The 1978 Season

Central-East was a great basketball rivalry. It wasn't the longest Duluth basketball rivalry though, that would belong to Central-Cathedral. That one started when both schools were in the same neighborhood on the hillside. The Central-East rivalry probably did start out hotly contested, since the 1950 Central state championship team had some players that lived within the future East district. East began as a high school in 1951, surprisingly it only took the eastside Cakes five years to finally beat the Trojans from the hillside, by one point in 1956.

By the 60's with both schools fielding competitive squads a Central-East contest was the place to be. East though never reached the pinnacle of a state tournament appearance, while Coach Hastings racked up his fifth appearance by 1977. The 1978 squad appeared destined to be his sixth.

A lot of great games were played between the two teams in the 60's and into the 70's but after a lull in the 70's the rivalry sprang back to life. During the 1977 season, Central and East played two close contests in front of standing room only crowds at Romano Gym on the UMD campus, one a triple overtime thriller. An ill advised technical foul called on Cake student manager Richard Larson and a missed free throw late in the game by Doug Moe did not help the East cause. The '77 Trojans went on to place second at State losing to a strong Prior Lake team in a close contest. Throughout that season both Duluth squads were ranked in the AP top ten.

In 1978 the rivalry remained intense, in fact the regular season finale was held at the Duluth Arena due to the overflow crowd of the first game at UMD. Central returned two all-state starters from their second place squad and East fielded a team with three seniors and no returning starters from that highly ranked squad the previous year. One of the seniors on the East team was Bruce Taylor, he transferred from Central. Bruce is the brother of Central star guard Paul Taylor who as a junior set a state tournament record making nine out of nine shot attempts from the field (No three pointers in 1971. That Central team took home a state championship and the A/AA championship finishing with only one loss that year.) Bruce was not on the 1977 state tourney team. Bruce transferred to East for his senior season, by doing so he became the first African-American to play and start for the Cakes from the eastside. While he took some good natured ribbing by former teammates and friends, Brucie stood tall, played hard and left everything he had on the floor. With his athleticism, skill set and the hard-nosed defense learned while at Central, Bruce Taylor greatly contributed to the success East had that season, although the Cakes did fall short in the Sub-Regions losing to Hibbing in the opening round. Bruce's disappointment in that loss that ended his short Cake career showed in the school yearbook:

           "Despite losing by only a point I really can't say that I was satisfied with our finish. Some
            people say good things end too soon. I think that comment reflected on our team." Bruce  
           William Taylor 1960-2016, regarding East's Sub-Region loss to Hibbing 47-46. Season stats
           are not available but Bruce Taylor did score 25 points in a romp over Superior during the     
           1978 campaign.
Bruce William Taylor


We pick up the season in the middle of December: Both squads were in the AP State Poll. Central, undefeated and ranked No. 1 and East, while receiving a single first place vote did not crack the top ten, was also undefeated at the time with a 7-0 record. Coach St. John bemused in the sports pages that even though he lost all five starters from the previous season the Cakes had so much depth he didn't know who he was going to start.

In the run up to the first Central-East tilt, Central faced Cloquet. Cloquet's coach Jerry Erickson was quoted in the sports pages that "Central has basketball players" and Cloquet "has athletes". His take of course was that on his basketball team there were some kids that played football in the fall and that it takes time to adjust to basketball, while claiming that Jim Hasting's kids play basketball exclusively year round. Well, yes sir Mr. Erickson you were probably right about your team but I know that not all Central basketball players only played basketball, but if it makes you feel better, then you go ahead and think that way. My own experience against Cloquet was in 1976, we split our two games with them and they tied with the Cakes and Rockne Johnson for first place of the Lake Superior Conference and I believe it was also the year that numerous opposing players were injured.

As it turns out that tilt started out interesting as the Basketball Players from Central were called for numerous fouls on Cloquet's home court and even though Central's starting guards collectively had 6 fouls before the first quarter ended, Troy prevailed that close encounter with athleticism and defeated the Lumberboys by 23 points. It was that close because Mark Krzenski scored 13 of his 21 points while the game wasn't moving. For crying out loud Allan Potter scored 20 points. No offense to Jerry Erickson and his excuse machine but maybe he should have been coaching some basketball instead of crying because the Central kids practice more.

