A ‘sweetheart’ of an idea
Lunchroom conversation, 48 years ago, turned into a tradition
by John Grones | July 8, 2003
The year was 1955. Eisenhower was president, the car of choice was the ‘51 Chevy, girls were only allowed to wear jeans on Fridays, and the McGregor team mascot was the Oriole. It was also the year that the Sweetheart celebration emerged over a lunch break conversation between two friends, spawning a tradition at McGregor High School that has stood the test of time.
According to Alice (Moe) Graff, then, editor of the school newspaper, the Eyota, the spring of 1955 found the basketball team with a losing record and morale was low. “During a lunch break discussion in Feb., Phil Scearcy and Bob Graff determined that McGregor needed a special basketball observance, similar to Homecoming during football,” said Alice. “They thought that this may raise morale of the team and fans.”
Phil Scearcy recalled the year. It was the year that the now, legendary, head basketball coach, Bob MacDonald, started his career. Bob, who coached the Orioles in 1955 and 1956, started his career in McGregor, and went on to become the coach in the State of Minnesota with the most wins. “That year, the team wasn’t all that bad,” said Phil, a former member of the team. “That year, the league was very tough.” Esko had a special player by the name of Bergstedt, who scored 42 points in a regular season game and eventually lead his team to the state tournament.
The McGregor Orioles did manage wins that year over Hill City and McGrath, and Phil recalls being very competitive come playoff time. McGregor eventually traveled to Duluth and lost to Hermantown in the tournament by two points.
Many ideas were passed around at the lunch table that fateful day, and the basketball team came up with a final plan, there would be a Sweetheart dance with a junior girl as Sweetheart. She would receive a locket and a heart-shaped box of candy, and would reign until the next Sweetheart was named.
Alice finished by stating, “Since Phil was dating Sarah Booker, a lovely junior girl, she was unanimously selected to be the first Sweetheart at McGregor. There were no runner-ups that year. Sarah was the only candidate.”
The school newspaper, the Eyota, noted: The basketball team has done something this year which we hope will become a tradition at McGregor High School, selecting a basketball sweetheart. We wish to commend the boys on their secretive manner of selecting. Not only should they be commended on their method of choosing, but also on the choice. Hats off to Sarah Booker, our charming Basketball Sweetheart.
Sarah now lives in Cloquet with her husband, Jim Ames. Her reaction at the time? “I thought it was wonderful,” she said in a recent phone interview. “It was a happy time for me.” Following graduation in 1956, Sarah went on to the University of Minnesota-Duluth and majored in English. She then taught one year in Grand Rapids before she married Jim.
From then on, she raised three children, Gretchen, Kari and Jim, before returning to college and majoring in Library Science at St. Scholastica. She finished her career as a Media Specialist in Cloquet, retiring in 1999.
Upon graduating from McGregor High School, Philip Scearcy went on to the University of Minnesota and eventually worked at Eco Labs in St. Paul. There, he met his wife, Carol, and they married in 1959. They raised two daughters, Laura and Jill. Phil retired from Eco Lab in 1987, after 31 years. His wife, Carol, passed away in 1995, and he remarried in 1998 to Rene. Phil and Rene will be attending the McGregor All-School Reunion later this month.
Bob Graff graduated from McGregor and went from judging Sweetheart to becoming a real judge. He attended the University of Alaska before attending law school in Florida and Texas. He came back to McGregor in 1965, took the bar, and became a county court judge. He was the District Court Judge of the 9th District for 25 years, before retiring in 1996. Bob and his wife, Alice (Moe), raised four children, Curt, Dawn, Eric and Shelly.
Sweetheart has evolved into a week-long celebration, which combines with Sno Daze. Activities are sponsored by Future Career and Community Leaders of America that include: Scavenger hunts, dress up days, snow sculptures, the most kissable lips contest, and pep fests for the basketball teams. Generally, the week concludes with a Sweetheart coronation and a dance.
Two years ago, a decision was made to have an actual male and female sweetheart. The male was selected separate from the female. According to Pine Log editor, Angie Johnson, this may or may not continue depending on the preference of each sophomore class. A male and female candidate is chosen from each class, sophomores, juniors and seniors, and one pair is chosen to represent M-Club. This year’s King and Queen were Kayla Pylvanen and Billy Pierce.
The saying goes, ‘The more things change, the more they stay the same.’ While a few modifications have taken place in the community, school and the event itself, Sweetheart remains. What once was a lunchroom discussion between two boys in 1955 is still in style at McGregor High School.
This article first appeared in the July 8, 2003 issue of the Voyageur Press.