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Alumni of all ages invited to re-ignite longtime Nevis-Akeley basketball rivalry

"Coach" Nels Kramer is hoping to entice Akeley alumnus who migrated to Park Rapids after graduation. The 1951-52 season players included, front, from left, Ray Benson, Rod Karl, Lee Hinds, Glen Stiffler and Melvin Modahl, middle, Rod Vik, Jim May, Walter Modahl, William Leeseberg, Jerry Bixby and Gene Chase, back, coach Lyn Sycks, Orville Staffenhagen, Larry Axelson, Louis Karl, Don Geiger, Dale Moore, Don May and manager Ken Chase. (Submitted photo)

Former Nevis basketball coach Craig Stanwick recalls arriving in Akeley with his team for a game in '67, his first against the Anglers.

"The tickets were sold out by 6 p.m.," he said.

The games, he'd soon learn, drew standing room only crowds in the schools' small original gyms.

The matches spurred a rivalry spanning decades.

Friday night at 7:30 the

dueling dribblers will be back on the Nevis court, alumni from both schools - of all ages - invited to share memories and basketball skills.

"Anybody with tennis shoes can play," said Nels Kramer, who'll be coaching the former Basketeers (the team name up until 1947) and Anglers.

But playing is not required.

"This is more about getting people together to remember the old times and the games," Kramer said.

The only criterion is dress code-related: Anglers wear white, Tigers green.

"We'll be making up the rules as we go,' he said, pulling a player making too many points, for example. The ball must precede the defense at the centerline.

"Akeley has always been a city that celebrates a team that wins," Kramer said of horns honking, handkerchiefs waving as the fans departed games of yore. "It doesn't take losses easy."

He estimates the Anglers triumphed in 75 to 80 percent of the games against the Tigers. (Stanwick, who will be coaching the Nevis team Friday, calculates that to be a 50-50 draw.)

"And that was back when basketball was real," Kramer said. "You won or you were done." Akeley - boys and girls - sent "good, solid teams" out on the court. He recalls a girls "powerhouse team" in the '70s and boys winning consistently at the district level.

In 1909, prior to the state high school league determining rules, Akeley's boys and girls teams had difficulty finding opponents because of their dominance on the court, he said.

"In Akeley, basketball was as important as food," Kramer said.

"The rivalries between the boys and the girls teams made it fun to cover," former Enterprise sports editor Mike Gravdahl, said of games in the 1970s and '80s.

"The gym was packed," he recalled. "The players and the coaches were excellent. Every time a shot was made, the gym exploded in noise - from one side or the other. There were so many outstanding players it's tough to name them all.

"It was pure basketball," he said.

Kramer's archives include copies of the Akeley Herald-Tribune, the top story on the front pages recounting the fierce fights on the gym floor.

"Akeley defeats Nevis 41 to 34 in a Hot Game," the headlines proclaimed in February 1946. Akeley topped Nevis by two points in a 1947 game. "Anglers Come Back to Take 54-34 Nevis Win" the paper reported in 1948.

(The same edition bemoaned the village's "vanishing youth," asking via headline: Will Akeley die?"

"When Akeley's youth walk out the door after graduation, they walk out of Akeley!" the newspaper stated. Three recent graduates were bound for Park Rapids "which is incidentally taking a goodly number of our residents - both youth and adults. And doing a lot of our business...")

Now Kramer is hoping to turn the tide, to lure Akeley alumni who migrated west - and call Park Rapids home - back to their basketball roots.

Meanwhile, Stanwick has been recruiting players, including John Smith and Bob Lindow - and sons Brent, Andy and Matt. Barry Munson is expected appear as are Jeremy Anderson and Eric Wolff. Stanwick is hoping son Chad will also return for a court battle.

Female hoopsters may join the shenanigans.

The bullhorn will sound at 7 p.m. Tickets are $2.

Cheerleaders are welcome. "But they must be an alum and able to stand on their own," Kramer joked.

"I've been to a lot of ball games," Kramer said. "I think this will be one of the better ones."