Hayfield’s Cinderella season recaptured in The Last Minute
Most people enjoy a story of David defeating Goliath, but Les Evjen’s book, “The Last Minute ‘A Viking Miracle,’” is about much more than just that, it covers small towns, the athletes they produce, not giving up and community.
The book, “The Last Minute ‘A Viking Miracle,’” is a detailed look at Hayfield’s 1967-1968 season with an emphasis on their come-from-behind win over Austin in the District Championship game.
Hayfield went on to beat Chatfield and Owatonna, in double overtime, to advance to the state tournament. There their run came to an end against Edina, which ended up winning its third consecutive state title.
The Viking’s deep playoff run is even more impressive considering Hayfield, which then had a population around 800, competed against much larger cities since this was when Minnesota had just one class for the entire state
For all the book’s detail, readers may be surprised to hear that its author, Les Evjen, didn’t attend any of the Vikings’ games that season. He was in the Army, stationed in Germany.
By participating in combat in Europe, he followed in the footsteps of his role model, Ernest Hemingway.
“When I was in high school and on, my dream was to be the next Ernest Hemingway, an adventurous writer with a life full of experiences,” he said. “I managed to have a life full of adventure but never did write anything beyond short stories, newspaper articles, business articles and stories about nature.”
With Hayfield’s dream season Evjen finally found the right medium for a book.
“I decided that the story of that game against Austin for the District Championship needed to be preserved, for those who were a part of it and for the community and school,” he said. “This big team from a small town was talked about all over Minnesota over 50 years ago and is still talked about today. This team put Hayfield on the map.”
Once he found the right subject, then came the hard part: research.
“I worked on this book for two years having had no previous experience in writing history about people and events that I neither participated in nor witnessed,” he said.
Instead, Evjen read everything he could his hands on -- sports news articles, official programs, photos and records from Minnesota State High School basketball history. He even found a rescued tape of the game radio broadcast.
“My best source, however, turned out to be many, many interviews with all players and coaches still living as well as fans, sportscasters and others who were in attendance and could be encouraged to search their memories. Every player, Austin as well as Hayfield, had at least two or three crystal clear memories of the game itself. I asked about their friends, growing up, their parents' lessons, and the years after. Each one provided a color photo of their families to be included in the book,” he said. “Their favorable comments to me after reading the book was all the thanks I needed. They confirmed that I had achieved my goal of making the book about the people, not just the wins and the losses.”
All that written and oral research led to another complication.
“Two years were needed to complete the hardest mental concentration of my life. I had boxes and files full of rich material but no note-taking plan or orderly cataloguing system to deal with what developed into an enormous amount of source material. I had to rely strictly on my own memory. At age 74/75, memory was not my strongest attribute,” Evjen said.
That’s when his support system, his wife, Donna, stepped up by encouraging him to start writing about something he knew.
“I did and the writing came easier after that,” he said.
The end result is a book about the people involved as much as the eponymous ‘miracle.’
On top of beating a much larger city in Austin, this book is called a miracle because Hayfield trailed by 10 points with less than two minutes left in regulation.
With only 78 seconds left, the Vikings had only cut their deficit to eight, but then Ron Evjen stole the ball, made two free throws, stole the ball again and made a layup to cut the Packers’ lead to four. Then, Austin missed a shot, Hayfield got the rebound and the Vikings’ 6-foot-5 senior Bill Fritze made a shot.
The Packers’ only true mistake in the final minutes came when Ron Evjen called a timeout, which he wasn’t able to do as a defender, and an Austin player flipped the ball out of bounds, which gave Hayfield the ball.
Hayfield tied it up when their 6” 7’ center Bill Gross made a basket and the Packers missed their last shot to force overtime. The Vikings won in overtime outscoring Austin 15-2 in the last four minutes and 58 seconds of the game.
“They were hard to beat because they had a lot of talent and they refused to give up, even in the face of almost certain defeat,” Les Evjen said.
He believes the book will appeal to anyone who enjoys small towns and athletes who rise to the occasion.
In addition to being a dream for the team, he noted this season also had an impact on the Hayfield community.
“When a town of 800+ folks can turn out 1000 people in their high school gym to celebrate a championship won by "their boys," they have found the true meaning of ‘community,” he said.
“The Last Minute ‘A Viking Miracle’ is available for purchase for $25, which includes shipping. To purchase the book, contact Les Evjen at firstname.lastname@example.org or Ron Evjen at email@example.com or call 507-477-2427.