212 ATHLETIC CONFERENCE HISTORY
1947 - 1974
What's in the Name?
Notes on Sources
Introduction Back To Top
This is the record of a very special Minnesota high school athletic conference. Conceived in the winter of 1946/1947 by LeRoy Henning, basketball coach and principal at Sacred Heart, and Dale Aaseth, basketball coach and principal at Bird Island, the 212 Conference ran for fifty miles along US Highway 212 in west central Minnesota. From west to east, the conference members were Sacred Heart (1950 population: 745), Renville (1,323), Danube (437), Bird Island (1,333), Hector (1,196), Buffalo Lake (724), Stewart (695), and Brownton (696).
The official birth date was April 14, 1947. For the next twenty-seven years, the same eight high schools competed for conference championships -- no teams dropped out, and none were added. Olivia, the Renville County seat, sits between Danube and Bird Island along US 212, and had initially been considered for membership, but, with a 1950 population of 2,012, was considered too large compared to the rest of the schools.
The conference expanded east and west for the 1974/1975 school year, and went through several other realignments in the following years as school consolidations became the norm in rural Minnesota. The conference folded after the 2003/2004 school year – a remarkable fifty-seven year run.
However, this is the story of the very special first twenty-seven years, and of the eight original schools.
The story is also confined to boys’ sports. The Mink Equal Opportunity in Education Act – popularly known as “Title IX” – was passed in 1972, and it wasn’t until 1975 that the U.S. Department of Health, Education and Welfare issued regulations on enforcement. Varsity girls’ high school sports in Minnesota didn’t become widespread until the mid-to-late 1970s.
The immediate backdrop for the creation of the 212 Conference was the end of World War II. The late 1940s were a period of unbridled optimism in Minnesota and the rest of the country. Members of the armed forces came home with a desire to get a job, resume family life, or start a family. Those on the home front looked forward to the end of shortages, caused by rationing and the diversion of production resources to the war effort. The economy was good, and folks had money to spend on consumer goods – and on recreational activities.
There was an increased appetite for high school sports, as well. The Minnesota State High School League reported a steady increase in participation in high schools, as well as a dramatic increase in fan interest. The League encouraged schools to get organized into leagues or conferences to give schools and students the opportunity to compete for conference championships as well as in district, regional, and state tournaments.
Enrollments were increasing, too. City coffers swelled with money from the booming economy, and local school boards were beginning to plan for new athletic facilities, agriculture classrooms and shops, home economics classrooms, and other career-oriented activities. Summer recreation programs were established, as well as adult night classes, and junior high school activities.
Thanks to the G.I. Bill, new teachers and coaches were graduating from colleges. Most of the coaches hired by the local school districts were veterans, and ex-high school and college athletes. As the demand from successful and well-organized programs increased, many teachers and coaches were encouraged to attend summer coaching classes and clinics that were being offered at many colleges around the state.
In the late 1940s, many of the gymnasiums in Minnesota high schools were in out-dated structures, with not enough seating capacity for the ever-increasing number of fans. In fact, only a few high schools in each district could hold the number of fans interested in watching the big tournament games. Many district and regional playoff games had to be moved to nearby college facilities.
In the early 1950s, Brownton, Hector, Danube, and Renville built new gymnasiums to handle the crowd demands. Stewart added a new gymnasium in 1965, Sacred Heart in 1967, and Bird Island in 1969. For some big games in the early 1950s, fans had to arrive for the B-squad games in order to get a seat for the varsity game. Rivalries such as the Danube/Renville or Sacred Heart/Renville basketball games could be sold out by 5:30 PM.
Football fields in all the schools in the 212 Conference were located at the local baseball fields. Some of these fields were owned by the schools, and some by the cities. By the early 1950s, every school except Stewart had a lighted field. Sacred Heart, Renville, Bird Island, Hector, and Brownton had well-lit fields that were suited for night baseball and football, while Danube and Buffalo Lake had lighted fields suitable for football only. Stewart went without lights until 1970.
Football play in the conference began in the fall of 1947. All teams were required to play six-man football. By the fall of 1952 the conference decided to move up to eight-man football. Most teams in the state by now were playing the eight-man or eleven-man game. Very few teams continued with the six-man game. After two years, the conference moved up to eleven-man football. (Stewart, Brownton, and Buffalo Lake moved down to nine-man football when they joined the Circle 8 Conference in the early 1980s.)
Early in the conference history, a round-robin schedule could not be played as prior contract obligations had to be fulfilled. Thus, in 1948, Hector went 6-0 in the conference, while Bird Island was 5-0. Hector was awarded the championship.
Basketball began in the winter of 1947-1948. Again, because of prior contracts, a complete round-robin schedule was not possible. The 1954-1955 season was the first with a full fourteen-game schedule.
Conference play in baseball began in the spring of 1952. The teams played an East/West format, with the championship game between the two to decide the conference championship. That format lasted until 1961, when the league expanded to a full round-robin schedule. The conference first elected an all-conference team in 1974. Several teams in the conference had competitive baseball programs well before 1952. Some schools had baseball teams in the 1930s, too, but only competed in a few games and the district tournament.
The first conference track meet was held in 1952 at the Renville County Fairgrounds in Bird Island. Bird Island hosted the meet until 1955, when it was moved to Glencoe. In 1965, Buffalo Lake built a new track and the meet was held there until 1972, when the meet was moved to the new all-weather track at Winthrop High School.
Wrestling got its start in the winter of 1958-59 when Stewart and Brownton added wrestling to their athletic programs. Hector and Buffalo Lake started their programs in 1956 but only wrestled larger schools and in the district tournament. Bird Island and Sacred Heart started their programs in 1961-62. Renville and Danube added wrestling in 1964-65. The first conference wrestling tournament was held in the winter of 1960 at Hector High School.
