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ONLINE EXTRA: One magical season for Drayton Legion

North Dakota has seen no other team like it -- ever Fifty years ago, in August 1958, the state's attention turned not to weather, crops, cattle or politics, but to a group of youngsters from Drayton, population 825, who captured the imagination a...

North Dakota has seen no other team like it -- ever

Fifty years ago, in August 1958, the state's attention turned not to weather, crops, cattle or politics, but to a group of youngsters from Drayton, population 825, who captured the imagination and support of the entire region by winning baseball games and titles.

Drayton defeated teams from the state's largest cities and advanced to the national Junior American Legion tournament, playing and defeating teams from even larger cities.

That year, Drayton's Legion team, lodged in the Class B category because of the town's size, challenged into Class A, earning a berth in the Legion's Eastern Division playoff by beating Wahpeton, 17-1 and 14-2. Drayton then won the Eastern Division with victories over highly touted Fargo and a solid Jamestown team. Tournament host Grand Forks, victimized by Drayton twice during the season, was the fourth entrant.

Drayton came from behind to beat Williston 5-3 in the state opener, then settled down to top tournament host Jamestown 9-6 and 14-2, claiming the North Dakota Class A title, the first Class B team to challenge into the elite field and win.


The team from the little town in the northeastern Red River Valley became both the "Cinderella team" for its unlikely adventure against the state's premier teams and "North Dakota's team" for commanding the attention of the state's media and drawing fans from every corner of the state when it went on as one of only 16 teams from across the nation to compete in the national Legion playdown.

A successful Class B team, Drayton's odyssey actually began that spring when it won the state high school tournament with almost the same players who would suit up for the Legion squad. By the end of the summer, 28 games later, Drayton was the Eastern Division and state Class A champion, as well as Legion Region 9 winner over titleholders from South Dakota, Minnesota and Wisconsin. Playing in Bismarck, Drayton beat the Minneapolis Grain Exchange once and Sioux Falls, S.D., twice to win the regional crown, the first time since 1940 that a North Dakota team had advanced beyond the regionals.

"It was unheard of for a North Dakota team, let alone a Class B team from a tiny rural town, to win this prestigious tournament," said Drayton pitcher-first baseman Doug Halcrow, now a businessman in California. "Fans from all over the state thronged to the Bismarck ballpark to support us. It was said that these were the biggest crowds ever in Bismarck, even bigger than when Satchel Paige pitched for the Barons before World War II."

Drayton then lost twice at the sectional tournament in Hobart, Okla. (once to the eventual national champion Cincinnati, after leading most of the game), but a 25-5 record made the club one of the most successful ever in the state. The team, wrote Abe Winter in a 1993 Bismarck Tribune article, "was the Cinderella story of that decade and, perhaps, the history of the sport in North Dakota."

There has been no story like it on the state's ledgers before or since. The team's victorious journey electrified North Dakota fans. Each victory -- and even the two defeats in Oklahoma -- commanded front-page headlines in daily newspapers. Radio covered their games. A national sports journal published an article. Columnists wrote of the team's gentlemanliness when it shopped on Main Street in their towns. Sportswriters said Drayton was a Class A team from a Class B town. Even baseball scouts chimed in, noting the boys "knew how to put their uniforms on."

Then-governor John Davis proclaimed Drayton the "Legion Baseball Capital of North Dakota" when the team was on the field in Bismarck. He attended a banquet that fall honoring team members in Drayton. Community organizations from other Red River Valley towns feted the boys. North Dakota's members of The Associated Press selected the team as 1958's state sports story of the year. The AP also picked Dick Davison, the team's coach, as the state coach of the year, having led both the Drayton High Bombers and the Legion nine to multiple titles.

Drayton teams played at the Class A level into the 1960s, winning the state crown again in 1962, the only other time in state history that a Class B challenger has dominated the field. The 1962 version was runner-up in the Eastern Division and faltered in the regionals, however. Drayton's high school teams won six straight titles beginning in 1958, establishing a 73-1 record while setting a state standard for consecutive championships.

