Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Norm Grow (1940-2012)

Tonight I'm going to be watching Tyus Jones, called by many the greatest Minnesota schoolboy basketball player ever.

This morning I learned that Norm Grow, called by many during his career at Foley High School (class of 1958) the greatest Minnesota schoolboy basketball player ever to that time, had passed away on Saturday.

The 6-5 do-everything player set state records for scoring in a game (70 vs. Holdingford in January 1958), season and career (2,852 points)--records that stood for 47 and 33 years, respectively.

I also remember some 30-35 years ago when Paul McDonald of Chisholm was thought to have set a career rebounding record. Many years later when McDonald's "record" was broken, it was discovered that in fact he had never held it. Norm Grow did, and they hadn't even recorded rebounds his 1st 2 years with the Foley varsity. Grow remains the #5 Minnesota career rebounder today based on just 3 of his 5 years of high school play.

More importantly, Grow's Foley team had a lot of success. His 8th grade team (1954) won its 1st District 19 title ever before losing to Willmar in the Region 5 semis 57-48. Willmar then defeated Mpls. Patrick Henry 60-49 to advance to the state tournament.

Two years later his sophomore team returned to the Region 5 tournament, losing to St. Louis Park 68-59 as Grow scored 39 of Foley's 59 points.

In 1957 Willmar again knocked Foley out of the Region 5 tournament 50-37, holding Grow to just 12 points. Willmar then lost to 2-time state champion (1956-1957) Mpls. Roosevelt 63-59 in the region final.

In Grow's senior year Foley lost to Monticello in District 19.

So Grow never got to play on the state's biggest stage, the state tournament. But of course they played in the toughest region in the state. The Minneapolis City Conference long had been the state's toughest conference and, indeed, Mpls. Washburn and then Roosevelt won state titles in Grow's 9th, 10th and 11th grade seasons. But on top of that, the Lake Conference was emerging at this time and was well on its way to displacing Minneapolis as the state's best. Hopkins had won the state title in 1952 and 1953, Wayzata would win in 1959, and St. Louis Park, Minnetonka and Edina would win 5 more over the next decade. Then on top of that, Willmar had things going during the 1950s as well, making it to the state tournament in 1954 and 1958. You might remember Paul Van Den Einde, who played for Willmar in the 1983 state tournament. Well, that was Paul's dad who out-scored Grow 13-12 in that 1957 Region 5 game.

Sure, Grow's scoring records now have all been eclipsed. Well, not all. His career scoring record stood for 33 years. By comparison, the current record-holder is Kevin Noreen, who scored more than 4,000 points in a career that ended 3 years ago in 2010. Well, his record will stand for about 3 years because it is certain to be broken very soon by Anders Broman of Lakeview Christian. Someone, in turn, will break Broman's record in a lot less than 33 years, ya think?

This isn't meant to make more of Grow's records than what they are. Grow went on to the University of Minnesota with great expectations. This was the first golden age of Minnesota basketball. Williams Arena would be filled to the rafters for the state tournament, and Minnesota high school kids still recently had led Hamline to 3 national championships and had played featured roles with the 7-time professional champion Minnesota Lakers. Ron Johnson and Jon Hagen and then Grow broke the career scoring record in 3 consecutive seasons in 1956, 1957 and 1958.

But while Johnson won all-America honors as a Minnesota Gopher, Grow never was a starting player in college, and by the time Grow's career had ended they were saying that Minnesota high school ball was below par, that Minnesota didn't produce Big Ten caliber players. Minnesota would soon begin going out-of-state to recruit players like Lou Hudson and Archie Clark.

But while his Gopher career wasn't quite what was expected, Grow by all accounts grew up to live a good and productive life as a member of the Twin Cities and Minnesota communities. He is survived by his wife, 4 children and 12 grandchildren. "He would love to be remembered more so as a devoted husband, father and grandfather" than as a high school basketball star, said his oldest son, Derrick Grow.

Still, this was the golden age of Minnesota high school basketball, and Grow was unequivocally one of the golden boys. Thanks for the memories.


  1. Thank you for your kind words about my father. Just to set the story straight, he was a starter his junior year at the U of M.

  2. Chris, thank you for the correction. I am sorry I didn't dig a little deeper on that, and I am very sorry for your loss.

  3. Thank you for this fine tribute. I wondered about Norm's achievements while reading of his death. The part I remember is the game when Norm passed what we understood at the time was Wilt Chamberlain's record. Apparently that was on the way to the record 2852 points mentioned above. I was a Freshman during Norm's Senior year and a great admirer as were we all. His death left me feeling forlorn.

  4. I worked for Norm at IDS in the early 70s and used to run into him at IT conferences regularly over the years. Not only was he a good basketball player, I played with him on the IDS men's softball team and he was also a great, and fast, third baseman. I really liked Norm a lot, he was a super good guy and one of the nicest people I've ever worked with.