches to freely ask questions about basketball, or even personal growth and life. Most have decided, but some senior players, and all of the underclassmen, are still contemplating college and other options after high school. Hunter told them to not be afraid to reach for the stars.

Hunter didn't want the day to be a lecture, but did tell the players some captivating stories of her past.

She liked volleyball and track in high school ... but loved basketball.

"For track training, I'd run around on the streets of Cloquet, but I'd take a ball with me and dribble," Hunter said. "I knew it was unusual and not cool, but didn't care what others thought."

She brought a bag full of show-and-tell items.

The girls gasped when Hunter held up her 1977 Cloquet jersey. It looked tiny and didn't even have "Cloquet" written on it.

Hunter was part of the original Cloquet teams established after the passage of Title IX.

"Things weren't easy for us ... we had hurdles," she said, before pointing to a man in the back. Dave Burgett was Hunter's high school coach.

Also an invited guest, Burgett was wearing a canary-colored button-down golf sweater. He wore the "lucky" sweater the year Hunter and her Cloquet team reached the 1978 state tourney, a first for the program. They had 23 wins and no losses on their way to state.

After her playing days, Hunter coached women's college basketball for many years at the Division III level. She said although the one through six players on a team get the notoriety, the seven through 12 players are truly the best measure of a team's strength. After all, they are the ones who push the starters and make them work hard in weekly practices.

"Don't ever hang your head or be intimidated," Hunter said. "You are important and appreciated, and the difference makers."

Hunter told eager listeners that only they can manage who they are and who they want to be. If players wish to compete after high school, they must seek out those opportunities.

"There are more Division III colleges than Division I; if you want to continue playing, contact those programs ... writing, emailing, calling them. You'll get noticed," Hunter said.

She spent some time talking about distractions, meaning cell phones and the like, and how it takes sacrifices to reach personal goals and dreams. Hunter said getting the degree or certificate, of course, is the most important. That should be the passion.

Deb asked all the girls how many grew up in Cloquet, and most have.

"Even though I was born in California, Cloquet will always be home to me. This is my 'village' - my coaches, the church where my dad was a minister, the Civic Center gang, the community, and, of course, Gordy's ... these are the people and places that shaped me," Hunter said. "Find your village and embrace it, for this will be your home, too."

Jerry Erickson, former longtime Cloquet basketball and baseball coach, was also invited. He said if there were a Mount Rushmore dedicated to Minnesota basketball, Hibbing's Kevin McHale and Cloquet's Deb Hunter would have to be a part of it.

"This is the person I am referring to when I talk about our program's history," Young told her players.

Read even more about Hunter here: https://www.pineknotnews.com/story/2022/11/25/sports/korbys-connections-top-cloquet-athlete-comes-home-with-stories/8365.html

Steve Korby's interest in writing goes back to when he was in fourth grade and editor of the Scan-Satellite school newspaper in Scanlon. He welcomes ideas for human interest stories and tales regarding Carlton County residents, projects, history, and plans c/o [email protected].