Members of Bemidji State's Tau Kappa Epsilon fraternity set a record in 1972 when they played the world's longest basketball game over a 125-hour period during spring break. (Contributed)
Micah Friez 2023 square

By Micah Friez

Published 12:00 p.m. on March 18, 2024

A group of Bemidji State College students redefined March Madness on this date in 1972 when they started a basketball game. Because they were crazy enough to play nonstop for the next five days.

The exhibition between members of BSC’s Tau Kappa Epsilon fraternity began at noon on March 18 and continued until 5 p.m. on March 23. When the contest finally, mercifully, triumphantly ended 125 hours after opening tipoff, more than two dozen Beavers had a new world record to behold.

“Tau Kappa Epsilon fraternity of Bemidji State College completed their quest for a new world record in marathon basketball Thursday,” so reported the Bemidji Daily Pioneer, “as they finished 125 hours of continuous play at the BSC Gymnasium.”

It’s not often that a team racks up 8,855 points (nor is it common to then still lose by 620) but such was the anomaly in this contest. Team 2 had the high honor of winning 9,475 to 8,855, but all 25 participants involved reestablished the record for the world’s longest basketball game.

“People thought that was pretty awesome. I mean, I tell people the story 50 years later,” participant Jim Langseth said. “It’s in my memory bank. Certainly, all the people we played with were really close friends.”

The action unfolded continuously all week during spring break. Players alternated shifts to allow time for sleeping and eating – five hours on, five hours off, repeat – with substitutes rotating in every hour.

“We never seemed to get enough sleep,” participant Jim Kubovec told the Northern Student newspaper soon after it ended. “By the time we showered and got ready for bed, it was time to start getting ready to play again. It’s something I only want to do once in my life.”

Kubovec, who now lives in Maple Grove, confirmed he’s never done it since.

Members of Bemidji State's TKE fraternity play in the world's longest basketball game in March 1972. (Contributed)
The Northern Student published an article on TKE's new world record in this April 13, 1972, edition.

Playing the long game

The previous record for longest basketball game, as recognized by the Guinness Book of World Records, was officially set at 110 hours by a group from the University of Oregon. (Bemidji State’s group actually aimed to surpass 120 hours because a fraternity at Lea College had recently reached that higher mark, though Lea’s legitimacy was currently in question because they had played various outside groups rather than amongst themselves. BSC pushed for 125 hours just to be safe.)

The exhibition also doubled as a fundraiser. A month prior, BSC had sent its first Olympians to the global stage when alumni Charlie Brown and Jim McElmury earned silver medals in men’s ice hockey for Team USA at the Winter Games. Bursting with national pride, the TKE fraternity took pledges for the Special Olympics program and raised over $500.

The BSC Gymnasium hosted the history hopefuls, but the gauntlet soon took its toll. Sore feet and blisters plagued the players – so much so that they designated certain toilets exclusively for standing ankle-deep inside and flushing the cool water over their desperation for relief. (This porcelain-inspired detail is perhaps the most poignant reminder that these were college guys, after all.)

During their off-time, participants slept in the wrestling team’s practice room and ate food donated by a number of Bemidji-area businesses, clubs and individuals. College officials brought in mattresses from the dorms, while others used sleeping bags.

The Pioneer checked in on the fraternity’s quest at the 80-hour mark, reporting that Team 1 had a lead of 5,254 to 5,000. But finally catching a second wind, Team 2 raced ahead over the final 45 hours and ended on a 4,475 to 3,601 run.

“We all had sore feet and aching legs,” event organizer and Team 1 captain Tom Anderson told the Northern Student. “At times we’d just be dragging up and down the court, but when they started taking video tapes, we’d all turn into big hams.”

“There were times when it was all-out,” Langseth recalled. “In fact, the last hour of the game, when we played the 125th hour, there were free substitutions and running up and down the court.”

A sizable crowd gathered for the climax, and a nearby TV station even arrived to broadcast it. Despite everyone being dog-tired, Anderson remembers the closing 60 minutes being so intense that “it was like the score was tied. … The last hour was the most competitive hour in the game, of all the 125 hours. It was amazing how people found enough energy.”

The long ordeal ultimately concluded with a fittingly grand finale. Rod Paskey jumped on Kirk Skallman’s shoulders and extended up for a celebratory slam dunk for history.

Jim Daniels captained the winning team, while 5-foot-6 Dave Skwira was the game’s leading scorer with a preposterous 1,613 points for the victors. About 10 participants in all scored at least 1,000 points. (For comparison, the Bemidji State men’s basketball program had seen exactly two players reach 1,000 career points in its 51-year history by that point.)

Our condolences go out to the person who got stuck keeping stats all week.

Is it still the record? Maybe…

A group of Bemidji State faculty members, including vice president Dr. Richard Beitzel, donated their time to supervise the marathon throughout the week in order to make the record official. In addition to statisticians being present, referees also kept order from start to finish.

The 125-hour marathon met all the necessary qualifications, and Guinness sent a letter confirming that TKE broke the previous benchmark and recognizing them as new world record-holders. (Editor’s note: Kubovec said that a group of Boy Scouts topped the TKE standard a few years later, though we haven’t been able to find any record of that feat online.)

Guinness currently recognizes a 120-hour, 2-minute contest held in Buffalo, N.Y., in 2021 as the world’s longest basketball game. That event was played in memory of suicide victim Devin Waring and raised over $60,000 for mental health organizations.

But whether the Beavers, the Boy Scouts or the Buffalonians truly own the title, there’s no denying that TKE’s marathon was an outrageous, unforgettable stunt. And how did they celebrate their success, you ask? They left the BSC gym and piled in front of a TV to watch the high school basketball state tournaments, of course.

“I waited four and a half days for that final gun,” Skwira told the Northern Student. “I had a chance to go to Florida over break, but I’m glad I stayed. I got closer to the guys in the frat, and I think the money we raised is going to a great cause.”

It’s been half a century since TKE’s world record, but this truth still rings true: The only thing madder than March were the men in the marathon.