Anoka’s storied history comes alive in Tornado Magic

Over the last decade author Craig Torbenson has worked to gather the most comprehensive collection of Anoka High School athletic history in the appropriately titled book, “Tornado Magic: A History of Anoka High School Sports.”

Of course, the 600-page book is filled with stats about the colorful and storied past of one of the state’s richest prep programs, but Torbenson gives readers bits and pieces that tell more about a Friday night football game or Billy Bye’s busy spring day where he won the district golf championship in the morning, won a state baseball title in the afternoon and qualified for the state track meet in five events that evening.

The result of more than 10 years of research is Craig Torbenson’s book, ‘Tornado Magic: A History of Anoka High School Sports.’ Torbenson, a member of the Class of 1974, now is a professor at Whichita State University.

The result of more than 10 years of research is Craig Torbenson’s book, ‘Tornado Magic: A History of Anoka High School Sports.’ Torbenson, a member of the Class of 1974, now is a professor at Whichita State University. Photo by Jason Olson

“The idea (for the book) came to me while I was going through newspapers looking for family information,” Torbenson said, who is a geography professor at Wichita State University (Kansas) and an avid genealogist and history enthusiast. “I found myself always checking out who the star athletes were from the (19)20s-50s and 60s and how sad not many knew more about them. They’re really good athletes but never had anything to read about. There’s lots of trivia and interesting sports knowledge.”

The book is available online (createspace.com/3845182) for $25 with proceeds to benefit the Billy Bye Memorial Activity Fund.

Torbenson offers a glimpse from the early days through a brief history of each sport, listing the best teams for those sports in great detail: Anoka athletes who excelled in college and professionally, and legacy families with three or more generations coming through Anoka.

Best teams criteria included top-two conference finish or high finish at the state level.

Torbenson said it was a tough task to rank the teams so instead he compared them by time frames.

He opens the book with a history of the four main buildings used early on, and includes insight into the courses taught and the unique schedules – schedules in which students would go home for lunch every day or spend the week boarded in town and return home to the family farm each weekend.

Some of the stories that stood out the most for Torbenson include Bye’s accomplishments despite only being at Anoka High School for two school years. He was the first three-time all-state athlete.

During the 1930s, a football player by the name of William Mathiney promised a punt return touchdown during each game. And he did just that.

“He was a speed guy and held the 100-200 dash records until the late ‘60s. He’s still among the top 10 for the 200 and played professional football in Canada,” Torbenson said.

The first time the Anoka Marching Band formed the A before a football game came in 1949 while performing the Anoka Fight Song.

At one time Anoka had an in-house boxing team with a makeshift boxing ring inside the lunchroom. The team hosted a Golden Gloves tournament and went to two Golden Gloves competitions in Minneapolis between 1939-1942.

“There was a lot of opposition to that in the community,” Torbenson said.

Jason Olson is at
jason.olson@ecm-inc.com

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