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Perham's Gary Senske cuts the ribbon on UMC basketball court newly named after him

The Gary Senske Court was dedicated during a halftime ceremony at a basketball game at the University of Minnesota-Crookston on Nov. 23.

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Gary cuts the ribbon for Gary Senske Court. (Submitted by Chuck Johnson)

Gary Senske, of Perham, has the distinction of being the most successful basketball coach ever at the University of Minnesota-Crookston, and the school recently memorialized that career by naming its basketball court after him.

The Gary Senske Court was dedicated at a halftime ceremony during the UMC vs. Bemidji game on Nov. 23.

The court is part of the Lysaker athletic building, named after Herschel Lysaker, who recruited Senske to the coaching position and acted as his mentor for several years. Senske had a successful high school coaching career in Underwood and Eveleth before moving into the college ranks. It was Lysaker who put the UMC bug in his ear, encouraging him to apply there.

He did, and his teams went on to win 176 games during his 21-year career at UMC. In that time, his program made two upward moves to become the NCAA Division II program it is today.

Basketball was deep in Senske's soul, and he knew he wanted to improve it in the Crookston area. He began a summer league program that reached out 50 miles and had up to 500 kids at its peak.

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Both UMC and its basketball program were in a state of transition when Senske became coach there. The school was transitioning from an agricultural college to a junior college to a four-year university, and Senske shepherded a similar transition in basketball. When he began his career, Crookston was competing in the NJCAA, and not long after that it transitioned to the NAIA, and finally it became a D-II program.

As a D-II school, Crookston can recruit players with scholarships, and most everyone on the lineup has some kind of scholarship. That’s a far cry from the early days, when, “We had $1,500 available and had to make sure not to spend it on just one kid,” Senske recalled with a chuckle.

Senske is a 1962 graduate of Perham High School. He and his wife, Donna, returned to Perham after he retired from UMC in 2002. He was inducted into the UMC Athletic Hall of Fame in 2004, and the PHS Hall of Fame in 2010. His success is evident with a 61% win-loss percentage that included 12 consecutive winning seasons, a division championship, four division runners-up, the 1987 State Championship, and a Region XIII runner-up finish.

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Professor Dan Svedarsky, who worked closely with Gary during his 21 years at UMC, talked about Gary’s role at the college. Chancellor Mary Holz Claus(standing in between) also spoke. (Submitted by Chuck Johnson)

At the dedication ceremony, Senske's son Steele (who played for his dad and is in the UMC Hall of Fame) and grandson, Steele Jr., who is on the Bemidji team, joined an assemblage of former players and others who were on hand to honor Senske. Jeff Oseth, who played for Senske in the 1990s and then became his assistant coach before replacing him after his retirement, spoke at the ceremony.

“Gary always got the most out of his players,” Oseth said. “He always carried a high level of intensity and professionalism.”

It was a proud moment for the Perham man.

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“They did a nice job; it made me feel very important,” Senske said of the ceremony. “I’m proud of my time at UMC, and helping them progress from a junior college to become an NCAA Division II school.”

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Gary get hug from grandson Steele Senske, who plays hoops for Bemidji. (Submitted by Chuck Johnson)

Senske was a standout athlete at PHS for his combination of size, speed and agility. He earned seven letters in basketball and track and was an exceptional basketball player, claiming All-Conference honors in 1961 and '62. He set the Region 6 section record in the mile run at 4:31 and claimed the section championship in '62, representing Perham in the state track meet. He was the Gordon Weise Athlete of the Year that year. In college, he lettered one year at Bemidji State and three years at Moorhead State in basketball.

Related Topics: PERHAMPEOPLEBASKETBALL
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