Jerry Dalen admits he was blessed to play on a number of all-time St. James athletic teams.
The multi-sport star was an instrumental part of St. James athletics’ success in the early 1970s, as evidenced by his 13 varsity letters earned across four different sports.
Dalen started on the undefeated state champion basketball team in 1972.
To get to the state tournament, that St. James team had to get by Luverne, and almost saw their undefeated season dashed just four games short of their ultimate goal.
With St. James and Luverne locked in a defensive battle at 41, Dalen made two crucial plays to give the Saints the edge. An assist to Jeff Nessler put St. James up by two with under a minute later. Nessler and Dalen teamed up to force a Luverne turnover to help salt the game away, sending the Saints to the class A state tournament.
“I remember St. Paul Murray was a very tall team,” remembers Dalen. “They went 6’6”, 6’6” and 6’7” in the frontcourt.”
The undersized yet scrappy Saints clawed their way to a 57-51 victory and moved easily past Red Wing 82-57.
In the state championship, the Saints polished off their undefeated season with a thrilling win against Melrose, with Nessler hitting a 40-foot shot at the buzzer to capture the state title.
“A lot of people didn’t think we deserved to be there with the larger schools so we showed up with a chip on our shoulder,” said Dalen. “We took pride in what we did.”
In his senior season on the diamond, St. James had graduated many key players from the year before, and the red and black were written off early in the year.
“There was no discussion of us winning the conference in the preseason,” said Dalen. “We had graduated a lot of players from the year before, and it was me and Bob Rinne returning.”
The upstart Saints ran through the South Central Conference, polishing off a perfect in-conference record with some heroics from Dalen and Rinne.
With the score tied at 2-2 in the bottom of the 14th, the two stars were set to lead off the inning.
“We called each other ‘brother’ back then,” said Dalen. “Before I got into the batter's box I turned to him and said ‘okay brother, you’re going to hit me in.’”
Dalen promptly led the inning off with a double to left-center, setting the stage for Rinne, who came through, driving in Dalen to cap off a 6-0 season within the conference.
Perhaps Dalen’s strongest sport was golf, where he lettered six times for St. James. Dalen qualified for state three separate times, finishing fourth as a junior.
In his junior year, Dalen shot a first-round 35 (+1), but a storm stopped play, and officials announced the whole tournament would be started over.
“I was upset because I was up after the first round.” Dalen then went out and shot a 31 and a 32, good for a -5 tournament. “I guess it worked out in my favor,” said Dalen with a laugh.
Even with his success with golf, Dalen chose the baseball diamond to continue his career in athletics, playing at St. Olaf, capturing a conference championship in 1976.
Dalen also played against Paul Molitor while he was at the University of Minnesota.
Dalen returned to the greens, coaching 39 years of high school golf, and being inducted into the Golf Coaches Hall of Fame. Throughout his coaching career, Dalen noticed many changes in athletes.
“When I was going up we just played wherever,” said Dalen. “Now, it’s all weekend tournaments. We would play anywhere we could. We had an alfalfa field we would play with a chicken wire fence.”
Whether playing or coaching, Dalen always seemed to have the advantage to his counterparts.
The keys to his success?
“Preparation and practice.”