The championship net has come home to Grand Forks Red River High School.
On Tuesday, Tom Gabrielsen showed up at the school with a basketball net from the 1969 North Dakota Class A boys high school basketball tournament. Red River won the championship, beating Grand Forks St. James 70-52 in the title game.
The net from that championship game arrived in the mail Monday at Gabrielsen’s home from Tom Pedersen, a senior player on that championship team.
“I didn’t know it was coming. I had no idea,’’ said Gabrielsen, an assistant coach on that team and a long-time coach and counselor at Red River. “I could feel something soft and spongy inside this big package. I was astonished when I opened it, saw the net and read the letter (Pedersen) sent.’’
Pedersen's letter explained the situation.
The 1969 state tournament was held at UND’s Hyslop Sports Center. The teams left the fieldhouse that night with the nets still hanging on the rims.
Unbeknownst to anyone, however, Pedersen returned to Hyslop the next day and, with the help of his father -- then-UND wrestling coach and assistant athletic director Harold Pedersen -- cut down the net on the side of the court where the Red River bench had been located.
“They wouldn’t let us cut it down after the game,’’ said the 68-year-old Pedersen, a retired teacher and coach now living in Helena, Mont. “There was no ladder. I don’t know if it was a liability thing or what, but we didn’t get to take the nets down.
“So the next morning, my dad and I went to the fieldhouse. My dad was OK with it. Nobody was there. Dad and I found a ladder, cut the net down and put another one up.’’
Pedersen’s plan was to return it to Red River High as a surprise during a team reunion. Instead, the basketball net sat in a box in storage at his home for decades, a forgotten piece of memorabilia.
He forgot to bring it back to earlier reunions. The team held a 50-year reunion last summer but Pedersen was unable to attend as his father was in hospice care.
Pedersen contacted Mark Hadlich, a student manager on the team who still lives in Grand Forks, and it was suggested that the net be sent to Gabrielsen. They didn’t have an address to send it to Ken Towers, the head coach of the 1968-69 championship team.
“I knew Gabe was still doing things at Red River,’’ Pedersen said. “I felt the best way to get it to Red River was to send it to him.’’
Gabrielsen took the net to Red River on Tuesday morning. After showing it to personnel in the school office, the net was taken to the trophy case where Gabrielsen draped it over the championship trophy.
“Everybody was surprised and really pleased to see that net and put it in the trophy case where it should have been placed many years ago,’’ Gabrielsen said. “It was a fun happening.’’
As for Pedersen, he hopes to soon visit Grand Forks, a place he hasn’t been in more than 30 years. And one of the stops will be at Red River to see the net and trophy reunited.
“That net belonged on the trophy,’’ Pedersen said. “I should have done it sooner.’’