Heading into the first Central-East game, The Crystal Ball, a bunch of local sports dudes picking weekly winners and losers, picked the Trojans to win unanimously.

On game day, the sports page led with the Central-East story. Apparently the two teams shared the Romano gym for a pre-game shoot around. Jim Gobel, Duluth sports writer, then decided to go with the friendly rivalry approach for his take on the game and then added that the "East-Central game has been played hundreds of times before . . " I think Jim needed to check his facts. The reality is by 1977 there were only about 52 regular season games played between the two teams. In his story he talked about the good natured verbal exchanges during the shoot around.

The first Central-East contest for the 1978 campaign was played at a packed Romano Gym. I was there, sitting with the Cakes, in enemy territory, rooting for the Trojans and also rooting for my good friend Bruce Taylor. I brought my camera. While in the stands I shot one roll of film. Back in those days I developed my own film and printed only the good shots. At the time I only found one "good" shot but what I didn't realize then is that I captured 30 + historic snapshots. Well, historic in the sense that Brucie is a Cake playing against his former teammates for the first time.

I can't say I know exactly when I met Bruce Taylor, but it would have been when we were in grade school and most probably at the Washington Junior gymnasium. His brother Paul was a coach in the summer league (Paul taught me to shoot) and it would have been there I would meet Bruce (and his brothers David, Eddie and Terry). Bruce and I will forever be eternally connected because my mother taught his second grade class at Franklin Elementary school and it must be pointed out that he never, ever, ever let me forget that. My mom also taught his brother Terry the next year.

Bruce and I both went through our own trials and tribulations as basketball players under Jim Hastings at Central and for one season we played intramural basketball. We were proud of that fact that no team in our school could beat us, in fact we beat teams when we were short-handed. Even though it was intramural we felt we were the third best team in the city that year. When our intramural team received recognition during a school assembly at the end of the year, we borrowed the blazers from the varsity basketball team and made a huge entrance. Needless to say Jim Hasting and his staff were not pleased.

The 1977 Duluth Central intramural champions.
L to r: Bruce Taylor, Larry Lodmell, TBA, Frank Johnson
Scott Grew, Kent Roman & Shawn Hollis

The starting line ups:
Central Trojans: Greg Downing 33, Keith Baker 25, Michael Coleman 35, Alan Potter 53 and Mark Hall 31

East: Mark Hansen 42, Jim Hunstad 20, Brian Hansen 22, Marv Huffman 44 and Bruce Taylor 30.
Click here to see photos from the game.
The crowd was announced at 3,800 but according to the newspaper the ever vigilant Duluth Police turned folks away because of safety regulations. St. John quipped after the game, "if that is the number one team in the state, then we aren't that far off." St. John pointed out that Central stalled the game most of the 3rd and 4th quarters trying to add credence to his statement. So give East coach Irv St. John credit where credit is due, he found his moral victory. His team had Central's star guard Mark Hall nursing 3 fouls after the 5:25 mark of the third quarter and Hastings apparently not really understanding basketball nearly as well as his Cakeside counterpart decided that since the Cakes wanted to sit back in a zone defense and stand there like toy soldiers mainly because they couldn't keep up with the superior team speed of the Trojans, Hastings said hold the ball. So actually Central let East dictate the pace of the game. Now since I was there in person I do recall East actually getting the ball on a number of occasions but the funny part about basketball is victories are made when you out-score the opponent, it's hard to score if you don't have the ball Irv and it's hard to win when you have the ball, but fail to get it to drop through the nets.

By the end of the first quarter the Cakes were up 16-12, but Central took control of the game in the second quarter out scoring the Cakes 28-13. Brian Hansen did his best at the end of the game by hitting some late shots. Greg Downing did blow a showtime dunk. But in the end all that matters is the victory. Hastings didn't take the win well, he pointed out Greg's miss and also mentioned that Keith Baker threw up a prayer "that went in with a little help from above". It went in coach, it went in. And while St. John was basking in his moral victory he should have been looking at the 8 free throws his team missed and the extra possession he gave Central; late in the game Mark Hansen hacked Mark Hall for his fifth foul. Irv St John cried so much he got a technical. I didn't go to basketball coaching school Irv, but that is a foul shot plus the ball for the No. 1 ranked team in the state. Was that really the best plan for your team?

