Grand Forks Legion baseball team recalls World Series trip of 50 years ago

When teammate after teammate walked into the Southgate Bar in Grand Forks on Saturday afternoon, some who hadn't seen each other since high school, Gary Olufson looked around and stated the obvious.

Members of the 1967 Grand Forks Legion baseball team had a 50-year reunion Saturday. The team advanced to the 1967 Legion World Series. From left, Billy Jackson, Ralph Schuler, Gary Schuler, Mark Morben, Mike Lundby, Gary Olufson, Bob Montgomery, Mike Montgomery and assistant coaches Rick Cornell and Rick Neameyer. Herald photo by Andrew Haffner.
Members of the 1967 Grand Forks Legion baseball team had a 50-year reunion Saturday. The team advanced to the 1967 Legion World Series. From left, Billy Jackson, Ralph Schuler, Gary Schuler, Mark Morben, Mike Lundby, Gary Olufson, Bob Montgomery, Mike Montgomery and assistant coaches Rick Cornell and Rick Neameyer. Herald photo by Andrew Haffner.

When teammate after teammate walked into the Southgate Bar in Grand Forks on Saturday afternoon, some who hadn't seen each other since high school, Gary Olufson looked around and stated the obvious.

"We got older," Olufson said with some fake confusion.

Fifty years older to be exact.

Fifty years ago, Grand Forks' American Legion baseball team went on a whirlwind trip from North Dakota to Nebraska to Memphis-a three-week swing that captivated the city and culminated in North Dakota's first appearance at the World Series since Legion ball started in 1928.

To understand how rare that is for Grand Forks, note that a local team has won just one state legion title in the past 45 years (1999) and the 1967 team not only won state but also a regional tournament and a game at the World Series.


Who were they?

The 1967 Grand Forks team became known as the Kiddie Corps, with just one 18-year-old.

Star pitcher Gary Schuler, a tall, skinny right-hander with glasses, was the only player in his last season of legion ball.

Schuler was a three-year legion veteran, although he missed most of 1966 with a broken arm. Despite the injury, Schuler went everywhere with the team, taking batting practice with one arm.

He returned in 1967 and the Herald jokingly tabbed him "graybeard." He was one of four quality throwers: lone lefty Billy Jackson and righties Schuler, Jon Tufte and Mark Morben.

Dick Newark, a powerful switch-hitter, was at first. Craig Skarperud was at second, Steve Phillips or Mike Montgomery at short, Olufson at third and Wade Jensen caught.

Bob Montgomery, Tufte and the Schuler brothers (Gary and Ralph) patrolled the outfield.

Rick Fee was a key sub, as well as Mike Lundby and Bill Palmiscno. Bob Thompson was called up from the Babe Ruth team before regionals when Vince Breyer died in a traffic accident.


The team was a near-even blend of players from Grand Forks Central and now-defunct Grand Forks St. James. Red River High School would open that fall.

"We all played basketball together," Jackson said. "We didn't like each other very well, St. James and Central. We were rivals, big time. It was amazing how well we adapted during baseball over the summer. It was like you turned on a switch."

The team was coached by Marv Skaar, who died in 2010. He was in his 11th season as Grand Forks' coach in 1967, and it was his last as he went on to coach basketball at Minnesota State Moorhead and North Dakota State.

"He was very tough," Jackson said. "I think we learned to appreciate him a lot more as we got older. He really taught the fundamentals."

Added Newark: "You probably always felt he wasn't going to get out-coached. We always had a feeling that we had the superior coach."

For all of its success, the 1967 team didn't have a home field. The city tore down Municipal Ballpark, which also housed the Grand Forks Chiefs minor league baseball team, in 1964-a setting near current-day Central Fire Station on DeMers Avenue.

So the Grand Forks club played games and practiced at Stauss Park in East Grand Forks.

How they got there


There was the district in Jamestown, the state tournament in Mandan, the regional in Hastings, Neb., and the World Series in Memphis, Tenn.

Before Grand Forks could get anywhere, though, it had to overcome nemesis Fargo in the state championship game.

"When we went to Memphis, most of the teams we played ... I thought Fargo's Legion was just as good," Newark said. "They were that good. For years, it was us and Fargo. They were loaded, too."

Grand Forks' team manager was Red Berg and Newark credits Berg for boosting the team's supplies after state.

"We had 12 bats in the bat rack just to make it look like we had 12 bats," Newark said. "We probably had three bats that weren't cracked. If it wasn't for Red Berg, we probably wouldn't have had bats or balls."

At the regional in Nebraska, Grand Forks first drew the host team Hastings, which wasn't the Nebraska state champion but proved to be a challenging foe nonetheless.

Schuler threw 10 innings of three-hit ball. He struck out seven and scored the winning run in a two-run 10th. He also had a run-scoring hit in the fourth.

"He was a win," Newark said of Schuler. "Plain and simple, it was a win. If you have a bell cow who can win that first game, you're in good shape. Then, you come back with undefeated Billy Jackson. You're in the driver's seat."


Trailing 3-2 in the 10th, Newark led off the inning with a double and stole third. Schuler walked. Newark would score on a wild pitch to tie the game and Olufson followed with a bunt that scored Schuler, who momentarily held at third but slid into home ahead of the throw.

After beating Hays, Kan., 6-4 in the second round of regionals, Grand Forks ran into its biggest challenge.

