Remembering the Edinburg Spartans of ‘88
Spartans to mark 25th anniversary of state title
EDINBURG – John Evenson was proud to be an Edinburg Scottie when he graduated from Edinburg High School in l949.
He was a teacher and administrator at Edinburg High School for 35 years and still lives there today.
In all that time, he’s never seen anything quite like the Edinburg Spartans boys’ basketball team of 1987-1988 and the magical season they and their fans enjoyed.
“It was unbelievable as far as the excitement was concerned,” Evenson said. “It was a highlight of my teaching career. It was always something I dreamed of, but never thought it would happen.”
The Edinburg Spartans captured the imagination of North Dakota Class B basketball fans defeating all comers in the 1997-1998 season, although their official season record indicates one loss.
That “loss” came against the Midway Monarchs. Although the Spartans handily won the game on the court 114-41, Spartans’ coach Bill Uscensky used an illegal substitution when he played a student who had already played too many quarters in junior varsity.
According to Cory Laxdal, a forward on the team and current Drayton-Valley-Edinburg boys’ basketball coach, the mistake came in an effort to not run up the score.
The seeds for Edinburg’s championship season were sewn the year before when the heavily favored Spartans were defeated in the Region 3 championship game in Grafton by a hot-shooting Starkweather team.
“They shot 3-pointers just like they were layups,” Evenson said. “Our team just couldn’t contend with that.”
That loss proved to be the catalyst that would drive the Spartans in the following year.
During home games, the Edinburg gym was always packed to capacity. As principal, Evenson was on hand to make sure everyone got a chance to see the games.
A cable was even put into the lunchroom so spectators could watch the games. It wasn’t only the Edinburg faithful that came to see the games, but fans throughout northeast North Dakota wanted to see what the Spartans were all about as well.
“I was always trying to hunt and find a place for people to sit or even to stand,” Evenson said. “It was a lot of fun.”
Unquestionably the leader of the team was Scott Guldseth the 6-foot-4 ½ center-forward. Guldseth was a shoo-in for the 1988 Mr. Basketball award. Following his high school career, Guldseth spent a short time with the LSU Tigers Division I basketball program, but transferred to UND where he became the all-time leading scorer for the Fighting Sioux.
Guldseth finished the ‘87-’88 season averaging 28.5 points, 11.4 rebounds, 4 steals and 4 blocked shots per game.
Guldseths’s talent was so evident that he drew coaches from far and wide including Clem Haskins of the University of Minnesota, Dale Brown of LSU and Dave Gunther the head coach at UND.
Other key members of the Spartans championship team that played in all 27 games included James Johannesson, Corey Johnson, Cory Laxdal, Eric Gudmundson and Keith Gudmundson. During the course of the regular season the impressive Spartans averaged 84.5 points per game while allowing an average of 55.8 points.
“They were a solid team,” former Walsh County Record Sports Editor Darrell Deutz remembers, “Scott (was by far the best player in the state and he just gave the rest of the team the edge they needed.”
“Everyone had a role on the team and they played it to a ‘T’,” Laxdal said.
“We had the talent to do a lot of things,” said Larry Larson, who was the assistant coach in 1988. “We played good defense, we had good ball handlers, we could shoot the three’s and we played a good half-court game.”
After running the table during the regular season, the Spartans defeated Minto in the semifinals of the District 9 tournament in Park River and followed it up the next night by beating Park River-Pisek 81-52 in the district championship game.
The stage then moved to the Grafton High School gym for the Region 3 tournament.
The Valley-St. Thomas Blue Knights were the team that played the Spartans closest during the regular season, but they were no match for Edinburg in the opening round, falling 85-54.
Guldseth helped the Spartans overcome some early jitters by scoring 34 points, pulling down 15 rebounds and blocking six shots.
“We played them the closest of anyone all year, but after that it got progressively worse,” remembers John Oistad, former Valley-St. Thomas assistant coach and current superintendent at Valley-Edinburg.
Edinburg throttled the Rock Lake Aces in the semifinals 82-53 and equally laid waste to the Park River-Pisek Aggies in the championship game 87-43 to earn their first state tournament berth since 1953, when the Edinburg Scotties were a Class C team.
Although coach Uscensky asked fans not to host a reception for the team, when the Spartans, with region trophy in hand arrived home, they were met at the door of the high school by more than 300 admiring fans.
The celebration lasted so long that a half-day holiday was declared the following day.
“It was something,” Evenson said. “People just hung around and talked about the season and the game. It really was a festive atmosphere.”
According to Evenson, the support from the community was overwhelming. The Citizen’s State Bank of Edinburg donated $1,000 and more than $2,700 in donations came in from other private sources.
There was enough money that the school chartered a greyhound bus to send the team to the state tournament in Bismarck in style.
In addition to the 23-1 Spartans, the state tournament field included the Glen Ullin Rattlers (22-2), Strasburg Clippers (20-4), Crosby-Divide County Maroons (20-3), Kenmare-Donnybrook Honkers (24-0), Hankinson Pirates (20-3), Carrington Cardinals (22-2) and Hillsboro Burros (21-1).
In the first game, Edinburg faced perennial power Hillsboro and crafty head coach Ed Beyer.
There was speculation far and wide that Beyer had some master plan for the Spartans’ demise, but it never materialized.
In the end led by Guldseth’s 25 points, the Spartans managed a 55-42 win, prompting Beyer to call Edinburg “The best team I’ve seen all year.”
By all accounts, Edinburg’s game against Hankinson in the semifinals was the most competitive of the tournament.
Hankinson coach Bruce Stein stuck with the Pirates patented man-to-man defense and hoped to get Guldseth in foul trouble. Instead the future Mr. Basketball tallied 43 points, just short of the state tournament record and the Spartans pulled out a 79-71 win.
“At halftime he basically said, guys, give me the ball, they can’t stop me,” Laxdal remembers.
By the account of Deutz, it wasn’t all Guldseth in the semifinals.
“It was Eric and Keith Gudmundson penetrating Hankinson’s defense and passing off to their big center. James Johannesson also had five assists in the game,” he wrote in his account.
In the title contest the following night, the Divide County Maroons became the final team to fall to Edinburg 64-55, completing the Spartan’s championship season.
As the game drew to a close, the more than 7,000 fans at the Bismarck Civic Center counted down the final seconds.
“Finally the horn sounded and all the Edinburg fans ran onto the floor,” Evenson said. “That’s a sight I’ll never forget.”
An overwhelming caravan stretching more than 11-miles long escorted the team back to town the next day, ending at the Edinburg High School gym for another hometown celebration including a potluck dinner, speeches and revelry.
Prior to the tournament many folks in North Dakota were heard to say, “Where is Edinburg?” But after the magical 1987-1988 season, Class B fans in North Dakota would never forget the tiny town of Edinburg in Western Walsh County.