It was the game that started it all for me. It was a game I didn’t even want to attend, but my father talked me into it. It turned out to be the athletic event that sparked my interest in high school sports.
It was the 1979 Twin Cities boys basketball championship between St. Paul Central and Minneapolis North, a game played on Saturday, February 16, at Macalester College. The TC game is played annually between the St. Paul City Conference and Minneapolis City Conference boys basketball champions.
The gymnasium was standing room only.
The game featured Central—led by coach Dan Brink—and North led by coach Tony Queen. It featured guards Brian Dungey, Davey Givens and Stacy Robinson, forwards John Williams and Ricky Suggs, and center Farron Henderson.
Forwards Ben Coleman and Mike Esaw and guards Pat Burston and Damond Dickson led North.
For myself, an eighth grader at (St. Paul) Highland Park Junior High School at the time, the game was magical. Not only did it have some of the best athletes in the state competing, but also both teams were both 100 percent African American.
There was no NBA team during this time, so the players on the court were our role models. They were who we looked up to and aspired to be like.
Central won the game 65-55 with Suggs, 6’1” forward, leading the way with 19 points.
This game, while increasing my interest in high school basketball, also featured two student-athletes who would go on to excel in athletics at the collegiate and pro level.
Robinson, who scored seven points in the game while standing at 5’10”, went on to an outstanding football career starring at wide receiver for North Dakota State University and then the NFL’s New York Giants, capturing two Super Bowl rings.
The 6’9” Coleman, who led North with 15 points on the cool winter afternoon, went on to the University of Minnesota before starring at the University of Maryland, and before a 12-year career in the NBA.
This game also started a rivalry that dominated the 1980s. During that decade, Central and North met in the TC game in 1980-82 and 84-88. North won the TC title in 1980, ’81, ’82, ’84, ’85, ’86, and ’87 before Central finally won in ’88.
The teams also excelled at the Class AA state level. North made state tournament appearances from 1980—winning the state championship that year—to 1986. Central never won a state title but appeared in the tournament from 1980-82, ’84, ’86 and ’89.
The 1979 Twin Cities championship started it all. I fell in love with high school basketball. After 36 years as a prep sports photojournalist, the feeling remains the same.
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This was a great story and history of the Minneapolis/St.Paul conference schools dynasty of dominating Minnesota basketball on the late 70’s and 80’s. Thank you Dr. Mitchell Palmer McDonald for taking us back down memory lane.