Archive for March 8th, 2012

The Jackrabbits!

Kentucky, Duke, Kansas, NO…the Jacks

The Associated Press reported yesterday that some guy from Pennsylvania – Pennsylvania? – called the bookstore at South Dakota State University asking where he could get some Jackrabbit gear. You heard it here first – this logo is going to be popular!

My alma mater made the Big Dance! For the first time! It may be the biggest college athletic moment in the history of South Dakota.

The Jacks beat Western Illinois 52-50 in overtime night before last to claim the Summit League title and an automatic bid to the NCAA basketball tournament. The Jacks – admit it, you love that nickname – will know Sunday who they face in the first round of March Madness. Even with a 27-7 season record, the Jacks are likely to be a 14 seed, so nothing will be easy for the boys from Brookings.

By the way, the SDSU women’s team is headed overcame a 17 point deficit to win their fourth straight Summit League crown and another trip to the NCAA tournament.

South Dakota State does have a player on the roster from Bulgaria, but most of the Jacks are corn-fed Midwesterners from places like St. Cloud, Minnesota and Viborg, South Dakota. And, while this is the school’s first time to the Big Dance, SDSU has a long tradition of good basketball.

Jim Marking, a legendary high school and college coach in South Dakota, was roaming the sidelines when I was struggling through the snow to get to the old Barn for what were then North Central Conference games. Marking is still the winningest coach in SDSU history and over his entire career he won nearly 74% of the games he coached. The guy taught a fast break offense that when it worked was a thing of beauty.

I was the sports editor of the college newspaper – The Collegian - when a new basketball arena was built on campus. The old gym – affectionately known as The Barn – was a creaking old pile that was hot, noisy and vastly intimidating to a visiting team. The fans, particularly students, were so close to the floor that you could literally touch a player and if you were sitting in the front row you had to get your knees out of the way when a player was inbounding the ball.

It may have been an apocryphal story, but it always seemed true enough, that one visiting coach wouldn’t let his team dress in the crowded locker rooms in the old Barn and then gave them limited time to warm up before a game because he feared that his players would be intimidated, even before the tip-off, by the boisterous Jackrabbit fans.

When the new Frost Arena opened in 1973, I interviewed Coach Marking about his feelings moving into the spacious new digs. I expected he’d say the politically correct thing about being excited about the new venue, but true to Coach he told the truth. “We’re about to lose our home court advantage,” he said.

For years and years, South Dakota State football and basketball has be broadcast on 50,000 watt WNAX in Yankton. Lawrence Welk, the bandleader popular in my parent’s generation, got his broadcasting start, more or less, on WNAX, one of the few radio stations west of the Mississippi River with a “W” in its call letters. Ironically, Yankton is closer to the University of South Dakota in Vermillion than to SDSU in Brookings. As a result, WNAX announcers need to drive 130 miles for a home game. The radio guy I remember fondly – and once hoped to emulate – was the late-Norm Hilson, the radio voice of the Jacks and a worthy member of the South Dakota Sports Hall of Fame.

If you want some of that Jackrabbit gear, here’s the link to GoJacks.com. Great logo.