Bloomington Jefferson fans , disguised miscreants self-described as the "Jefferson Militia" were in full force for the 1981 state tournament at the St. Paul Civic Center. Minneapolis Star Tribune photo curated from the Minnesota History Center by Kyle Oen of Vintage Minnesota Hockey
Editor's note: One in a series of state tournament-related stories and excerpts from Tourney Time. Read the book for more about Bloomington Jefferson's emergence as a state superpower.
Thirty-nine years ago this month, toilet paper was in such large supply that Minnesota high school hockey tournament fans tossed entire rolls in celebration of goals scored.
Don’t squeeze the Charmin? Pfft. They’d sail the Charmin across sections of the St. Paul Civic Center, off unsuspecting fans and even onto the ice. Quite a different manner of live streaming a sporting event.
Teenage kicks also fueled the Jefferson Militia, a band of Bloomington miscreants who took to masking their identities. They added color and comic relief for a school new to the state hockey tournament scene. Jefferson made its debut in 1980 and was crowned champion one season later.
What follows is a mix of what Wayne Wangstad reported in the March 13, 1981 edition of the St. Paul Pioneer Press with the memories of militia member Tom McEnery.
A day after Bloomington Jefferson began its state title run by ousting defending champion Grand Rapids in the quarterfinals, Wangstad wrote about the “... 30 or so Jefferson students whose faces were camouflaged with black, brown and green grease paint. They were clad in military surplus dungarees, shiny helmets and berets. Some of their eyes were veiled by sunglasses, and a couple sported long -- but unlit -- cigars that made them look like rejects from Castro’s Irregulars.”
McEnery said, “I don’t know that any of us would’ve gotten the reference to Castro back then! What a bunch of knuckleheads.”
Wangstad spoke to a militia member who agreed to be interviewed under the condition of anonymity.
“Four of our friends got kicked out of a game against St. Louis Park, and the Jefferson principal said if he ever saw those four again at any of the hockey games he’d suspend them from school. So were wore masks and disguised ourselves with grease paint so they couldn’t identify us.”
McEnery expanded on the account.
“As I recall, we were at a game late in the season and a few guys were hassling some kid from the opposing team in the penalty box,” he said. “A peanut may have been thrown. They got the boot from that game and the principal indeed threatened to suspend them if he saw them at a hockey game again.
As I recall, we were at a game late in the season and a few guys were hassling some kid from the opposing team in the penalty box. A peanut may have been thrown. They got the boot from that game and the principal indeed threatened to suspend them if he saw them at a hockey game again.
- Jefferson Militia member Tom McEnery
“I don’t know who had the idea to disguise ourselves so our pals would get into the game and I don’t know how military fatigues were selected. We did have some fun trips to downtown Minneapolis where there was a large army surplus store. Once we saw full face gas masks for sale we probably knew we had a viable shot at being loud fans and still incognito! The face paint, mirrored sunglasses and cigars all just popped up as ideas along the way, I suppose. As I look back, I wonder how hard the principal actually tried to identify his four bad actors.
“I recall the games of that year being very fun and the dressing up part isn’t actually what I recall most fondly.”
Unprompted, McEnery provided more gold about a fan’s view of the state tournament almost four decades ago.
“There were no tiers and there were classic “neighborhood” rivalries (suburb vs. city, “The Cities” vs. “The Range,” suburb vs. suburb, big vs. small, everyone vs. Edina).”
McEnery continued, “I also recall the team was made up of friends of ours. This was before the days of specializing in a high school sport. Even as the best players progressed onto the varsity level, I recall we all played pick-up park hockey together on weekends, even though I never played organized hockey in high school. There were great athletes to be sure, but you could also be an OK athlete and still play together outside the high school teams.”
That feeling of camaraderie fueled passionate support.
“Those were our buddies on the hockey team making a run at state and we all enjoyed the ride. While the whole army dress up thing gave us fans our perceived 15 minutes of fame, I mostly remember how fun the actual hockey was and how happy I was for my friends on that team.”
McEnery added one more great insight.
“I got married in 1989. My wife, from Wisconsin, had never been to the high school hockey tournament and I had not been back since my senior year. I described to her what a raucous scene it was. I wanted to take her so she could experience what it was like to be at a game where everyone is going nuts.
“So, we went to a session and this time, instead of being in the student section, we were just regular attendees. I don’t even recall who was playing, but it wasn’t raucous at all. It was rather sedate, in my opinion, and I commented to my wife that it was a much crazier experience back when I was in high school. And then I looked over at the student section and saw a couple hundred kids all dressed up, screaming and yelling and waving their signs. It was a “pocket of raucous” and I’m sure to those kids, it felt like the whole stadium was going nuts. Ah, perspective …”
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