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'67 GF Legion team was one of a kind

The initials engraved on the rings given to the 1967 Grand Forks American Legion baseball team are faded, but still visible. The memories from that 1967 team may have faded a bit, too, but they're still there. And some of those memories resurface...

The initials engraved on the rings given to the 1967 Grand Forks American Legion baseball team are faded, but still visible.

The memories from that 1967 team may have faded a bit, too, but they're still there. And some of those memories resurfaced Thursday as the 1967 Grand Forks Legion team, which qualified for the American Legion World Series, held a reunion at Riverside Park.

Tonight at Jack Williams Stadium in Fargo, the 1967 Grand Forks team will be recognized for its accomplishments during the opening ceremonies of the American Legion World Series.

Grand Forks was the first North Dakota team to make the World Series in Legion baseball and also the first to win a game there.

Under coach Marv Skaar, Grand Forks cruised through the North Dakota Eastern Division tournament and the North Dakota state tournament.

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From there, the team went on to win the Region 6 tournament in Hastings, Neb., and without a break or a trip home, got on a plane for the World Series in Memphis, Tenn.

Meanwhile, the town of Grand Forks rallied behind its team.

"We had great support," Skaar said. "When we got to Memphis, we got over 400 telegrams wishing us success."

In their first game, the now-hometown heroes shut out Denver, Colo., 3-0, behind Gary Schuler's pitching.

Grand Forks lost the next two games and was sent home. But its success was not lost on the community.

"This was a huge deal in Grand Forks back then," Schuler said. "I still remember getting off the plane from Memphis, and all of the people at the airport . . ."

The town of Grand Forks put together quite a welcome home -- everybody from the mayor to Miss Grand Forks greeted them when the players landed. Later, the city held a banquet and awarded team members with World Series rings.

Tight-knit team

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The team, consisting of athletes from Red River, Central and St. James high schools, was dubbed the "Kiddie Corps" because the majority of players were 15- or 16-years old. They had a few 17-year-olds and one 18-year-old -- Schuler.

"It's unusual for one team to have that much talent," said right-fielder Ralph Schuler, who is Gary's younger brother. "We had substitute players sitting on the bench that could have started for any good team. It's kind of a rare thing to see that.

"The close-knitness of the group is what sticks out. During the school year we were competitors, playing against each other in basketball. We were a pretty cohesive group and a lot of that had to do with coach Skaar and his ability to bring out the best in all of us."

Ralph Schuler remembered playing basketball against third baseman Mike Montgomery, who went to a different high school. There was a lot of trash talk and a lot of pushing during basketball games, but "it was all forgotten once baseball season started."

Getting up to speed

Roughly 15 players from Grand Forks' best Legion team and their families reminisced about that landmark season during an afternoon picnic.

A lot of the members wondered where their former teammates were living and what they've been up to since their 1967 season.

But the most popular question began with, "Remember when . . . ?"

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First baseman Dick Newark traveled to Grand Forks from his home near Las Vegas for the event.

"I came to see everybody," Newark said. "There are so many things you go through in life that are influenced by the coaches you had when you were young.

"And at that time there were three high schools just getting along so well -- and not only for one year -- it was probably a stretch of six to eight years. You just don't see kids from different high schools respecting each other and getting along that well anymore."

That respect showed on the field as well -- Grand Forks won sportsmanship awards at the state tournament and at the regional as well.

"It was a good bunch of people to be around," Newark said. "Real good athletes -- and nobody demanded the spotlight."

A few of the members went on to play college baseball. Two signed major league contracts -- left-handed pitchers Billy Jackson (Oakland A's) and Bob Thompson (Cincinnati Reds).

Tonight's opening ceremonies will be held after the first game of the evening session, which starts at 5 p.m. The Grand Forks team will be recognized at the tournament that was a big highlight of their high school days.

"It's a great tribute to what the boys did," Skaar said.

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