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'We had a hell of a team': Sanborn champion team returns to Barnes County Tournament to see great-granddaughters play

75 years ago, the team from Sanborn was crowned Barnes County girls basketball tournament champs. That tournament is going on this week at Valley City State. And not only are some of those pioneering greats back to watch, they are watching those they love the most.

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VALLEY CITY, N.D. — At the opening round of the Barnes County Tournament on Tuesday, Dec. 7, there were nervous stomachs all around. A 75-year-old tradition was on the line.

The girls playing Tuesday have three ladies to thank. Arlene Reid, Ilah Mae Lettenmaier and Sharon Kronebusch — now all in their 90s — were pioneers and trailblazers who brought home the crown for little Sanborn, North Dakota, in 1946.

"We did love basketball — all of us," Lettenmaier said.

1945 Champs.jpg
In 1946, the Sanborn girls basketball team was crowned Barnes County Girls Basketball Tournament Champions.

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"We just had a hell of a good team," Reid said.

"(It was) exciting, fun. It's all we had to do," Kronebusch said.

These women had different rules to play basketball by in those days.

"(There were) three guards and three forwards," Reid recalled. "The forwards played on their half (of the court), and they shot the baskets. (If) the guards crossed the center line, (the guards) fouled. That's how we played. They thought we couldn't handle (full court)."

The farm girls joked they weren't too fragile to play full court, after all.

"They never thought about if you weren't strong enough to pitch some hay or manure, or whatever else," Reid said.

The spring of 1946 in America was euphoric. World War II was over, and the country girls from Sanborn brought home the top prize.

"It was very popular, everybody went (to the tournament)," Lettenmaier said.

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"We were all strong kids, anyway, you know," Reid said.

Despite their history with the tournament, the women didn't come to Valley City to see any just old game; they came to see family carry on an athletic tradition.

Exactly 75 years later, great-granddaughters are now playing in the tournament in front of their great-grandmothers.

Allison Bryn plays for Barnes County North. Sharon Kronebusch is her great-grandma.

"I can tell it has been passed on to other generations — the strong work ethic," Bryn said. "My great-grandma was 'Speedball' Kvislen. She's always been really independent, a hard worker. She was a single mom for 10 kids when her husband passed away quite young. The kids were 6 months to 13 years old, so she's always been very independent, (and) strong."

Georgia Lettenmaier plays for LaMoure-Litchville-Marion High School. Ilah Mae Lettenmaier is her great-grandma.

"It's just great," Georgia Lettenmaier said. "It's really fun and inspiring knowing that they broke through and did such great things with women's basketball."

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