STARBUCK, Minn. -- Matt Pederson will mention himself how he scored just two points during his eighth-grade basketball career as an example of how much he marvels at some of the numbers other athletes have put up on the hardwood.
On the court is not where Pederson would leave his mark on the game, but the 61-year-old from Starbuck in west-central Minnesota has certainly become a part of Minnesota high school basketball history through a different avenue that takes place out of the spotlight.
If there is a record in the books for a prep player, Pederson is usually the guy to thank for that. If a person calls anyone from the Minnesota State High School League to ask about a potential milestone in basketball, they are often directed to Pederson himself to get the answer.
“I definitely enjoy it,” Pederson said of the statewide records he has tracked that currently includes over 1,700 listings in boys basketball and just under that on the girls’ side. “I do take pride in doing that and certainly want to do a credible job so people can look at the list and feel it is believable. You know that somebody has taken some time to think about these things as they’re getting added to the records.”
An early start
Pederson has a curiosity about numbers and where those numbers rank among others in certain categories that stems back into his childhood.
The first time he tracked stats was as a seventh grader from Starbuck at a home basketball game. A couple years later, and when his own playing career was over, he felt a part of the team when then Starbuck head coach Greg Starns asked him to serve as a student manager.
Pederson graduated from high school in 1977, and witnessed two girls basketball teams from Starbuck qualify for the state tournament in 1974 and 1976.
Starbuck’s last graduating class before the existence of Minnewaska Area High School came in 1991. Pederson saw an opportunity there to compile school records knowing that the Starbuck era itself would be officially closed.
He leaned on Starns for 19 years worth of scorebooks and season stats. Previous coaches at the school in Tom Wolhowe and Dave Tank also helped out.
That provided Pederson with numbers as far back as 1964. Everything before that had to come through scouring information from the Pope County Museum and archives of the Starbuck Times newspaper.
“I definitely enjoy the history part of it,” Pederson said. “I guess that’s probably shown where I dove into doing the Starbuck records.”
Pederson discovered through his research that Starbuck’s Ron Johnson set a then single-game state record with 69 points in 1953. That mark is still sixth all-time on a list that is now topped by Cash Eggleston of Minnesota Transitions, who scored 90 points on Feb. 2, 2005.
A curious mind
Pederson’s deep dive into the history of Starbuck basketball culminated after nearly two years when he received the printed booklets of the records on Dec. 21, 1993.
A week after that, Pederson was watching a Minnewaska Area girls basketball game with Starbuck Times owner and publisher Ron Lindquist. The Lakers’ Misty Burns was in the midst of an incredible run at the free throw line where she knocked down 21-of-24 shots in a single game. Lindquist wondered aloud if Burns’ feat was a state record.
“I thought, ‘Yeah, I kind of wonder that too,’” Pederson said. “It was a couple local instances that got me interested in looking at the statewide records.”
His first order of business was to contact Bob McDonald at Chisholm in boys basketball. McDonald holds the record for most coaching wins in state history at 1,012. Another early contact on the girls’ side was at New York Mills High School where Janet Karvonen held the career-scoring record at the time with 3,129 points.
“If they would have said, ‘Well, we got nothing for you.’ It would have looked very weak from the start,” Pederson said. “When they had a bunch of stuff, I thought, ‘OK, this might develop into something.’”
Both Chisholm and New York Mills coaches and administrators not only provided detailed numbers for Pederson, but also encouragement to pursue an endeavor that would mean a lot to those who love basketball in Minnesota.
Pederson reached out to the coaches associations for boys and girls basketball in the state to see if they would publicize the project and encourage their members to submit school records.
In 1997, Pederson’s state records booklets were made available online for the first time. Since 2001, records have been printed for coaches and media members at the state tournaments.
“As far as I know, he is the source for all the meaningful statistics that kids have accumulated over their careers,” longtime coach and current Ashby head boys basketball coach John Holsten said. “If you want to find out what’s going on, you go to Matt.”
The go-to source
Pederson’s numbers have become a primary source for places where people often go to get historic numbers like the online Star Tribune Basketball Hubs.
All of his records tallied can be found in one spot online at http://www.info-link.net/~mattnet.
In 2010, Pederson became the keeper of the 1,000-point scorers list that was printed in Minnesota Basketball News for years. That currently includes more than 3,700 boys and 3,100 girls. Pederson reaches out to schools at the end of each season to update the list that he says grows by well over 100 each winter.
“It’s gotten too big for almost anyone to publish in print,” Pederson said. “It’s really the property of Minnesota Basketball News, and I’m just kind of helping them keep it up to date. I’d hate to walk away from that thinking, ‘Is anyone going to take that on?’”
Pederson organizes his numbers through Microsoft Excel and keeps spreadsheets of players and coaches who he knows are nearing milestones. He does daily Google searches during basketball season looking for news articles of kids who have just passed career marks.
At season’s end, Pederson will spend upwards of a few hours a day sending emails and making phone calls to coaches looking for updated statistics. Many in the state go directly to him with milestone performances before he even has to reach out.
“If someone says, ‘I think this is what happened.’ I say, ‘OK, get back to me when you know this is what happened,’” Pederson said. “I’ll tell them that I’ll put on my list whatever a person at the school is willing to stand behind. I treat things with a bit of skepticism and then try to prove it. If it’s not the coach or the athletic director who sends it, I’ll probably go directly to them.”
Many who want to better understand parts of their own history or the leagues they play in will often lean on Pederson for answers.
Dick Simpson accumulated 605 wins during a long career coaching girls basketball that ended in Brandon-Evansville after the 2017 season. Simpson tracked his own records for the Chargers, but he wanted to take a deeper look into the history of the Little Eight Conference.
“Matt looked it up and sent me a list of all the Little Eight Conference champions for boys and girls going back to whenever,” Simpson said. “I turned that over to Tom Trisko, who was the chairman of the LEC. How he does it, I have no idea.”
A labor of love
Pederson has done all of this with no monetary reward.
He isn’t paid by publications or the state high school league, but he is appreciated by many members of the basketball community.
In 2011, Pederson was asked to be on the Minnesota High School Basketball Hall of Fame committee that selects players, coaches and teams as Hall of Fame inductees. The Minnesota Basketball Coaches Association has a Hall of Honor to recognize contributors to the game. Pederson was named to the Hall of Honor in 2012.
Without Pederson, no one would likely know exactly the kind of statistical anomaly a local player like Sari Noga was in her career with Parkers Prairie. Noga is listed 10 times on the Minnesota Girls Basketball Hub individual records list. Her 1,736 career rebounds and 13 threes made in a single game are still state records.
The list goes on for basketball fans who can better understand the context of big games, seasons and careers in state history because of Pederson’s work.
“I think Matt’s contributions have been vital to not just the basketball community but to the histories of towns,” Holsten said. “That sparks more interest in what’s going on in athletics in these small towns and larger towns. It’s not without controversy, which is good. There are times when it gets people to look up stuff and find other information. I think that’s great. He’s sparked a lot of investigation, a lot of debate. He’s been great for high school athletics.”