REVISED Mike Worcester and Johanna Ellison, "Lost Cokato: The Little Red Jug and the Cream Can." In The Midst Of, Cokato Historical Society (October, 2018) vol. 38 no. 4.
Little Red Jug, Cokato High School, 1972 Yearbook.
Sports rivalries are not limited to just the professional or collegiate ranks. High schools are noted for their sometimes spirited rivalries also.
In the case of Cokato High School, one of their more fierce rivals was their neighbor to the west, Dassel. Football was one of the sports that drew upon that competitive spirit. To acknowledge that spirit, the schools took a cue from the Universities of Minnesota and Michigan--who play each year for the Little Brown Jug.
In the case of CHS and DHS, they played for the Little Red Jug. According to the scores written on the Little Red Jug, the rivalry seems to have started in 1966, with Cokato beating Dassel 26-13. Cokato also won the final game between the two schools in October of 1971. What remains a mystery is who came up with the idea, Dassel or Cokato?
Football was not the only sport that saw a spirited rivalry over an inanimate object. The Litchfield/Dassel-Cokato hockey team has one with Willmar. They played for a cream can. Not just one can though; there were two.
The Cream Can: What happened to the original?
"I have been a boys’ hockey coach now for 25 years. Although I know of and have seen other rivalries, I have not witnessed any that reach the magnitude of Litchfield (Dassel/Cokato) and Willmar. The fire and desire that went into those games is like nothing you ever saw or see now." —David Aus (former L/D-C player and son of former L/D-C coach Pete Aus; paraphrased)
The drop of the puck marked the birth of a cream can competition between Willmar and the Litchfield/Dassel-Cokato boys’ high school hockey teams. The origins of the “cream can” predate the Dassel-Cokato merge with Litchfield. According to the West Central Tribune it was former Litchfield mayor Vern Madsen with the support of Willmar mayor Jack Lynch who helped start the cream can tradition. Per Madsen, the First District Association in Litchfield provided the original cream can, which was half red (for the Cardinals) and half green (for the Dragons).1 The exact date of the implementation of the cream can is where history gets fuzzy.
In one article, the West Central Daily Tribune infers the “Little Cream Can Award,” made its debut during the dedication of the Litchfield Civic Center Ice Arena on December 15, 1973—a game which resulted in Litchfield’s 9-2 victory over Willmar.2 However, later articles reference 1972 as the starting date. (It is possible that 1972 is when Willmar first played Litchfield.)
By the time Litchfield/Dassel-Cokato played their first official season in 1984-85, the competition with Willmar had intensified. Mark Raisanen, former Dragon player, remembers a Willmar game around 1984 where students “were super rowdy and even got into fistfights with each other.” Raisanen went on to describe how one “Litch or DC student lit a bottle rocket and shot it onto the ice during a 3-2 drive by Willmar...” Fellow teammate David Aus remembers that “fans threw chickens painted red on the ice.” As a result of these early antics, the games were moved to Saturdays.
The change did little to deter those antics. Former Dragons Rob Swendra and Jeff Salmela recalled how by 1993 the cream can games got so heated that the administration took away the trophy for a number of years. In fact, it is around this time that the location of the original cream can faded into hockey lore.
The legend of the cream can games, however, inspired a player, during the Dragon’s 2006-2007 season, to create a replica of the original cream can and unofficially resurrect the traveling trophy custom. The gesture was short lived. In December 2007, fans during the game became so disruptive that the competition was again suspended starting the following 2008-09 season.4 In fact, L/D-C and Willmar did not play against each other until 2011.
In December 2012, Willmar and L/D-C began the tradition again with a new chrome-plated trophy named the Stephen Reynolds Memorial Cream Can. Reynolds was a former Willmar player who died suddenly of a heart condition on November 29, 2011. According to current L/D-C boys hockey coach Chris Olson, “Now, when we play at home, the cream can is a fundraiser event. We throw a pork chop dinner and the boys and girls teams both play Willmar that day (although the boys are the only ones playing for a cream can).”5
A special thanks to Kandiyohi County Historical Society and Meeker County Historical Society and former L/D-C players and coaches for their aid in acquiring information about the L/D-C programs and their rivalry with Willmar.
1. Rand Middleton, “Cream Can History” West Central Tribune (4 January 2012). Accessed August 28, 2018. http://www.wctrib.com/sports/348846-cardinal-boys-hoops-target.
2. Bill Nolen, “Litchfield Dedicates New Rink with 9-2 Victory over Willmar,” West Central Daily Tribune (17 December 1973).
3. Middleton, “Cream Can History.”
4. Interview with Chris Olson.
5. Interview with Chris Olson.
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