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Witte still on top

Hector man still holds record for most HS letters

It’s been said that records are made to be broken, but there is one record, established in 1952, that still stands, unofficially, as a Minnesota state high school record today.

Harold Witte, 80, of Hector earned 18 letters in high school sports that included football, basketball, baseball and track dating back to 1947 when he was in the seventh-grade. The state high school league does not keep records of letter winners, but Witte said he received notice of his record from the state back in 1952. Witte was only 12 years old and in the seventh-grade when he earned his first letters by playing in basketball and baseball. He also played football in the seventh-grade but did not letter. The sport of track didn’t start until 1952 in the 212 Conference. The schools in the 212 Conference, which was formed in 1947, were Hector, Buffalo Lake, Stewart, Brownton, Bird Island, Danube, Renville and Sacred Heart. The 212 Conference was disbanded in 1974.

Witte was born and raised in Hector along with two sisters, Donna and Eileen. His dad owned Witte Ford Garage a car garage that Harold still runs at the present.

“I started to play in my early years because we didn’t have many things to do, except to work at my father’s garage,” Witte said.

“I guess I was big for my age.” He was 6 feet tall and weighed 170 pounds when he was in the sixth-grade. “I was bigger than most kids my age. I played with many big kids that were a lot older too. We played behind the old public school with kids that were rough and strong. We also played on farmyards, barns and up in the haylofts. We didn’t have a car so biking or walking was our mode of transportation. I played with some of Hector superstars: Dean Dahlgren, Bill Enright, Neil Person, Lowell Anderson, Curtis Melberg, Curtis Sampson, Wayne Sampson, Howard “Shorty” Olson, Donald Hagquist, Clayton Torbert, Dale Dean, Jim Radloff, the Spreiters — Ted, Dave and Steven, and many more.”

Witte got a good start in basketball when he was in the fifth-grade. They played games and tournaments against teams in Buffalo Lake, Stewart, Bird Island, Brownton and Danube. “We won lots of games,” he said. “I scored about three-quarters of the points.”

“A highlight in my life was our high school coach in all sports, Emil Wilken. He gave me lots of help. He was my idol. He said if I work hard I could be something special. He was my coach in the seventh and eighth-grade. So he took me under his wing and helped me in many, many ways!”

“When I was in the seventh-grade, I played on the ‘B’ squad of basketball. One night at Bird Island St. Mary’s, our team was doing poorly. Coach Wilken sent me in at forward, and I was very nervous. They didn’t guard me very close so I was able to score 10 points. We almost won the game but lost by two points. After that game I played half time on the ‘A’ team and full time on the ‘B’ squad.

In eighth-grade Witte lettered in football, basketball and baseball. The football team, which at the time was 6-man, was undefeated for the second year in a row and was coached by Wilken. Then in ninth-grade, he again lettered in football, basketball and baseball. The football team again was undefeated, with Wayne Dietz as the coach. Witte collected three more letters when he was in the tenth-grade. Coach Dietz again led the team to an undefeated season for 25 wins in a row. When Witte was a junior he received three more letters, and then as a senior he earned four letters when he also went out for track besides football, basketball and baseball. His basketball and track coach was Don Estenson.

Another highlight of his high school career was when he was a senior and his baseball team was the conference and district champion. They beat teams like Glencoe, Hutchinson and Norwood. They played Redwood Falls in the region final and lost 13-12 in 13 innings. “Ted Spreiter pitched a super game, but our top pitcher was Curtis Sampson, but he was up north at a boy’s camp and was going to fly in for the big game, but he never made it,” Witte recalled. Redwood Falls went on to be state champs.

After high school he went on to Luther College and lettered in football, basketball and baseball, earning three letters in two years from 1953 to 1954. Witte was drafted into the Army and played football, basketball and baseball at Fort Lewis, Wash., until 1957.  He traveled all around the country playing basketball at different Army bases. After two years serving his country, he went back to Hector and helped his dad with the car business. He has run the Witte Garage for 57 years. He played on the Hector Flyer town team baseball team for 21 years, from 1949 to 1970. He also played town team basketball from 1958 to 1970. He married his girlfriend Joan in 1961, and they had three boys, Gene, Neil and Paul. Joan is active with the Senior Olympics and has won many awards.

Even though records are made to be broken, Witte is proud of earning 18 high school letters and keeping that record for 62 years. He received two letters in 1947, three in 1948, 1949, 1950 and 1951. Hector didn’t have high school track until his senior year. Then in his senior year in 1952 he earned four letters to bring his total to 18. A record that may never be broken.

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