It should be pointed out that Central missed 10 free throws that game. Bottom line: Cakes lose by 4. Mark Hall played a game worthy of being called All-State, his line: 7 8-8 22. Cake sophomore Brian Hansen also scored 22.
The Hack

Moving past East, Central beat a spunky Proctor team 88-59. Greg Downing had 23 points and 13 boards. Keith Baker also kicked in 19 points.

Cloquet came to Central's home court for their second meeting. Coach Erickson's athletes took it to the ballers on top of the hill and actually held a lead at halftime 39-33. It's not a good idea to be losing on our home court. No worries, after some halftime corrections in the locker-room, Central went on a 23-6 run in the third quarter against the foul prone athletes from Cloquet. Referring to the third quarter, Erickson said his athletes were "standing around". Seems odd because basketball like most sports is a game that requires athletic movement. It's too bad for Erickson to because Central shot poorly that game, Mark and Greg combined 9 of 30 shooting mostly from the outside. That seems like a lot of rebounding opportunities for those athletes from Cloquet. Steals and standing around rule this game, Cloquet loses and Central gains a least a share of the Lake Superior Conference championship.

Heading into the season finale Bruce Bennet, long time Duluth sports columnist, talked to Hastings and St. John about the rivalry. Bennett says the Central-East basketball rivalry is getting Duluthians excited just like when Denfeld-Central football games were thrillers and East-Cathedral went at each other on the hockey rink in the 60's. Bruce Bennett said the thing that makes this rivalry so great is the excellence in the quality of basketball played. Mr. Bennett you were 100% correct. Basketball was excellent back then. For the Central players a lot had to do with what Jerry Erickson pointed to, and that is dedication. Great Central teams had players that stepped up and dedicated themselves to the game, their teammates and to the school. The feeder program also helped. Although not organized like modern AAU type leagues, in the Central area the elementary schools matched up for games without keeping standings, although there must have been some bragging rights going on. There was the Gray-Y program with Dale Stocke, who also coached the vaunted Emerson group led by the Hall brothers (Tony & Mark and 1977 triple overtime hero Lee Kohl ). Hastings held Saturday camps. The Washington Junior summer league was where Bobby Kunze and the other coaches would stack the teams and put weaker players with Buck Easterling. Buck's teams usually won. And there was the Catholic League, by far, at the time, the premiere basketball league for 5-6 graders. Plus there was the Presbyterian League but that ran during the junior high season so you couldn't play in both. The 1977, 78 and 79 Central teams had numerous players that came up through the Catholic League.

Heading into the season finale Hastings talked about being "better" than last time and "playing harder". St. John pointed out they were playing the No. 1 team. They are going to be "seeing what they can do against a No. 1 . . ." and then noted he was pretty "pleased the first time . . ". I don't know if Irv remembers but Central beat East in the first game. St. John then pointed out that if you took away some of Central's baskets in the first game, East would have scored more. Yes Irv and if you put a piece of plywood over the rim - nobody would score. Bruce Bennett says the line-ups match up size wise with Downing having a couple inch advantage over Bruce Taylor but noted that Taylor has "good spring". St John also bragged about not being afraid to play some of his bench players. Tickets for the game were $1 for students and $2 for adults.

"Troy, East 'ready' for THE game", was the game day headline and Irv St. John was showing off his confidence after crushing a pathetic Denfeld team by 26 points a couple of days earlier adding that to his moral victory against Central in the first meeting, and said "if East can beat Cloquet twice just like Central did, well then, anything can happen".


On February 8 at the Duluth Arena playing in a state tournament type atmosphere the Duluth Central Trojans put the big hurt on the eastside Cakes and finished their regular season undefeated. The 1968 Central squad was the last city team to go into regions undefeated. And before that, the 1961 Central Trojans, regarded as one of the best teams ever, they not only finished the regular season undefeated but won the State Championship as well.

