There are things that go on behind the scenes that largely go unnoticed by fans at high school sporting events, but school administrators have to think about constantly.
There’s scheduling to do, refs to coordinate with and then the challenge of getting people to volunteer their time to run a score table each night. Finding people to do that isn’t always an easy task, but it’s something that Alexandria has not had to worry about much for their boys and girls basketball games over the last three-plus decades because Kirk Gunderson has been there for the school nearly every game.
Gunderson is in his 32nd straight season running the clock and putting the score in for Alexandria junior varsity and varsity basketball games.
“It was just fun to do,” Gunderson said. “I never got to play basketball in my younger days, so it was a way to follow it. I started out (working games at the junior-high level). With the girls, the operator quit, and they asked me if I’d do the varsity girls. Then a couple years later, the varsity boys operator had a heart attack and they asked me if I’d do the boys. The rest is history.”
Gunderson committed to the job and has been there every step of the way. About midway through his tenure, he asked a familiar face to help out.
It takes two people to do the job without error on scoreboards like Alexandria’s where individual player stats are put up after each basket. In 2005, Gunderson called on his daughter, Janet Clipperton, to see if she would like to join him at games.
“In 2005, my husband got deployed to Iraq,” Clipperton said. “Dad called me up and said, ‘Do you want to come and help?’ I said, ‘Well, I don’t know.’ He said, ‘You need to get out of the house.’ That’s how I got started. It was (a tough time) and it got me out of the house.”
Clipperton has been by her dad’s side at the scoretable ever since. Both figure they have missed less than 10 games throughout the years.
“If you were trying to train someone new in day in and day out, it wouldn’t be as good of an experience for the fans,” first-year Alexandria Activities Director Ben Kvidt said. “We’re super fortunate to have them. I have been in other places where it’s a different person every night, and there’s hiccups with that. Here, I’ve never once had to worry about our clock and scoreboard or any of our table workers. They’re just phenomenal.”
Kvidt said it’s unusual to find someone who so consistently is willing to give up what is sometimes three or four nights a week to be at games on a volunteer basis. Gunderson and Clipperton’s only payment is popcorn, pop and M&Ms.
They are part of a consistent crew at Alexandria basketball games, with Cindy Montbriand taking the book as the official scorer for girls games and Greg Serum filling the same role at boys games.
Gunderson and Clipperton are greeted most nights by referees with a smile and the same question -- “How long have you been doing this?”
“It’s the same refs a lot, and you get to know them,” Clipperton said.
Gunderson doesn’t get to watch what goes on through much of the game. His responsibility is to keep an eye on the referees and listen for whistles so he knows when there is a stoppage in play. If he messes up on the clock, he will hear about it during a heated game.
“I can’t see plays developing and things like that, but that’s my job,” Gunderson said. “If you screw up, everybody knows. We’ve had a couple instances where people in the crowd have come down and hollered in my ear. When the mercy rule (with running time) first came in, you should have heard it the first night we did that. Half the crowd was hollering at us because they had no idea.”
Gunderson takes his responsibility at games seriously, and it can be intense at times. That’s why he appreciates having his daughter by his side.
“It’s pretty much automatic,” Gunderson said of working with Janet. “She knows if it’s an intense game with a big crowd, I’m trying to listen for whistles and watch the refs. Then she’ll take over and do what I normally do. It takes two people to do this with the stat boards and everything.”
Clipperton enters starting lineups on the scoreboard and substitutions when players check into the game, but she knows how everything works within the whole scoreboard.
“I enjoy it,” Clipperton said. “Just spending time with my dad, I enjoy that.”
Gunderson will be 77-years old soon and says he has been blessed with great health to keep doing this, but all good runs must come to an end. He said he isn’t sure how much longer he will continue in his role. Once he is done, Clipperton said she too will step away.
It isn’t always fun leaving the warm house in the dark during a Minnesota winter. Once they get to the gym, though, the two have found a home at the scorers’ table together.
“It gets to be kind of a good job, a fun job,” Gunderson said. “The hardest part is sometimes when it’s 20-below to have to go out of the house to get here. Once we get here, it’s fine. We’ve got the best seat in the house.”