The Community and Fan Support
The support the Mineral High School Leopards basketball team received from its community was something that movies are made about. It was said that everyone hoped there would not be fire during game time, both home and away. In either instance there would be no one to report it and certainly no one to put it out! The cozy home gymnasium was packed to the rafters for every home game allowing little or no room for the visiting team’s fans. This helped the Leopards win nearly 70% of their home games from 1939-61.
Away games were like the scene from the movie “Hoosiers”. Twyla (Ulrich) Odagaard (1942) recalls the entire student body (39 students) riding on the school bus to away games. Coach Jochums and the basketball team (all 15 boys) were seated in the front seats to stay warm for the game (so much for chivalry – it was basketball season!). It was remembered by all of the alumni that nearly everyone in town who was going to the game would line up in their cars behind the school bus and follow the bus to the opposing team’s gym. Many of the players gained great inspiration from the sight of the long line of headlights following them in support. Many fans were not unlike those of today, having unique superstitions. Betty (Sierens) Lorenson remembers her father always wearing his “lucky sweater” to all the games to help bring the Leopards good luck.
The ride home was usually happy but not always. Ula Morey remembers several of the adults would stop at a local restaurant on the way home to “either celebrate the victory or drown our sorrows”. “Either way,” she says “we had a lot of fun.” Ula was known by nearly every player from the time period covered. She lived directly across the street from the school and rarely (if ever) missed a Mineral Leopard basketball game. Sitting in the same seat for every home game Ula’s voice carried very well and was always in support of the Leopards. In fact, Ula resided at the same house until her death in August of 2004 at the age of 92.
Except for the 1949 – 50 and 1950 – 51 seasons, the annual Homecoming celebration for the students, alumni, and fans took place each year during basketball season. The Leopards’ would compete in a “second team” game followed by a much anticipated “first team” game. After the game the players would change into their suits and ties and return from the locker room for the dance and crowning of the King and Queen. The annual “Basketball Banquet” was a well attended and supported event, all the way through the final year. Pictures in the yearbooks show the entire gym floor covered with tables and chairs. Anywhere from 175 to 250 people would attend the dinner and awards presentation program. One year the guest speaker was Dwight Eddleman. The support for this event shows the compassion the residents of Mineral had for their Leopards.
If you were ever in the Mineral School building you can relate to the electric atmosphere the gymnasium produced. One can imagine getting dressed in the locker room before the game time. As the second team game ended how exciting it must have been to scurry down the stairs and appear suddenly from underneath the balcony at the end of the court. To hear the cheers of the hometown crowd and to know that you were representing the pride of 300-plus people had to have been very inspiring. What a great home court advantage the gym produced. I would liken the uniqueness of the MHS gym to that of the Boston Garden. Although this is quite a dramatic comparison I am sure more than one coach from the area dreaded the thought of tackling the Leopards on their home court. To say the people of Mineral loved their Leopards would be truly a huge understatement. Many newspaper articles commented on the huge throng of Mineral fans attending the big games. The town’s total population was under 300 people (the newspaper articles of the early 1940’s list Mineral’s population as 265). Even if the surrounding farms were included it can be presumed the number of people calling Mineral their home to be under 350. Mineral residents loved their school and lived for the basketball season. This is true even today. When you talk to those who lived through those times it is evident it was a very magical time. Some are still a little bitter over the closing of the school in 1961. However, as long as there are Mineral High School alumni the MHS school spirit will never die.