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Cap man

Buffalo Lake man has 700+ sports team hats

If Brad Koenig wanted to wear a different cap every day of the week he’d have enough of them to pick from for the next two years out of his collection of more than 730 sports team caps.

Koenig’s collection of caps was born out of his days playing sports for Buffalo Lake High School about 45 years ago. “All schools in the 212 Conference had a cap with their town initials on it except for Buffalo Lake,” he explained. “I wore my Twins TC cap, since Buffalo Lake only had plain black caps with no letters on them back then,” said the 1972 graduate.

Brad Koenig stands next to shelves that display his collection of over 700 caps from all professional and college sports teams. Photo by Steve Palmer

Brad Koenig stands next to shelves that display his collection of over 700 caps from all professional and college sports teams. Photo by Steve Palmer

From there Koenig went to a two-year college in Willmar where he played football before graduating in 1974. After that he attended college at Mankato State University and graduated with a history education major in 1976.

His first teaching job was at Freeborn for one year, followed by a move to Lakota, Iowa, where he taught school and got his first head coaching jobs in football and basketball. Next, it was back to Mankato for graduate school and then he taught at KMS (Kerkhoven, Murdock, Sunburg) for three years and was head basketball and baseball coach.

He returned to his alma mater in Buffalo Lake for three years and became head coach for football and girls’ basketball and assistant coach for baseball at neighboring Hector. After that it was back to Mankato State again as a graduate assistant before finishing his teaching and coaching career with a 25-year stint at Nicollet High School, coaching head girls’ basketball and junior high football before retiring in 2012.

As an avid sports fan he often traveled to road games to watch former players he coached, and he’d get a cap of that college. “After coaching for over 30 years you get to know a lot of people involved with sports,” he said. “I couldn’t tell you who I taught in the classroom, but I can tell you who I coached in the towns where I worked as a teacher,” he said.

As the years moved ahead, pretty soon Koenig had collected caps of colleges from the entire Big Ten, North Central and Northern Sun Conference teams. “My collection just kept growing from there,” he said. “It got to be like trading baseball cards. I was getting caps from people I knew who heard I was a collector or buying and trading them.”

His collection expanded to include all the caps from the professional Major League Baseball, NFL football, NHL hockey and NBA basketball teams. He also has all of the caps from the CFL (Canadian Football League) pro teams except for the new Ottawa expansion club.

Koenig has quite a few caps from the old ABA (American Basketball Association) including the Minnesota Muskies (1967-68). However, he’s missing a cap from the Minnesota Pipers, who followed the Muskies for a year before going to Pittsburgh.

He’s got caps from all 351 Division I college teams and a number of Division II caps. He has Division III schools in his collection too including caps from all MIAC and UMAC college teams. Among his Division III caps are one from the Tufts University Jumbos located in Medford, Mass. Another of his favorites is a cap from Bethany College with the “Terrible Swedes” nickname in Lindsborg, Kan.

He has baseball caps from the Mankato Moon Dogs of the Northern League and from state two-year colleges in Willmar, Worthington and Cloquet. As a Minnesota State University season ticket holder he usually wears his MSU cap to Mavericks’ games.

“When you’re involved with sports it’s an instant conversation starter,” he explained. “A lot of times you’ll see somebody wearing a cap, jacket, sweatshirt or T-shirt from their favorite school or team and that leads to introductions and do-you-know connections which automatically makes you a member of a fraternity group that sports in general creates,” he commented.

Sometimes Koenig will wear a cap of the team that wins a championship for a few days, but for the most part, the caps rest on the shelves of his home in alphabetical order. That is until the pet house cats decide to jump up and take a cruise along the shelves knocking the caps to the floor.

A spare bedroom has been turned into his main room for caps displayed on custom built shelves by his neighbor. And the collection has spilled over into another bedroom plus a corner of the living room.

Brad Koenig with more of his hats. He said he isn’t actively collecting right now, due to a lack of space. Photo by Steve Palmer

Brad Koenig with more of his hats. He said he isn’t actively collecting right now, due to a lack of space. Photo by Steve Palmer

But Koenig admits his collection has grown too large, and he’s running out of space for the caps. “I’ve reached my goals I guess so I kind of had to stop actively collecting; however, I’ll still take a cap if someone offers it to me,” he said.

Two of the caps in the collection with special meaning is a rare cap from the Montana Tech University Orediggers in Butte, Mont. and one from the Spokane Shock indoor arena football team. “A guy came up to me and said he had a cap for me if I could tell him where it was from so I looked at it and guessed the correct school,” Koenig said. The Spokane cap was given to him by a Nicollet High School athlete who played for the team.

Koenig has taken 23 chartered trips, either for football bowl games or to follow the Minnesota Gophers when they travel to road games, to every Big Ten school except Rutgers. He’s also been to Gopher games in Alaska and Hawaii and to all 16 Northern Sun Conference schools for basketball and football.

He’s had the opportunity to work at several summer college girls’ basketball camps over the years in places like North Dakota, Iowa, Wisconsin, Purdue, Maryland and for former Gopher basketball coaches Jim Dutcher and Clem Haskins. Of course he bought another cap at each school’s camp to add to his collection.

“I used to collect T-shirts, too, but they started to fill up my dresser drawers, and they begin to wear out, so I just went with caps as they last longer,” he joked.

A prized item in his sports memorabilia collection is a miniature basketball floor made from the 1939 hardwood maple flooring of the Buffalo Lake High School gym. The old floor was damaged after a flood in 1991.

“They were tearing out the old floor, and the wood was going to be destroyed, but a janitor asked my dad if we wanted to save some of it,” Koenig explained. “So we took it all out, and I removed a lot of nails that summer and fall. A lot of that wood was then sold to be used in the new tap room floor at Schell’s Brewery in New Ulm.”

With the leftover gym floor, Koenig had a student of his from Nicollet design and assemble a miniature replica of the Buffalo Lake court. “He did an amazing job; it’s a one-of-a-kind piece when you stop and think about all the students and players who once walked or ran across that floor,” he said.

He’s come full circle now, residing on the farm place where he grew up, and inside the house there’s a sports cap with a story to share as well.

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