January 26, 1938: Esko’s Future Farmer’s of America basketball team beats the Harlem Globetrotters

Besides beating the Harlem Globetrotters, Esko’s FFA basketball teams gained fame in the 1930s by winning several state and Midwest tournaments. The 1938–39 team built a trophy collection, as seen here. In front row, from left, are Bernie Koivisto, Fred Seikkula, trainer Bill Juntunen, H. Ray Johnson and Marvin Davidson. Back row, from left: Les Knuti, Emil Joki, Clarence Juntti, Walter Maunu, Ray Maunu, Harvey Mattinen and coach-manager Lauri Kortesmaki. (Image: Esko Historical Society)

On this day south of Duluth in Esko, Esko area schoolboys playing for the state’s first Future farmers of America basketball team defeated the Harlem Globetrotters. Davis Helberg tells the story: “You might not know what the score was (42–41) or when it happened (January 26, 1938), but if you’ve lived in Thomson Township for longer than 10 minutes, you probably know the Esko FFA basketball team once defeated the Harlem Globetrotters. It’s a staple of local lore, a fact older residents are quick to share with newcomers. Given the circumstances, the pride has some justification…. Esko’s FFA team—the first one in the state—had been organized in 1929 by agriculture teacher Leo Knuti…. Eligibility was open to chapter members who were not on the high school team as well as to ‘honorary and part-time students in agriculture.’ …The old Esko gym seated about 800 people. …Among those in attendance was Donald Himango, a grade-school student sitting in the third row at center court. In 2012 Himango still had a vivid recollection of the 42–41 hometown victory. He also kept a Duluth News-Tribune sports column wherein he was quoted by sports editor Irv Mossberger as he described the game’s final moments: ‘The Globetrotters led by a point and they had the ball, and then they started clowning around. Time was running out, and…Les Knuti stole the ball and sank a basket from half-court right as it ended.’ (Himango later recalled Knuti’s game-winner was a two-handed set shot.) Esko had trailed for three quarters before Knuti, Reynold Mattson and Marvin Davidson ‘began dropping baskets from all angles of the floor.’ Davidson finished with eight points while Knuti, Mattson and Bill Stenman had six each. In 2012, Himango also gave credit to the other members of the team, each of whom scored at least a point: Walter Maunu, Ray Maunu, Bernie Koivisto, Harvey Mattinen, Emil Joki and Clarence Juntti. ‘Most people came to see the Globetrotters,’ said Himango. ‘No one expected Esko would win. People could hardly believe it when it ended the way it did.’” Davis edited the book Esko’s Corner: A history of Esko and Thomson Township,” which is cholk full of fascinating tales like this one. You can find it through the Esko Historical Society, here.

One Response to January 26, 1938: Esko’s Future Farmer’s of America basketball team beats the Harlem Globetrotters

  1. What an incredible feat. Why, somehow even the Washington Generals were never able to top the Globetrotters. Must have been a great day in Esko, comparable to the time Jack Benny sidekick Dennis Day and his show played the McGregor High School gym in the 1940s. There are strange things done in the midnight sun…

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