The 1970s saw some changes for the Hermantown football program. But the success of the team stayed the same.
Long-time coach George Petrich retired from coaching early in the decade after over two decades of leading the football program. He handed the ball off to Gary Bowen, who continued the Hawks’ winning ways.
Dean Bjorlin, who graduated in 1973, played quarterback and defensive back during Petrich’s final season in the fall of 1972.
“Coach Petrich would scare the heck out of you as a sophomore, and by the time you were a senior your feelings changed,” Bjorlin said. “It was a respect thing. He was a great coach and cared for the players. To me, I still call him ‘Mr. Petrich.’”
Gary Bowen would take over the program in 1973 and stay for 18 years. He was the new guy at the time in the community.
“Coach Petrich helped me a lot when I took over,” Bowen said. “It is hard to replace a legend, but I think I did a pretty good job.”
Bowen was from Illinois and finished up as a graduate assistant at Bemidji State University before taking over at Hermantown.
Bowen recalled assistant coach Dave Olson taking him around Hermantown and showing him the community. Afterwards, they had supper at Mr. Steak, near what is now the Miller Hill Mall.
New at the time, Bowen found a home in Hermantown and felt accepted into the community. Even though he retired and moved to Michigan, he still calls Hermantown his hometown.
“I was blessed with great community support,” Bowen said. “The community was very accepting of this new kid, and that is why I stayed.” Bowen would retire in 2006, having served the last 23 years as activities director.
With the coaching change at Hermantown, there also was a change in structure of high school football in Minnesota.
The Minnesota State High School League started to host playoffs in football starting with the 1972 season. There were five classes (AA, A, B, C and nine-man), and it stayed that way until 1997. It could be argued that Hermantown would have gone to state numerous times not only in the 1950s and 1960s, but likely would have been one of the favorites to win it all during the undefeated 1964 and 1965 seasons.
The 1970 season had its first playoff game, albeit just one game that was more like a college bowl game than a true playoff. Hermantown defeated Moose Lake 16-6 in that season finale.
Charlie Dammer, who graduated in 1972, said that was one game he will always remember.
“To play an extra game like that was unheard of at the time, and that made it special for us,” he said.
The Hawks finished 6-2-1 that season and shared the Seaway Conference title with Two Harbors. The Agates scored late in the contest to secure the 8-8 tie. The defense was solid all season, shutting out Cloquet, Proctor and Silver Bay.
Bernie McGovern, Dammer, Gregg Maus, Duane Bjorlin and Steve Schilling were named all-conference.
Brad Tafs (1974), who played halfback in the early 1970s, said Dammer was one of the best athletes he can remember.
“Charlie was just a good athlete at whatever he did,” Tafs said.
Tafs played for both Petrich and Bowen. He said it took the players awhile to adjust to a new system under Bowen, which happens with any new coach. Tafs’ father also played for Petrich and his son would play under coach Daryl Illikainen early in the first decade of 2000.
Frank Dusek, who graduate in 1976, said he liked playing for Bowen. Hermantown alum Bob Swanstrom also was an assist coach.
“We did not have the strongest teams back when I played,” Dusek said. “Still we enjoyed playing. Playing football in Hermantown was about playing with your buddies. These were guys who played with since the seventh grade.”
Hermantown finished 4-4 the next season, despite big wins over Morgan Park 52-6 and Two Harbors 39-0 in the finale. Cheerleaders that season were Claudia Lindgren, Mary Wollack, Jackie Stafford, Lynn Anderson, Annie Tessier and Myra Smieja.
Bjorlin grew up watching football during those years, and seeing that success certainly sprouted his classmates’ interest. He said all of his friends wanted to someday play varsity football for the Hawks.
The 1972 season was filled with success, although the seven victories were sandwiched in between two hard defeats. Bjorlin recalled the first game of the season with the Hawks leading 12-6 with 30 seconds left in the game. Hermantown had the ball near the endzone, but a fumble on the snap led to a Morgan Park touchdown and a sure victory ended up in a 14-12 loss.
“Shock certainly was one of the feelings that night,” Bjorlin said.
The victories piled up after that game, with the Hawks beating Cloquet 14-0 the next week. Then came a rare win over Duluth East 22-14. Grand Marais, Proctor, Duluth Cathedral, Silver Bay and Two Harbors were next as the team worked their way to the Seaway Conference title win.
Bjorlin said the final regular season game with the Agates was in a snowstorm, and the Hawks won 36-0. By the time the game ended, only parents, wearing snowmobile suits, were in the stands on the cold night.
The season ended in the playoffs with a 52-8 defeat over the mighty Mountain Iron squad. That team would go on to win the Class B state title, the first in Minnesota high school history, 54-6 over Dassel-Cokato.
In his final season of coaching, Petrich would be named the District 26 coach of the year.
Petrich said that as with many football coaches, it was bittersweet when he decided to step down. However, his role as athletic director became more demanding as the school added more and more sports.
Bowen took over and did not miss a beat.
The Hawks finished 7-2 and had big wins over Cloquet 12-6 and Proctor 32-6. The team finished the season by beating St. Cloud Cathedral 14-7.
The 1974 season saw Hermantown lose its first three games and finish 3-6 on the year. Wins came against Grand Marais, Proctor and Duluth Cathedral.
Gary Pappas and Greg Sorenson were captains.
The 1975 season featured a big and rare win over Duluth East 20-6. Unfortunately, it was the only win of the season.
During the 1976 season, the team finished 5-4. The Hawks lost their first two games and did not score a point against either Morgan Park or Cloquet. But they would win five of the next seven including a 20-8 win over Proctor and a 35-16 win over Mountain Iron to end the season.
That also was the year that the Hermantown girls won the state Class A title in volleyball.
The 1977 season had Rick Borndal and Brad Havron as captains. All-conference that year were Curt Illikainen, Jeff Hady, Gary Gilbert, Don Carlson, Havron and Borndal.
Hermantown was 5-4 that year. The Hawks were tied with Two Harbors at 3-0 for the conference title but fell to the Agates 13-7. The squad did win its homecoming game on a snowy field 18-0 over Duluth Cathedral.
The Hawks made another conference switch in 1978. The new nine-team league consisted of Aurora-Hoyt Lakes, Coleraine, Eveleth, International Falls, Proctor, Silver Bay, Two Harbors, Virginia and Hermantown. It was called the Sea Range Conference.
The first game in the new conference was against Virginia, which the Hawks won 10-0. They would lose the next eight games.
Gary Gilbert would be named to the all-conference squad. Don Carlson and Roger Olson were honorable mention.
The decade would end with another tough season in 1979. Hermantown beat Aurora-Hoyt Lakes in the second game of the season but would finish 1-7 that year.
A brand new flag football program started that year with 100 boys and girls in grades four through six participating. Coaches were Dale Bernstein, Al Rowland, Ed Abrahamson, Joe Sheppard, John McAdamis, Butch Forsell, Chet Kwiakowski, Max Galaway, Randy Abernethy, Barry Maus and Korey Karo. Tom Rager officiated all the games, even though it was reported he fell and broke his shoulder during one of those games.
Bjorlin said he and some of the fellow teammates stay in touch now and again and have talked about watching some of the old film from their high school playing days.
“We always decide against it, probably because we realize that we might not have been the superstars like we remember us being,” he joked.