In the double-elimination tournament, Tulsa beat Grand Forks 16-2, scoring 12 in the top of the first. To add insult to injury, Olufson and Jensen went to the hospital for x-rays because Olufson took a ball to the face in the first inning and Jensen was on the losing end of a big collision with 6-foot-5, 210-pound John Watson at home plate in the fifth.

The rivalry with Winfield begins

With Olufson and Jensen out, Grand Forks moved Fee and Mike Montgomery into the lineup to face St. Paul, a team Grand Forks would match up with a few more times over the next few years.

The St. Paul team featured future Major League Baseball Hall of Famer Dave Winfield. In 1967, though, the 16-year-old Dave was overshadowed by his older brother Stephen.

Grand Forks would eliminate the Winfield brothers with a 9-3 victory. Dave was 0-for-4 against Schuler and batted eighth in the lineup.

Stephen Winfield hit leadoff and led St. Paul with a 3-for-5 showing at the plate.


In 1968, Dave Winfield would blossom into his tall frame. His St. Paul team knocked out Grand Forks in the regional in Williston, a loss Newark said is still tough to stomach because Grand Forks lost a late lead.

In 1967, though, Grand Forks' Mike Montgomery went 2-for-2 and scored four times, while Fee had three hits-one more than he had all season-including a two-run double in the seventh. He finished with four RBI.

Schuler, making his third appearance in the regional, struck out nine.

The win over St. Paul advanced Grand Forks to the championship game against Hastings, which had come all the way through the loser's bracket after the opening defeat and surprisingly knocked off Tulsa.

On Aug. 29, 1967, the words "Legion in World Series" splashed in bold, capital letters across the front page of the Herald.

Grand Forks had defeated Hastings 13-3 on a Monday night. Jackson stayed unbeaten in front of 3,051 fans cheering on the home team. Jackson went the distance, walked eight and struck out five.

The big show

En route to Memphis, most of the boys rode a plane for the first time in their lives.


"The first part of the ride was a puddle jumper from Hastings to Kansas City, and I got sick right after we took off," said Newark, who was 16 at the time. "I threw up on the plane."

The long trip had the football-playing baseball members starting to get a little nervous about their preparedness on the gridiron.

"We had Shanley the third game of the year, and we didn't get back from baseball until mid-week into the second week of the football season," Newark said. "Bob Montgomery and I were thinking we're never going to be ready for Shanley. In those days, Shanley was ripping off state title after state title."

Grand Forks started the World Series against Denver, a team that was 26-2.

"Everything was happening so quick," Jackson said. "We were wide-eyed. It was a good thing we had the oldest guy on the team pitching in that first game because he was always calmer than the rest of us."

Grand Forks won 3-0 behind a three-hit, six-strikeout shutout from Schuler, who also had two hits at the plate.

Grand Forks scored three runs in the first on four singles by Jackson, Skarperud, Newark and Schuler.

A lasting memory from the game was centered on Skaar, who told his team that Denver was going to throw its second-best pitcher and look past the young team from North Dakota.

It wasn't until mid-game that the Grand Forks boys realized Skaar's white lie and that Denver had thrown its ace. By that point, Grand Forks already led 3-0.

Skaar told the Herald at the time that his boys received more than 100 telegrams while in Memphis from supporters back in Grand Forks.

By the time the Grand Forks boys finally lost, a 6-2 setback to Tuscaloosa, Ala., to give Jackson his first pitching loss of the year, the Herald declared on Sept. 3: "Local 9 loses but are heroes."

A 7-1 loss to Wilmington, Del., the following day would end the Grand Forks season with a total of 50 wins. When the team arrived back in Grand Forks, hundreds met the team at the airport.

But before the team landed in Grand Forks, it had to stop in Fargo.

"The Fargo Legion guys got on the plane and patted us on the back," Newark said.

Where are they now?

Jackson went to Minot State for a little more than a year before signing a pro contract with the Kansas City Royals. He went on to pitch four seasons of pro baseball in the Kansas City and Detroit systems. He's lived in Winter Haven, Fla., for the past 42 years working for ABC Liquors.

Schuler went to UND on a basketball scholarship but played baseball for legendary coach Pinky Kraft. He then had a lengthy boys basketball coaching career at Fergus Falls and Warren-Alvarado-Oslo.

Newark played baseball at Mesa Junior College in Arizona and is now an attorney in Las Vegas.

Skarperud went to UND and scored more than 1,000 career points for the basketball team. He's a member of the UND Athletics Hall of Fame. He died of cancer in 1994.

Mike Montgomery became a youth pastor and lives in Fargo.

Bob Montgomery lives in Grand Forks and owns a bar.

Tufte is an accountant in Fargo.

Palmiscno lives in Grand Forks and is executive director of the Grand Forks Park District.

Jensen's family moved to Colorado and the team lost touch.

Phillips' dad worked at the Grand Forks Air Force Base and the team lost touch.

Lundby is a retired East Grand Forks teacher and coach.

Morben lives in Arizona.

Olufson lives in Osceola, Wis.

Ralph Schuler lives in Rapid City, S.D.

Thompson lives in Grand Forks

Miller has covered sports at the Grand Forks Herald since 2004 and was the state sportswriter of the year in 2019 and 2022.

His primary beat is UND football but also reports on a variety of UND sports and local preps.

He can be reached at (701) 780-1121, or on Twitter at @tommillergf.
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