The way we were…and are

4 Mar

Tonight the 1981 Austin Packers will have a reunion to celebrate the 30th anniversary of our trip to the state championship game. Here’s video of how we looked during team introductions before the game, and in the medal ceremony:

Here’s a recap of the season, and where we’ve been for the last three decades…a slightly expanded version of the program insert we’ll be distributing at the game tonight.

Update: See two different versions of the video from the halftime program by scrolling to the bottom of this post.

The 1980-81 Austin Packers boys basketball team was 18-0 in the regular season, and champions of the Big 9. In the region playoffs they defeated Farmington, Faribault, Northfield and Burnsville to become the 25th Austin team to play in the state tournament.

Their reward was a first-round matchup against Minneapolis North, the top-ranked defending state champs and winners of 41 straight games. The Packers were down by 7 at halftime, but rallied for a 56-48 win. In the state semifinals they faced Chaska, another undefeated team. Austin held a narrow lead for most of the game, with both teams shooting over 50 percent from the field, and hung on for a 57-52 win. In the finals the Packers had a 23-22 lead with three minutes left in the first half, but a 13-2 run by Anoka bridging the half created a hill too high to climb. The Packers pulled to within four several times, but could get no closer, and Anoka won it by a 61-53 margin.

The 80-81 team set a school record that still stands, with 24 wins in a row. The head coach was Howie Strey, assisted by Klem Haugen and B-squad coach Bill Lloyd. Howie’s son Jamie was a member of the team and couldn’t be here tonight, and so with Howie off vacationing until just yesterday, we’re letting Jamie’s greeting serve as Howie’s updated biography:

It was great to be a part of this basketball team; but, as I look back on it, I realize how lucky I was to have my dad, Howie, as my coach. Dad, you taught me a lot about athletics, coaching and life and you continue to do so! You are a great coach! My dad and my mom, JoAnn, continue to be loyal sports fans often traveling long distances switching team hats from Eastview to Burnsville to St. Peter to cheer on my kids and my brothers’ kids as they play baseball, basketball, soccer, football or whatever else they are doing. They have even learned to become great fans of hockey and dance team, too! You should have seen them cheering at the State Dance Team Tournament a couple of weeks ago – who would have guessed it! Thanks Dad and Mom – you’re the greatest!

And now, we’d like to introduce the members of the team, who returned to Austin tonight for their 30th Anniversary celebration. We’ll start with the seniors:

Lee Aase was a co-captain on the ’81 team. He played basketball at Waldorf College in Forest City, Iowa, where he met his bride of 26 years, Lisa. After graduating from Mankato State University with a degree in Political Science, Lee worked for 14 years in politics and government at the local, state and national levels. For nearly 11 years he has worked at Mayo Clinic, where he is now director of its Center for Social Media. Lee and Lisa live in Austin and have six children – three of whom have been or are Packer basketball players – and two grandchildren.

Jeff Haugen, also an ’81 co-captain, went on to play basketball at Austin Community College and then at St. Cloud State University. He graduated from St. Cloud State in 1987 and moved to Minneapolis and then on to Des Moines, Iowa. Jeff married Kelly John in 1997 and they currently live in Rockford, Illinois. They have two children, Ella and Iver. Jeff’s oldest daughter, Vanessa, lives in Rochester, Minnesota. Jeff’s dad, Klem Haugen, the assistant coach for the ’81 Packers, passed away in 2005 from colon cancer.

Bill Anderson played baseball for St. Cloud State, graduating in 1985. He has worked for Johnson Brothers for 25 years, and is now a vice president with the company. He lives in Inver Grove Heights and has been married for 17 years and has three kids ages 16, 14 and 12.

Randy Gabrielson is a graduate of the University of Minnesota and has been in Financial Services for over 25 years. He is a Senior Vice President with Allianz Life Insurance Company of North America. 
Randy and his wife Katey (Krebs), also an AHS graduate (1984), have been married for over 20 years and live in Stillwater, Minnesota.

Brian Jacobs graduated from St. Olaf College with a B.A. in Economics where he also was team captain and all-conference quarterback. He went on to obtain his M.B.A. from Drake University in Des Moines. Brian spent many years coaching youth baseball and football in Maple Grove. He is the president of Cornerstone Products International based in Minneapolis, a manufacturer of mechanical components and printed circuit boards. Brian will be celebrating 20 years of marriage to wife Diane this Fall and they have 2 children, Brady (age 17) who is a baseball player and quarterback at Maple Grove Senior High and Bridget (age 15) who is a Sprinter on the Track Team at Maple Grove. Brian is the son of Karen and Roger Jacobs, who is a retired AHS math teacher and was the official score keeper for Packer basketball for 25 years.

Pat Murphy graduated from Mankato State University with a degree in Mathematics and has worked at Hormel Foods Corporation for 25 years, and is currently the Quality Control Manager in Fremont, Nebraska. He is married to Nancy, and they have one daughter, Caitlan, who is a senior in high school.

