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An honor overdue: Former Cardinal great, Haskins, gets a hall call

Alexandria native Hal Haskins takes the ball to the basket during his playing days at Hamline University in St. Paul during the late 1940s. Haskins is still Hamline’s all-time leading scorer in men’s basketball and was the state’s first-ever 1,000-point scorer during his prep career in Alexandria. (Hamline University)1 / 2
Hal Haskins with his wife, Cheris, on their 50th wedding anniversary from Oct. 29, 1999. (Submitted photo)2 / 2

Those who were close to Alexandria native Hal Haskins knew a man who was quiet and humble when it came to talking about his own accomplishments on the basketball court.

There were many accolades he could have boasted about. The 1943 graduate was the first high school player in Minnesota to score 1,000 career points, and it came at a time when there was no three-point shot and fewer games on the schedule.

Haskins led Alexandria to a runner-up finish at the state tournament his senior year when he averaged 19 points per game through three contests at state.

He liked to let his play on the court speak for itself, but there was one moment after his playing days ended where he had to stand up for himself. Haskins' nephew and a man who was named after him, 1966 Alexandria graduate Hal Miller, remembers the two playing horse together outside Haskins' home in St. Paul.

"There had been something on TV about a jump shot," Miller said. "He looked at me and said, 'I don't care what people tell you or what you read about who took the first jump shot ever. I'm here to tell you that I was.'

"He even told me it was against Glenwood, and he got double teamed in the corner. He went up and kind of turned in the air and when he was in the air, he shot a jump shot. It went in and after it went in, the referees blew their whistle because they had never seen that before. Everything was around the basket or a set shot."

Haskins was 6-foot-3 and one of the first dominant low-post centers in the state. He went into the Navy after high school before enrolling at Hamline University, where he became an All-American forward on the hardwood during the late 1940s.

Haskins' accomplishments in basketball at Hamline earned him induction into the school's Hall of Fame. Now more than six decades later, he will be posthumously honored as one of the 2019 inductees into the Minnesota High School Basketball Hall of Fame.

"It's quite an honor that they're recognizing him," Haskins' daughter, Mary Wienhold, said. "I know he would be so honored and yet probably uncomfortable. Over the years, he would get contacted by people who were researching his basketball career and he always would meet with them, but he was not comfortable talking about himself. If you've done well, other people can do the talking, I guess."

Haskins suffered from Alzheimer's in his later years. He died on May 31, 2003, at the age of 78. He was married to Cheris Otte, who he dated in high school in Alexandria, and the couple had two children — Mary and Paul. Both will be at the Hall of Fame induction ceremony at the Marriott City Center in Minneapolis on March 26 when Haskins and 14 other boys and girls inductees will take their place in the hall.

"I recognize it as an honor for my dad," Mary said. "I know how much it would mean to him and my mom because of their positive Alexandria history. It's an honor and we are very much looking forward to it."

Mary said Alexandria was always a big part of her parents' lives. Haskins was a teacher in the St. Paul school system for more than 30 years, but they returned to Alexandria frequently with family still living in the area.

Haskins' playing days in basketball at Hamline included leading the Pipers to four straight NAIA tournament appearances. They finished third at the tournament in 1948 and won a national championship in 1949.

A Hamline University program leading into Haskins' senior year described him as "the greatest basketball player to come under (storied head coach Joe) Hutton's wing at Hamline, and one of the nation's top basketball players for the past four years."

Haskins was named the tournament MVP after that championship run. He is still Hamline's all-time leading scorer in men's basketball with 1,985 points.

"I remember (former Alexandria coach and Hamline graduate) Tom Connor talking about his presence on the court, his ability to see the whole court," Miller said. "It wasn't just about scoring, but about making everyone on the court better. He took great pride in his passing."

Haskins was drafted by the Minneapolis Lakers in 1950, but his short stint of playing professionally came in the National Professional Basketball League before the league folded in 1951. At that point, he decided to pursue a life in education.

"I don't think he ever regretted not playing professional basketball," Miller said. "I think there was a calling with him to go into education. I know his last years, he worked with kids who were struggling in school, and he took great joy in that. He so enjoyed making a difference."

Haskins stayed involved in the game through coaching and refereeing.

"He loved sports of all kinds, but basketball was near and dear to him," Mary said. "Alex was where things really came together for him. It was the start of a very positive time in his life."

Haskins may not have liked talking about himself, but he took pride in who he was.

"I think he always shared with me how important it was that I was named after him, that I carried that name with pride and I wouldn't do anything to reflect negatively on the name," Miller said. "I think that's a feeling I've carried throughout my life. The Haskins name and the Miller name, that name was important."

Now the Haskins name will be synonymous with the best basketball players to ever put on a high school jersey in Minnesota.

Eric Morken

Eric Morken is the sports and outdoor editor at the Echo Press and Osakis Review newspapers in Douglas County, MN. Follow him on Twitter at echo_sports.

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