Growing up in Valley City in the mid-to-late-90s, Hi-Liner basketball was life and names like Hurlimann, Coles, Aeilts, Thornton, Brand, Keller and Boschee were legendary, even though they likely sat behind you in study hall or were finishing up their math homework along the locker bank next to you before class. Sure, being a smaller market squad, much like the Minnesota Twins, our team came up short of going all the way to the state title during my four years as a vocal member of the infamous Rat Pack (the “cheering” section which often found itself banned from games by school administrators) but those gritty scraps with rivals like West Fargo, Jamestown and Wahpeton on Tuesdays and Fridays, top finishes in the EDC tournament and two trips to the state tourney (and a third which I flew home for from college in Florida, my freshman year) made each winter indelible in my memory, and made me love those days even more.
For those of us who bled Columbia blue and lived to read the weekly standings in the Times-Record and watch 10:25pm highlights on KTHI, no other basketball periodical was so well known as The Hoopster, particularly in those pre-internet days. If you had to make a comparison to deer hunting, The Hoopster was the Farmer’s Almanac, a moon calendar, last season’s lottery results, Boone and Crockett records and OnX maps all rolled into one for North Dakota high school basketball. Created by Don Hanson, it was THE authority on what was to come and a review of where the teams sat after the previous season and remains so to this day. It was obviously a lot of work to create, and its depth made it a joy to read and have at an arm’s length for ND high school basketball fans.
With Hanson’s passing in 2018, I began to think of the fond days of reviewing our rival teams set out in the Hoopster, checking out the career scoring records that we all wanted Jeff Boschee to break, and figuring out who would likely take home the state title that year. I then began to bounce the idea off of friends and family: what if we did a Hoopster for North Dakota hunting? It would be something that captured the excitement of last year, but also – like many of Hanson’s predictions contained in his annual tome – would help set the stage for the upcoming season. By fate, I bumped into Amy Wobbema, publisher of the New Rockford Transcript, at a newspaper association meeting with some experience in such periodicals and received the reinforcement from a publication point of view that I needed, and we were off.
As we finalize all of the great stories about North Dakota hunters and their adventures and prepare our predictions for the upcoming bow, rifle and muzzleloader seasons for mule and whitetail deer in the state, I tip my blaze orange cap to Mr. Hanson and his legacy that lives on in the Hoopster, now carried on by his son. You provided me with more than enough basketball-based distraction in math and English classes to make high school manageable, and the inspiration to add to North Dakota’s hunting to the end tables and waiting room reading racks, hopefully right alongside the Hoopster.
Featured Photo: YOUNG BUCK. The author recalls the influence of The Hoopster on his basketball fanaticism in his younger days and the impact it has had on putting together the Big Buck Book. Simonson Photo.