"People always ask how we got so good," says center fielder Dick Johnson, a retired editor who lives in Denver. "I'd say we had an intensity for the sport stemming from a number of conditions. First of all, baseball was king in Drayton before we were born. A lot of our relatives and neighbors had played on town teams before us. Growing up, we played ball as soon as the snow melted -- morning, noon and evening -- in backyards, old Victory gardens, fallow fields on the edge of town, and at the city park. Any more than three kids and we'd get a game going. Two, we'd play catch or hit fungos. I had a private, miniature ballpark laid out in my folks' back lot, for instance.


"We were always considered classy because we were particular how we looked and acted. The scouts were right," he says. "We read baseball magazines all winter long, collected baseball cards, went to Chiefs games in Grand Forks and saw how the minor leaguers acted, and watched good players on older teams to see what they did. There weren't many diversions in those days: TV was in its infancy, the roads were bad so you couldn't get out of town, the town had no swimming pool, and we had an organized baseball program from the time I was in first or second grade."

Johnson goes on to say, "Plus, nobody moved. Everybody on the team was born in North Dakota except for Jim Stennes and me. We were born in Roseau, Minn., and my parents moved to Drayton when I was 18 months old. Jim came when he was a bit older. So, all of us played together from peewee ball on, and it wasn't long before each of us ended up in a position in the field that we were best at. I started out as a second baseman in midget baseball but made three errors in the top of the first one time and next thing I knew I was in the outfield, which I loved and it was where I played for the rest of my career.

"One thing that separated us from most other teams of that time was that we were all business on the field," Johnson says. "Davison was a great baseball man and his word was law. We had no holler guys, no hotdogs, no jokers and no bench jockeys. We didn't rag teammates or guys on the other team. We wouldn't have dared to bait umpires. Each of us had jobs to do. The regulars had to get ready to play a ball game and the subs, the younger guys we called 'rookies,' had to take care of the equipment, warm guys up, hit fungos, mind the dugout, and occasionally coach first base. There was nothing rag-tag about Drayton baseball."

The standing-room-only crowds that cheered Drayton in the Grand Forks, Jamestown and Bismarck tournaments weren't unusual when the team played. At home, "everybody came to games," Davison told Winter in 1993. "It was amazing how many fans we'd get in such a small community." Davison, who lives in Bismarck, is the retired associate commissioner of the State Board of Higher Education. He notes that like in Drayton, fans on the road heavily supported the team because many of them were Draytonians. The town was almost deserted when the team had away games.

Johnson says, "As far as the town goes, it was small but it really was Class A, too. We had total support of our parents, the bosses where some players had jobs always let us off for practice and games, both local businessmen and Legion post veterans were behind the team, the facilities were adequate, and the fans were, well, fantastic."

In Drayton, as Winter described, fans who couldn't find a seat in the park's limited bleachers would stand, sit on fenders or ring the field in their vehicles. There was no outfield fence.

"One time I hit a ball into the cars in right, and the umpire didn't know what to do, so he made me bat again," Johnson said. "We won over a lot of fans outside of town, too. I think we got their attention after we beat Fargo, then the fans went nuts in Jamestown and Bismarck. I could hear those cheers for years."

The remarkable Drayton team averaged 15.7 years of age. "We had a lot of good players," Johnson told Winter, "and a couple of spots where kids filled in."


Like in left field, where Frank Brosseau, 14, and Dixon Halcrow, 13, rotated. Brosseau later pitched at the University of Minnesota, had a cup of coffee with the Pirates and spent nearly a decade in the Pittsburgh organization.

"He didn't pitch for us that year because he was too young," Davison said.

Brosseau and many of his teammates played at the collegiate level or beyond. Tom Knoff toiled in the Yankee chain and catcher Mike Halcrow played in the Northern League. Knoff, Doug Halcrow and Bill Brosseau, Frank's older brother, were Drayton's mound corps.

Bill Brosseau, Johnson, shortstop Myron Albrecht, second baseman Ray Long and utility-man Jim Knoff played together at UND. Doug Halcrow earned honors at Mayville State. Right fielder Cy Gerou's diamond career ended after the 1959 high school baseball season. Dixon Halcrow played on the freshman team at Minnesota.

