Minnesota has hockey. North Dakota has basketball. And no one knew North Dakota basketball better than Don Hanson.
For 35 years, Hanson produced the basketball bible for North Dakota: “The Hoopster.” It is a comprehensive guide to North Dakota high school and college basketball, complete with team previews, player information, statistics, predictions and even a master list of North Dakota school nicknames dating back to a time before school consolidation.
“For sports directors and play-by-play guys, (‘The Hoopster’ is) a must-have. It’s what you have to have in your game bag as a broadcaster,” says Jack Michaels, longtime sports broadcaster and 740 the Fan radio host in Fargo. “And it always has been. It’s the history of basketball (in North Dakota).”
“Dad started ‘The Hoopster’ 38 years ago,” says Perry Hanson, Don’s son. “He got the idea from a book in South Dakota. He went out to all the small towns, using the South Dakota book as a guide. From that point on, he just grew it.”
That was until three years ago, when Don fell ill. With Don too sick to finish the upcoming season’s publication, Perry picked up the torch. He balanced work on the 2017-18 edition of “The Hoopster” with the demands of his Bismarck High School teaching and basketball coaching jobs.
“We got a book out that year. Was it my best? No, but we got it done,” Perry says. “And boy, did I learn a lot that year.”
Don had input on that year’s issue of “The Hoopster,” and it was his last. He passed away before the start of the next basketball season in September 2018. When Don’s four children came together to talk about the book’s future, it wasn’t a hard conversation.
“We all knew we needed to carry it on,” Perry says.
Perry’s sneakers are now laced up, ready to lead North Dakota’s basketball bible into this new season of life. His dad isn’t in the stands or his usual coach’s seat. But his imprint is everywhere – in the gym, on his family and throughout the pages of North Dakota basketball history.
‘A BASKETBALL NUT’
Don grew up on a farm in Sherwood on electric cooperative lines. Athletics were part of the Hanson DNA. Don was a high school basketball and baseball standout, which earned him a baseball scholarship to Minot State. He married Joan, got his teaching degree and started a math teaching and coaching career that spanned three decades.
As a 13-year coach of the Mandan Braves boys’ basketball team, Don mentored many athletes and even won a state championship in 1981. He also coached his son, Perry, in high school.
“I couldn’t get along with the head coach,” Perry jokes of his professed limited playing time. “Dad used to call me a 20/20 player. I played when we were either up 20 or down 20!”
“He was a basketball nut,” Perry says of his dad.
And he was old school. Don didn’t like the three-point shot when it came into existence, and he conducted all his business by hand. He sent correspondence, including the preseason coaches’ questionnaires used to compile annual team-specific entries, through postal mail. He laid out ads and page content manually, piece-by-piece, without a computer. His flip phone contacts list had only three saved phone numbers. The others were saved in his head, among endless sports statistics, names and other important details.
“Don Hanson was so good. He knew so many layers,” Michaels says through a grin. “Don Hanson didn’t just know the player. He knew the player’s dad, the player’s mom and the player’s grandpa. And then he probably knew the grandparents’ points per game average when they played in the ‘50s!”
Don used his knack for numbers and sharp memory to predict the district, region and state champions in both the Class A and Class B divisions for boys’ and girls’ basketball each year, far before the start of the season. “The Hoopster” fans anticipated Don’s bold predictions, in part, because he got it right a lot of the time.
“For the Class B regions, he was hitting at about a 78 percent clip,” Perry says.
Don also knew a lot of people. He once said that he put 15,000 road miles on promoting “The Hoopster” and selling ads in the 11 weeks leading up to publication. He valued relationships and face-to-face contact. He instilled in Perry the importance of such.
“I want my salesmen to go and see the person,” Perry says. “We get a lot of advertisers that say, ‘You’re the only guy that still comes out and talks to us.’ That is this business, the personal touch.”
And it’s those relationships that the Hanson family cherishes most.
“It’s amazing, the amount of people you don’t even have to explain the book to. You just say, ‘The Hoopster,’ and they know,” Perry says. “I want to thank the people of North Dakota for allowing this tradition to continue. If it wasn’t for the people, there wouldn’t be ‘The Hoopster.’”
But ask any basketball fan or sports broadcaster in North Dakota, and you’ll likely find another strain of gratitude.
“Maybe Don Hanson didn’t even fully realize the impact he made,” Michaels suggests. “He made the effort to collect that history and put it down in print. We are better off because of ‘The Hoopster,’ because he preserved history.”
With Don gone, Perry continues the family legacy of preserving North Dakota basketball history. Perry’s first order of business? Fixing the all-time Class B boys single game scorers list. An important name was omitted, of a player who made 42 points in a 1960 game as a Sherwood Wildcat. Don Hanson.
Visit www.ndhoopster.com(link is external) for more information or to purchase your basketball bible “for the price of a crisp $20 bill,” as Michaels would say.
Cally Peterson is editor of North Dakota Living. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.