Golf: The trailblazers from 50 years ago
Dennis Marolt admitted he was a screw-off during his teen years and Lee Uglem joked Marolt probably should have been in jail. But as the lone senior on a ragtag team of underclassmen, he helped lead the Crosby-Ironton Rangers to the school's firs...
Dennis Marolt admitted he was a screw-off during his teen years and Lee Uglem joked Marolt probably should have been in jail.
But as the lone senior on a ragtag team of underclassmen, he helped lead the Crosby-Ironton Rangers to the school's first District 24 golf championship in 1968 at what is now Madden's Pine Beach East Course in East Gull Lake.
Fifty years later, playing in the Ranger Classic Golf Tournament Aug. 3 at their old stomping groups of Cuyuna Rolling Hills, the group of Marolt, Uglem, Frank Zima, Greg Peterson and Rich Aulie remembered their improbable round of golf.
"It was pretty amazing that we pulled it off at the end because I don't think we won any of our meets," Zima said. "We didn't finish in first place, but we played the District at Madden's and Denny, I think shot a 78 and Lee and I both shot 76s and then one of the other guys shot a fairly decent score to win the district."
In fact, C-I finished fourth in a stacked Mid-Minn Conference. Little Falls won the conference title followed by Wadena, Brainerd, C-I, Staples and Aitkin. But on that one day, this self-described group of misfits made history.
They fired a team score of 230 followed by Wadena with a 233, Little Falls 235 and Brainerd 236. Pillager freshman Bill Harris fired a 69 for the individual title.
"Probably finish middle of the pack," Marolt said of the team's expectations. "We were all pretty loose for sure and we played a lot of practice rounds prior to the day. I was talking to Frank and I remember we were just out there as loose as could be having a good time.
"We posted some good scores. Pappas was so happy. He was ecstatic. He couldn't believe it."
Pappas was head coach Jon Pappas, who didn't know much about golf, but created a good team atmosphere that was perfect for the '68 team.
"I remember we were the last group and I had to make a bogey or better for us to win," Uglem said. "I stuck my 8-iron tight in there and made the putt for par. Pappas just went nuts. He was crazy. That was my best score for about a month."
Aulie believes the team's good fortune was a product of a practice round the night before.
"I remember we had practice out at Cuyuna Country Club and we would usually practice for a couple of hours and everybody would go their separate ways," Aulie said. "I remember the night before, everyone was just focused on their game and we kept practicing until dark. My mom or my dad had to come pick us up and give a bunch of us a ride home. I could just tell the guys were focused.
"Then the day of the meet, we would get in the car and we would be joking around and stuff, but one of the guys brought a golf magazine with and nobody ever did that before. They were showing us an article they read in the golf magazine and we just had a different kind of focus that day."
Marolt was the only senior. Zima and Peterson were juniors and Uglem and Aulie were freshmen, who just started playing golf their seventh-grade season because there wasn't going to be a baseball team for seventh-graders. Also on the team, but not at the Ranger Classic was sophomore Brian Maalis
"We were a pretty young team," Peterson said. "We were kind of just learning the game. Coach Pappas was our coach. He was a great mentor to us. He really was. There was ability there and sometimes it came out and sometimes it didn't.
"I know the expectations weren't really high, but we were all pretty good athletes. It just worked out. It was pretty cool and as you get older it becomes even cooler."
While it was the first district title for C-I, it helped set up a pipeline of future quality teams in Ranger history. C-I's only Minnesota State High School League state title is in boys golf in 1996. The head coach of that team was Rich Aulie, who still coaches for C-I.
"I always had a lot of good coaches at C-I and one thing I learned from coach Pappas was he always seemed to make things fun," Aulie said. "That's one thing I tried to carry with me throughout my coaching career. I always told my kids that if it's not fun you should probably find something else to do."
Marolt, who recalled playing with guys like Ken Thomas from Little Falls and Glen Hasselberg from Staples, said winning that district title was a big deal because it was the first golf trophy in C-I's trophy case.
"I was the only senior, which to me was pretty darn special," Marolt said. "The big thing is we were just loose. We were out there having a good time and we really didn't care. Toward the end, I'm playing 18 and if I par the hole I shoot in the 70s. I remember it was a par 3 on the backside and I chipped and putted for a 78.
"Rich was the young guy, but he was the best golfer. There was no doubt about it. Maybe not that year, but ultimately he was hands down the best. But that year, one day I could be the medalist. The next day, Peterson was medalist and the next day, Frank. It just rotated around. We didn't do so well in the Mid-Minn, but it was so sweet for districts."
For the Mid-Minn season Peterson had the team's best average at 43.7 for nine holes. He was followed by Zima 44.8, Aulie at 45, Marolt 45.6, Maalis 48.5 and Uglem 51.
The group gets together every once in awhile and Aulie brings the '68 trophy out so the group can marvel at their miraculous accomplishment.
"We just had fun," Zima said. "We were just a bunch of guys who had a lot of fun together, driving to golf meets and laughing. We played the best we could, but I think we had low expectations for the season, but just got hot on that one day."
Uglem called it a hoot saying the team was laughing all the time. The team camaraderie was special and having Pappas as the coach was perfect he said.
"It was a lot of fun for me," Peterson said. "I just enjoyed the heck out of it. I started playing on the varsity when I was in seventh grade. We were a really young team and we had a lot of fun and we had a lot of success, too."