Junior High sports were always part of the 212 Conference. In most years, the East and West Champions would play off for the conference championship in football and basketball. In 1972 junior high activities were expanded to full schedules in all sports, with various tournaments and conference track meets.
The 212 Conference Basketball Jamboree was started in the winter of 1960 and was held every year, with the exception of 1962. It was viewed as a great fundraiser for the conference and a showcase for the up-coming season. The jamboree rotated to sites with enough capacity to hold the crowds that attended the event. The first jamboree was played at Renville High School for the 1960-61 season. The schools from the Eastern half of the conference played the schools from the Western half and the total score from all games would decide the winner.
There were proposals to expand the league throughout the years. As early as 1954, Olivia, Norwood, Lester Prairie and Silver Lake applied for membership. The conference would have split up into east and west halves with Sacred Heart. Renville, Danube, Olivia, Bird Island and Hector in the west, and Norwood, Lester Prairie, Silver Lake, Brownton, Stewart and Buffalo Lake in the east. The motion was voted down 6-2. In 1958, Olivia again asked for admittance and was voted down with a controversial 5-3 vote. In 1960 Clara City lost their bid to join the 212 Conference. The conference stayed intact until 1974 when dwindling school enrollments and the merging of school districts began taking over rural high school activities.
In the fall of 1968, the Tomahawk Conference, which was located just south of the 212 Conference, asked for a season ending playoff championship football game. In 1970, the Cro-Hawk Conference, located just north of the 212 Conference, also asked for a conference playoff game. In both situations, 212 Conference officials voted it down.
At this point in time the Minnesota Football Coaches Association and the Minnesota State High School League were encouraging conference playoffs in football. The idea was to make a trial run at post-season football. If there was an interest in these play-off games and fans would attend these events, the MSHL would consider initiating a playoff system that would eventually lead to a state championship for multiple classes. In 1972 MSHL developed a class system that would lead to a State Championship. Renville, which won the 212 Conference, and Gaylord, which won the Tomahawk Conference, met in the semi-final round at Redwood Falls. Gaylord went on to win the Class C State Championship.
Throughout the history of the 212 Conference, several teams and individuals have won district and region championships. Six basketball teams have won Region 3 titles -- Renville in 1954, 1971 and 1972; Brownton in 1958; and Danube in 1961 and 1962. In track, Larry Good of Danube placed 2nd in the 440 yard run in 1954 at the state meet. In 1960, Ed Roepke of Buffalo Lake placed 4th in 180 yard low hurdles. In 1962, Gary Meier of Stewart placed 3rd in the 120 yard high hurdles. In 1971, Billy Schmidt of Renville High School won the conference’s first State Championship in the 138 pound class in wrestling.
What's in the Name? Back To Top
The “212 Conference” name was an obvious choice, since all the schools were along US Highway 212, but it also had some historical significance. The modern US 212 runs roughly along the route of the old Yellowstone Trail in Minnesota.
The automobile was becoming very popular back in 1912 when the Yellowstone Trail was first discussed, but the lack of decent all-weather roads made intercity travel difficult. The Yellowstone Trail Association was soon organized as a grassroots organization. Local citizens, businesses, towns, and other organizations paid dues to join the association, which in turn lobbied for road building, printed brochures, and promoted tourism along the route. The Yellowstone Trail became the first transcontinental northern highway in the country, running from Massachusetts to Washington. Many towns along the “trail” were like Hector, where a campground was set up in the village park in 1921, complete with water, toilets, tables, electric lights, and places for cooking.
In 1926, the United States Highway system was created, resulting in the numbering of roads with national significance. US 12 became a major highway, and ran from the Twin Cities to Willmar and into South Dakota. From Ortonville to the West Coast, US 12 essentially followed the old Yellowstone Trail. In Minnesota, though, the roads along the old Yellowstone Trail lost their status and became part of State Trunk Highway 12.
US 212 was originally designated as a spur of US 12, and entered Minnesota from Watertown, South Dakota, running east through Dawson and Montevideo, and terminating in Willmar. By 1934, US 212 was redesignated to follow its present-day route, tracing the old Yellowstone Trail through Brownton, Stewart, Buffalo Lake, Hector, Bird Island, Danube, Renville, and Sacred Heart -- the members of the 212 Conference when it was formed in 1947.
Notes on Sources Back To Top
The 212 Conference had a lot of good things going for it. One thing it didn’t have, unfortunately, was an official statistician – there is no official record, for teams or individuals. The data in this Web site was compiled after countless hours of reading microfilm records in the local newspapers of the eight teams in the conference from 1947 to 1974. By the late 1950s, the microfilm records of the Willmar West Central Minnesota Tribune and the New Ulm Daily Journal proved valuable. In the early years, it was not always possible to find individual scoring records. Indeed, it was sometimes difficult to determine the final score of a game. Some of the data was dug out of scrapbooks graciously loaned to me during my research.
Most of the photos on the site were scanned from newspaper clippings and school yearbooks. When I was lucky, someone may have provided an actual photo from an old scrapbook.
The data is only as good as its source. I welcome corrections and additions from readers. Please send them to me at the e-mail address on the home page.
Please send me any photos you may have, as well, especially if they look better than the ones shown on the site. I’d welcome any photo taken during 212 Conference competition, or team photos, or individual photos. This Web site is a work in progress.
Thanks to the many individuals who helped me in my quest. There are too many to count or list, and I couldn’t have done it without the support given to me by former 212 Conference fans and athletes.
Ty Wacker, Stewart Class of 1962
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