The Trojans jumped out to a 14-6 first quarter lead and didn't look back too much after that. It was 31-18 at halftime. The Cakes did get the lead whittled down to 6 at one point in the fourth quarter but Keith Baker countered with two 15-footers, East was behind 8 with 4:38 to play but would only get one more basket and that by bench player Dave Stromme with about a minute left. Greg scored 22, Mark 19 and Keith 14, East countered with 14 points from Bruce Taylor. Brian Hansen was ejected from the game. Irv St. John summed up the loss saying, "We didn't play nearly as well as in the first game" - a loss - "this was our first bad game," said the coach of his 15-3 team. The eastside Cakes will meet Hibbing in the Sub-Regions and Central will face-off against Proctor. Final score Central 70 Cakes 50, it should be noted that East outscored Central by two in the third quarter to win that quarter.

Gary Derong of the News Tribune sports writing team was harsh, he called the Cakes performance a "bust". His first dig was East's shooting, then he pointed out the hype, No. 1 in the state, out-right Lake Superior Conference title at stake, 5,227 in attendance and all that jazz . . . "This wasn't our game . . ." St. John lamented. Derong said, "if East has any outside shooters in the same league as Troy's deadly Mark Hall, they lost their uniforms to those masqueraders on the court who took themselves out of the game by shooting only 22 percent in the first half", ouch. Derong didn't write much about excellence in his column.
The Flop

"Were we confident? Very much so," chimed in Keith Baker. Coach Hastings noted that they took East out of their game with defense. Michael "Hollywood" Coleman, "I was stealing from everybody, Bruce and Brian . . .", Mike finished with 5 steals. Irv St. John did grab a moral victory from this game; they won the rebounding edge by a resounding 27 - 17 margin.

Note: Zach Taran threw out B. Hansen for throwing a punch at Keith. (It was probably misinterpreted, Keith and B were battling for position and it probably was not a deliberate punch.)

Hibbing in the meantime beat Cloquet. So if East can beat Cloquet and Hibbing can beat Cloquet and East . . . well I'm sure Irv St. John will figure it out.

Central was ranked number one in the final AP state poll. Troy still undefeated had 87 points and 6 first place votes to second place Bemidji led by big Jimmy Jensen (80-2)

The final Tribune Tri-State Area poll had Central remaining number one, as they had been for the entire season.

Rounding out the final poll:

2) Bemidji, 3) Orr, 4) Ashland, 5) East, 6) Bayfield, 7) Gilbert, 8) Bessemer, 9) Grand Rapids, 10) Morgan Park

Heading into tournament time Bruce Bennett sat down with former Central stand-out Rich Perkins. Rich played on Central's '77 state tournament team, Rich was one of four all-tournament selections that year. He was looking forward to his senior season but it worked out differently for Rich.

Rich transferred from Syracuse, New York heading into the '77 season. Rich thought he was going to enter school as a senior but it turned out academically he was a junior. Which would have given him two years of basketball eligibility, he thought. As it turned out Rich didn't find out until school started this year that he would not be eligible. Rich and his mother were represented by an attorney in an effort to get this decision changed. The State High School League said no. Rich is out.

Rich Perkins was a talented, strong, athletic basketball player. His presence on the '77 was much needed, in fact that team may not have reached the tourney without him. Had Rich been given the opportunity to play in his senior year and naturally if he remained healthy and injury free, that 1978 team probably would have cruised to a state championship - undefeated. When I had an opportunity to interview Coach Hastings in 2012, he lamented not making the state tournament that year, "basketball-wise, it was a down year". Hastings was confident had that team made the state tournament, with or without Rich Perkins, the championship was theirs to lose. Rich continued to work on his game and he had to send letters to recruiters because they all stopped calling since he wasn't on the team. He played for Clinton Brown's Baskets in the city rec league. Clinton Brown was the coach and Herman Easterling, father of Buck Easterling was the team sponsor. They played against teams like CZ Wilson and Beagle's Bikes.

Also in the Sunday Feb 12 Duluth News-Tribune was an article about 1977 team captain Melvin Lee "Buck" Easterling and his college teammate Silver Bay's Dave Trost. Buck and Dave played for Flip Saunders at Golden Valley Lutheran.


