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Spooner Sectional history told in new book

Ninety-plus schools; only one winner.

It was tough to get to Madison.

Schools from Superior, Eau Claire, Ashland and Rice Lake; as well as those from Iron Belt, Saxon, Westboro and Milltown, were grouped along with everyone else into a single tournament with only one team earning the right to represent northern Wisconsin at the state basketball tournament.

Their stories have now been told in a book by former Spooner teacher and coach Carlo Kumpula.

“When all Roads Led To Spooner” chronicles the first 29 years of the sectional, from 1943 through 1971, when there was just one tournament for all public schools.

“Every team’s goal was to play in Spooner, the site of the sectional tournament for nearly all of those years,” Kumpula said. “Then, with a little luck, maybe they could make it to state.”

Beginning in Spooner’s old gym, where legends like Nate DeLong, Bud Grant and Dick Axness took the floor, and dynasties from Hurley and Superior Central were born; to the building of historic Antholz Gymnasium where Rice Lake, Cumberland and Eau Claire Memorial led the way, the book covers the tournament’s history in detail.

“Spooner has such a rich heritage with respect to the sectional tournament,” stated Kumpula as his reason for writing the book. “People came from all over northern Wisconsin. Imagine crowds of up to 2,000 packing the old gym and nearly 4,000 in Antholz. It wasn’t just another tournament, it was the event each year in March.

“I wanted to preserve the historical record, but I also wanted to give readers a feel for the challenges faced by teams trying to get to the state tournament. You had to be the lone survivor out of every school from Eau Claire northward. In 29 years only 14 different schools made it.”

Superior’s teams played a big part in the history of the Spooner Sectional.

Superior Central made the sectional field in 1944 and 1950 and then won it in 1952, ’54, ’55, ’57, ’58, 59 and ’63. Superior East broke through for a sectional title in 1953 and Superior Senior High School won the consolation title in 1966 in addition to making the field in 1969 and 1970.

Other area teams involved were South Shore’s 1950 runner-up squad along with Northwestern’s sectional team of 1956.

While each year of the tournament is given full coverage, the book also includes chapters on the opposition that arose from some of the northern schools, the fire in the old gym, the building of legendary Antholz Gymnasium, and the story of a somewhat mysterious second sectional tournament that was played in Ashland in 1950.

“The games and players are certainly the focus,” Kumpula said. “But there’s a lot more to the story than just a ball and a basket.”

“When all Roads Led To Spooner” is available locally at Globe News in Superior. It is also available online at www.ashlandwihistory.com.

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