Today marks the anniversary of one of the most memorable basketball games in North Dakota history. It took place in the Bismarck Civic Center as the Hillsboro Burros took on the Epping Eagles for the 1977 State Class B Tournament. The Burros had been to state eight times, had won back-to-back championships in ’73 and ’74, and had done so with an enrollment of 210 students. On the other side of the state, tiny Epping High School had a total enrollment of only 23, and during the late ’60s, they had suffered 96 straight losses.
The Burros were led by legendary coach, Ed Beyer, whose teams had come to expect winning seasons. In fact, during the Region 2 tournament, the Burros had overcome five of the state’s top-10 class B teams.
Epping didn’t even have a bus. By championship night, the team had taken on Cinderella status, and Hillsboro’s starting five were booed before the game even started. Coach Beyer said, “I think we had better talent, but boy, they were scary… I didn’t think it was going to be quite that bad… we were going to be the Lone Rangers on that one.”
The Eagles had the jitters and couldn’t make their shots, and by the end of the first quarter, the Burros led 16 to 5. Then, during second quarter, the Eagles settled down and started chipping away at Hillsboro’s lead.
Epping fought back, and by the end of the third quarter, Hillsboro led by only five points.
In a call that’s controversial to this day, the referee blew the whistle on Epping for carrying the ball, which cost the Eagles a made shot. It was a blow they couldn’t overcome; and they lost 52 to 56.
Despite their loss, the Epping players were treated like heroes. In fact, many people still mistakenly say they remember that game… the one where Epping won the state title.
Dakota Datebook by Merry Helm