On November 1, 2014, the 1969 men’s basketball team arrived at Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, to celebrate the team’s 45th anniversary and the 85th birthday of their coach - George Birger.
The starting five team members – Americans Jerry Hemmings, Joe Parks, Shelton Bellamy, Robert Jackson, and Louis Vaughn hooked up with Canadians Charlie Tallack and Brian Nieminen and their beloved coach for a weeklong reunion.
Since graduating, all the players have had successful careers. Brian Nieminen believes that this is “a testament to our educational and extracurricular experiences at Lakehead University.”
In the late 1960s, the American players recruited by Coach Birger helped bring a standard of basketball to Thunder Bay that had never been seen before. The C.J. Sanders Fieldhouse was regularly filled to overflowing – becoming known as the ‘Thunderdome’ because of the wild cheering of the fans.
The team went 21 games undefeated in the highly competitive National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics (NAIA) division and challenged the champions of District 13 to a sudden death playoff for the right to go to Kansas City for the NAIA playoffs.
“When the team reunited in South Carolina,” Brian says, “the rapport between us was amazing. It was like being transported back in time.”