Robbinsdale’s first Athletic Hall of Fame

Robbinsdale High School’s Julian Hook was a four-year letter winner in wresting and a two-time undefeated state champion. He would play three sports in college at the University of Minnesota, including football. (Photo courtesy of the University of Minnesota)
Robbinsdale High School’s Julian Hook was a four-year letter winner in wresting and a two-time undefeated state champion. He would play three sports in college at the University of Minnesota, including football. (Photo courtesy of the University of Minnesota)

It’s been 30 years since an actual game involving Robbinsdale High School has been contested, but the some of the names of those that once helped the Robins reach unparalleled heights athletically will be rekindled Oct. 18.

Highlighting what will be a three-day, all-class reunion at RHS, officials will be inducting 12 individuals (10 athletes, 2 coaches) as part of the school’s first Athletic Hall of Fame class.

Combined, the prowess of the honorees span from the graduating Class of 1941 through the Class of 1976, including a pair of coaches who worked in athletics for the school for 55 years total years.

The criteria in selecting the 12 inductees was based on outstanding high school athletic achievements or significant contributions to Robbinsdale High School athletics, conference or statewide recognition as a prep athlete or coach as well as collegiate success or as success as a professional athlete.

In other words, you had to good. Really good.

Each inductee will be presented with a plaque that will be on permanent display at the school building.

The ceremony will be held from 7 to 8:30 p.m. at Robbinsdale Middle School, which was the RHS site from 1936 to 1982.

New members will be added to the Hall of Fame every two years.

This inaugural Hall of Fame class is as follows:

Verne Gagne, Class of 1943

In his time roaming the RHS halls, Verne Gagne lettered in football, baseball and wrestling. He was a state champion in wrestling and was named All-State in football following the 1942 season. Gagne went on to earn one year of All-Big Ten honors while playing football for the University of Minnesota. He would then embark on a tour with the Marines before returning to the Gophers wrestling team where he would go on to win two NCAA championships. Gagne eventually parlayed that success into a professional wrestling career as both a champion and promoter.

Don Dale, Class of 1950

An All-State basketball player at RHS, Dale was the school’s first 1,000-point scorer. He also led the Robins to their first state basketball tournament appearance as a senior in 1950, where he led the tournament in scoring with a 26.7 per game average in guiding Robbinsdale to a runner-up finish that year. Dale was named a high school All-American that season and played in a 1950 All-Star game featuring the best players in the nation. Dale would go on to play two seasons of college basketball for the University of Minnesota.

Tom Loechler, Class of 1958

An eight-time letter winner in football, baseball and basketball during his time at RHS, Loecheler was the basketball team’s leading scorer as a junior and was named to the All-District Team as a senior. He would play football in college however, serving as the kicker for the University of Minnesota’s Rose Bowl team’s in both 1961 and 1962. Loechler went on to coach football in District 281.

Dennis Claridge, Class if 1959

Claridge earned varsity letters in football, basketball and track at RHS, and would go on to play college football at the University of Nebraska. Claridge earned All-Lake Conference honors in football after leading the Robins to a mythical state championship in 1958 (there were no playoffs back then). He was a two-time All Big-8 Conference selection in his time at Nebraska, where he compiled a 19-3 record as the Cornhuskers starting quarterback. Claridge is also inducted into the Nebraska Hall of Fame, and he was an NFL draft pick of the Green Bay Packers.

Julian Hook, Class of 1959

A master of the wrestling mat, football field and baseball diamond in his time at RHS, Hook earned nine letters as a prep athlete. He was a two-time state wrestling champion after finishing both his junior and senior seasons undefeated and earned All-Conference honors multiple times in both football and baseball. Hook would go on to play all three sports at the University of Minnesota. He was All-Big Ten in football as a senior, and was named to the Gophers Sports Hall of Fame in 2004.

Len Lilyholm, Class of 1959

An eventual member of the 1968 U.S. Olympic Hockey team, Lilyholm was the only RHS hockey player to ever earn All-State recognition for his work on the ice. In all, he would earn 10 varsity letters in three different sports for the Robins. He was team captain in football, and a one-time school record holder in the pole vault for track and field. After his Olympic experience, Lilyholm went on to spend the 1972-73 season with the St. Paul Saints of the World Hockey Association.

Larry Peterson, Class of 1961

In three years as the starting quarterback for the RHS football team, Peterson suffered just one defeat. His teams were state champions in both 1958 and 1960, the latter of which saw him score five touchdowns in one game while leading the team in scoring. Peterson was also a team captain in basketball, as well as letter-winner in both baseball and track and field. Peterson eventually ended up as the starting quarterback as both a junior and senior for the University of Minnesota.

Tom Heinonen, Class of 1963

A legend for what he did as a runner, Heinonen earned three letters each in both cross country and track and field. He was named the RHS Athlete of the Year as a senior after finishing second in the state indoor mile, fourth in the outdoor mile and fifth in the state cross country meet. Heinonen would go on to earn All-American honors at the University of Minnesota after placing third in the NCAA championships in the six-mile run, and was the U of M’s record holder in the two, three and six-mile runs. Heinonen went on to coach runners at the University of Oregon.

Randy Sonnenfeld, Class of 1976

The athletic powers Sonnenfeld possessed could be summed up his only season competing in track and field at RHS. In that brief stint, he would end up becoming the school all-time record holder in the high jump. Sonnenfeld was just that type of athlete, He was also a two-time All-Conference honoree in basketball, and was a key member of the Robins’ 1975 state runner-up team. In addition, Sonnenfeld was an All-State selection in football as a senior, a sport he would go on to letter three times in while at the University of Minnesota.

Cindy Sneddon, Class of 1976

There would be only one female sport that would capture a state championship in RHS history, and it would be one in which Sneddon served as team captain. She competed in three year’s of varsity gymnastics, including the title winning team of 1976. She also finished fourth individually that year in the floor exercise, and captained the school’s cheerleading team. The school would recognize Sneddon as the 1976 recipient of the Athena Award.

Irv Nerdahl, football coach

The head football coach at RHS from 1942-1973, Nerdahl coached the Robins to a record of 174-66-11. His team’s won mythical state championships twice in during an era when there was no form of a high school playoff system in place. In addition, Nerdahl’s team won 11 Lake Conference championships.

H.W. “Doc” Spurrier, football coach, administrator

Spurrier was an assistant coach on Nerdhal’s staff from 1952 through 1963, the first of many roles he would hold in RHS athletics. Spurrier was also the school’s athletic trainer from 1952-1968, the equipment manager from 1954-1968 and athletic director from 1965-1976.