East-Hibbing, first round of the regions, Hibbing beat East earlier in the year but Coach St John pointed out his team was struggling with the flu. Well then coach, this time around should be different. As it turns out it was, this game was closer. In the third quarter East appeared to have momentum and the game under control when a foul call made St. John use a time-out. During that time-out he spent it talking to the referee, while the Hibbing coach, coached his team. Hibbing scored the next 12 points. Mark Hansen oddly enough fouled a Hibbing player late in the game when the score was tied 44 all. One free throw was made and then it was up to East. Dave Stomme airmailed a 20 footer that Bruce Taylor scooped up for a basket. Cakes up by one only to lose by one. Bruce finished the game with 11 points. Seasons over for East.

Central stomps Proctor. One man wrecking crew Greg Downing scores 43. Greg scored the first 10 points and 18 of his teams first 21. Central needed Greg's 18 for 24 performance because the rest of the team was shooting darts and finished the night combining for a dreadful 8 for 29 from the field. "He's probably the best basketball player that's been around for a while," noted Rails Coach Dick Saarela, "and he's back next year." Next up: Cloquet.

The third meeting of the year for the men of Troy versus the "Athletes" of Cloquet ended the same as the previous two, Central wins 71-54. In this game Mark Hall did the dazzling, while Greg scored 43 points in the previous game against Proctor, against Cloquet Mark got his socks back from Greg and completed a reversal from the previous game - Mark scored 30 points. Seems that Greg was missing some socks for the Proctor game and borrowed some from Mark, "He's got my socks and I want them back", said Hall after the Proctor game. Without Hall's socks Greg still managed to score 24 points. Early foul problems plagued Troy with Hall and Keith Baker hacking their way to 3 fouls apiece by halftime. But in the second half Mark destroyed Cloquet with a series of drives right up the gut of the athletes defense. About Mark: Coach Hastings said, "We want him to challenge, his coming from two to 30 points is great. We have to have that. We have to get that scoring from our guard spots. Our guards have been getting 25-30 points a ball game." After losing, Jerry Erickson summed it up, "I don't know if we could have played much better." Mark twisted a knee late in the game. Keith Baker fouled out. Up next: Hibbing at the Duluth Arena.

Central and Hibbing met earlier in the season. Central's bus broke down on the way to the game and they arrived almost two hours late. Central won that meeting. The second time around the Trojans only had to make it down the hill to the arena on time, with or without a bus. This game started on time and Troy played the way Coach Hastings likes, near perfection, Greg scored 14 of his 22 points in the first half as Central built an 18 point lead with Greg hitting shots at the buzzer in both quarters. Early in the game Greg also converted a steal into a slam dunk in front of the 4,163 fans at the Arena. Hibbing Coach Gary Addington, "They have such tremendous quickness. They scored at the buzzer all four quarters, that's tough to deal with psychologically." Hall was hampered by the knee injury he sustained against Cloquet and sat out much of the fourth quarter. Final score: Central 58 Hibbing 44. Cambridge beat Grand Rapids in the other match up at the Arena setting up the 7AA championship.


Central went into the 7AA championship game at the Duluth Arena undefeated and ranked No. 1 all year in the polls. Central opened the game missing their first 7 shots. Central's lack of size caught up with them this time around with Cambridge nabbing 31 rebounds to Troy's 19. Central trailed early 13-6 and 21-16 but tied the game up at halftime 28 all. Cambridge took a 3 point lead heading into the final quarter. Early in the 4th with Cambridge leading they proceeded to turn the ball over 9 straight times - Central did not cash in on any of those turnovers. 6' 9" Paul Mickelson led Cambridge with 19 points and Joe Barnes scored eleven of his points at the free throw line. With four and a half minutes remaining Cambridge held a 7 point lead. The closest Central got was when Mark scored to make the game 59-56. Another basketball and some Cambridge free throws, Barnes made 8 in the 4th, made the final score Cambridge 62 Central 58. "I'm glad it's over," said Joe Barnes, "I knew it was going to be tough. They have a great ball club." "Basketball is two seasons," lamented Hastings, "we won the first , but we lost the second. I'm sure they will be richer for it. But it was a burning defeat."

The lines: Central 24 10-15 58, Cambridge 20 22-29 62. Mark Hall finished his career with a 22 point effort. Greg Downing scored 12 in the loss. Al Potter was held without a field goal, Keith and Michael combined for 15 points.

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