Doug Nepp attended Macalester College where he was the captain of the football team. In 1988 he graduated cum laude from the University of Minnesota Law School. He has practiced law for the past 23 years and is a shareholder in the law firm of Nepp & Hackert in Minneapolis. Doug and his beautiful wife, Barbara Crist-Nepp, just celebrated 25 years of marriage in 2010. They live in Stillwater and have three children Ashley, Andrew and Austen.

Deryk Stilwell graduated from Minnesota State University at Mankato and moved to Los Angeles, California. He and his wife recently relocated to Knoxville Tennessee. In their spare time, they enjoy hiking, traveling, and golf. Deryk has been employed in the financial services industry for the past twenty-five years. Deryk wins the award for traveling the furthest to be part of our celebration tonight.

Jamie Strey has been teaching 6th grade and coaching in Rosemount for 25 years. He and his wife Kelly live in Burnsville and have three daughters and a son. No basketball players in the bunch, but Jamie does coach their other sports. Wisely, he leaves the hockey and dance coaching to someone more qualified!

The juniors on that 80-81 team earned a return trip to the state tournament the following year. They dropped a tough first-round rematch against Chaska, and went on to win the Consolation Championship.

So now, beginning with the three junior starters on ’81 team, here are the juniors returning for tonight’s reunion, who were all part of that ’82 tournament team too:

Bruce Anderson played basketball in college and earned Bachelor’s Degree from St. Cloud State and a Master’s degree from Mankato State. He has spent much of his career in geographic information systems and computer technology and is currently an information technology manager at OptumHealth. Bruce lives in Crystal, MN with wife Julie and kids Isabel (10) and Benjamin (9).

Steve Justice is married to Jane Upcraft. They’ve been residing back in Austin since 1998, where Steve operates a State Farm Insurance Agency. He’s a good neighbor. Or at least like one. Steve and Jane have three children: Nate, a University of Minnesota sophomore; Steph, an AHS sophomore, and Colie, who is 8. Steve still bleeds Red and White.

Joe Longueville went to the University of South Dakota and played football (with Rod Tweet). He played in the 1986 Division II national championship game (they lost to North Dakota State on ESPN). Joe worked for Hennepin County for 22 years in the Sheriff’s Office and as a Parole Officer and currently owns and operates an Anytime Fitness franchise in Eagan. Joe has been married to Jane for 17 years and they have three children: Quinn (12), Clare (8) and Zach (8). They live in Eagan.

Rob Hallum went to school at the University of Iowa, where he graduated in Mechanical Engineering, and has been in the commercial construction business since. Rob works for a construction company in Maple Grove, Minnesota. He is married to Sheila and has four kids: Joshua (12), Taylor (10), Jackson (8) and Elizabeth (7). The Hallums live in Eagan, where their two girls are in dance and my two boys play, of all things – hockey.

Rod Jensen married his college sweetheart, Lisa, 25 years ago this June. He has three children: twin daughters, both 17, and a son, 11. Rod attended St. Olaf College, then William Mitchell College of Law. His firm, Jensen, Mullen & McSweeney, is located in Bloomington, MN. Rod is very proud to have been an Austin Packer and part of the 1981 and 1982 State Tournament basketball teams!

Mike Pesonen earned his Bachelor’s and Masters degrees and works in technology supply chain/operations management. He has two sons, one in college and the other married, and spends his free time running, cycling, skiing, hiking and other outdoor activities.

Al Stevens manages the Royal Bar in Park Rapids, MN and lives there with his wife and four kids.

Here are greetings from some of the Packers who couldn’t make it back for the celebration:

Erv Retzlaff was the student manager for the ’81 team. He graduated from Winona State University with an Accounting Degree and Computer Science focus and was married in 1985. His early career took him from Kansas City, MO and Minot, ND to New York City working for Footlocker. He then worked for a decade with Watlow Electric Manufacturing, starting in Winona and then relocating to St. Louis. Since 1997 he has worked for Smurfit-Stone Container Corp which produces millions of cardboard boxes. Erv has three children Jenny 16, Jordie 17 and Andrew 21, all of whom are very good athletes, varsity winners in multiple sports.

Joel Rushton currently works for The Affiliated Group the past 15 years in the accounts receivables management. Supervision, Quality Assessment and Training are his primary duties. He’s been married 22 years (Sheila Walsh) and they have four children. Tyler (21) is a senior at UWL, Alyssa a sophomore at KCKCC in Kansas City, Ryan (18) is a senior and Katelyn (15) is a sophomore at John Marshall High School. Joel has enjoyed years of playing basketball, baseball, softball, coaching, watching the kids grow up and taking family vacations.

Go to PackerFastBreakClub.com to see video from the ’81 Packers’ tournament run, and to follow the 2011 Packers as they start their tournament play next week.

Update: Here’s the HD view of the halftime program, from the camera my daughter Rebekah was using to shoot the game. It’s edited for length:

Jed Falgren, a member of the ’82 state tournament team, was also on hand. He shot this video of the program from a lower angle with his Flip camera. It’s the unabridged version:

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One Response to “The way we were…and are”

  1. Vicki White Sell January 5, 2012 at 6:41 pm #

    Thanks for posting. Congrats Packers–you deserve the recognition!

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