A look at the team members:


* Coach Dick Davison and his wife Marilyn had their own 50th anniversary last year. They were married in 1957 during Dick's first year on the Drayton High School faculty. His curveball when he pitched at Mayville State determined that he should seek a career off the mound. Davison earned master's and doctorate degrees at UND and was an assistant professor at Kansas State. He retired after 20 years as associate commissioner of the State Board of Higher Education and presently serves on the N.D. state parole board.

* Manager Darrel Volmers was a businessman who lived in Bismarck until his accidental death in 2002. Volmers was one of eight classmates of the 21-member Drayton High School class of 1959 who later paired off in marriage.



* Second baseman Ray Long was a scrappy fielder. He is a retired high school teacher and coach who lives in Moorhead, Minn. He taught in Minnesota schools for 33 years. His leisure-time diversion is ushering at Fargo-Moorhead Redhawk games.

* Shortstop Myron Albrecht is a retired retail store manager. He was twice listed as all-conference at UND and was a co-captain in 1964. The basement of his home in Salina, Kan., is filled with museum-quality sports memorabilia, representing Drayton, college and professional athletics. He is the team's chief baseball historian.

* Center fielder Dick Johnson is a retired editor who lives in Denver. He once owned the weekly newspaper in Cooperstown, N.Y., and played some form of organized baseball until he was 54. A naval officer during the Vietnam War era, Johnson is remodeling a mountain cabin and takes landscape photographs.

* Pitcher-first baseman Doug Halcrow is a software developer in the Bay Area. He travels to car races across the country and manages rental property in Phoenix. Halcrow played both baseball and basketball at Mayville State. He was inducted into the school's hall of fame in 1991 and again in 2007 when his entire 1962 college basketball team was selected.

* Catcher Mike Halcrow played two seasons at Minnesota and later with the Grand Forks Chiefs, then with a Cleveland franchise. An Army veteran, he is a retired pastor in Los Angeles.

* Pitcher-first baseman Tom Knoff lives on a farm near Drayton. He was signed by the Yankees out of high school in 1959 and spent two seasons in the minors.

* Third baseman-pitcher Bill Brosseau is a retired U.S. Department of Agriculture executive who lives in Kansas City. Bill starred on the mound in Drayton's pivotal game, the 5-3 victory over favored Fargo in the 1958 Eastern Division tournament. He also bunted in the winning run. He and Albrecht were co-captains of UND's 1964 baseball team. Bill was an Army officer during the Vietnam War era.


* Right fielder Cy Gerou left the game after his senior year in 1959. He was a field supervisor for the Morrison-Knutson corporation. He died in 2002 after a lengthy illness.

* Left fielder Dixon Halcrow was in the Army from 1968-71. Dixon retired after 37 years in the food-service industry. He lives in Reno, Nev.

* Left fielder Frank Brosseau later starred on Drayton teams and was signed by Pittsburgh out of Minnesota, where he played on the 1964 NCAA champions. He was an all-Big 10 outfielder in 1966. A retired banker, Frank and his wife Dawn live in the Twin Cities area.


* Pete Halcrow, batboy, is an Arizona State graduate who is an aeronautical engineer at Boeing. He and wife Carol live in the Seattle area. Halcrow played freshman ball at ASU and was an officer in the Navy.

* Jim Knoff, utility infielder, Tom's brother, is a credit union executive in Tucson. Jim was on UND's team in 1964.

* Jim Brosseau, outfield, a cousin of Bill and Frank, is a physician in Grand Forks and is medical director of Altru Clinic. He is a UND graduate and attended medical school at Min-nesota. Jim served in the U.S. Public Health Service early in his career.

* Jim Stennes, utility outfielder, is a retired funeral home director who lives in the Twin Cities area.


* Mickey Gerou, pitcher-outfield, Cy's brother, served in the Navy and died in 1963 when his plane went down at sea.

* Mac Halcrow, backup catcher, and his cousin Dixon were on every one of Drayton's championship teams. He played at UND and spent 20 years as an Army officer before retiring. Mac served in Vietnam during the war. He has a grown daughter.


The author of this article is a former Drayton player.

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