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Editor’s note: This is a continuing series of Eastern Iowa sports history “Time Machine” articles. Mark Dukes worked at The Gazette from 1973 to 1998, the last 14 years as sports editor.
The buildings have long since been razed or repurposed. Countless rural Iowa communities have lost their high schools but memories of basketball glory decades ago will not be forgotten.
As the path to the 90th girls’ state basketball tournament continues, it is a much different game than those small communities remember when their school was queen. It’s 5-on-5 now, not 6-player or even the three-court game. It’s a five-class tournament, not all for one.
For the first 50 years of the Iowa Girls High School Athletic Union-sanctioned tournament, rural communities were at the forefront and the fabric of the game’s history.
Newhall. Clutier. Maynard. Garrison. Van Horne. Wiota. Kamrar. Those long-forgotten high schools all won girls’ state championships. There were more that made it. Brooklyn, Coggon, Stanwood and Walker, for example.
It was a game dominated by small schools in the early years, largely because metropolitan districts did not offer girls’ basketball. It was not until the early 1970s that Metro area schools began offering hoops for girls, mostly due to the passage of Title IX legislation in 1972.
Small schools have since merged into larger districts. But their basketball history still resonates in the rural communities of Iowa.
John W. Agans may be as responsible for anyone for preserving and perpetuating girls’ basketball in Iowa.
Non-sanctioned state tournaments started in 1920 but it wasn’t until 1925 that the IGHSAU was formed and it began sanctioning the sport in 1926.
Despite the popularity of basketball in small-town Iowa, larger school districts did not follow. In fact, some administrators at the time believed the sport may be too “strenuous’’ for girls.
At the 1925 Iowa State Teachers’ Convention at Central Presbyterian Church in Des Moines, superintendents and principals decided competitive basketball was not for girls and should no longer be sponsored by the Iowa High School Athletic Association.
A debate ensued and Agans, the Mystic High School superintendent, delivered an impassioned opinion. “Gentlemen, if you attempt to do away with girls’ basketball in Iowa, you’ll be standing at the center of the track when the train runs over you!” Agans said, according to the IGHSAU.
An impromptu meeting ensued and 25 men, mostly representing smaller schools, decided they would form a new organization if the IHSAA would not sanction girls’ basketball. It was then the IGHSAU was born.
The game enjoyed remarkable success in the years that followed, the 6-player state tournaments becoming a rite of spring. In 1993, Iowa was the next-to-last state to end the 6-player format and go to the traditional game. Two years later, Oklahoma followed suit.
It was a game with which few today are familiar: Three courts, six players each side.
There was a forward court, a center court and a guard court. Players could dribble only once. After each basket, the ball was returned to center court for a jump ball.
Newhall did it best in 1927. After an undefeated regular season — including wins of 85-2 over Blairstown and 84-2 over Shellsburg — the Newhall girls boarded a train that traveled to Marion and eventually to Mystic, where they had an overnight stay. They went by car the remaining six miles to Centerville, site of the state tourney.
The format then was a four-team, round-robin. Newhall reversed an earlier outcome against Sioux Center in the championship game, 38-37. Newhall trailed 21-10 at halftime and things looked bleak, with three starters having fouled out by the third quarter. A furious rally was completed on sophomore Luella Gardemann’s late basket. She totaled 28 points in that game, then an incredible sum.
Only a handful of Newhall residents attended the tournament, as Iowa weather had turned rural roads to muddy messes. About 200 people gathered at a Newhall restaurant for the title game. Emmett Johnson and Merril Deklotz leased a phone line in Centerville and relayed play-by-play back to the restaurant.
Newhall’s coach, William Franklin, was described as a taskmaster and disciplinarian in a 1997 Gazette story. Gardmann said Franklin banned sugar from the girls’ diets and the players were not allowed to date except on weekends.
Newhall High School merged into the Benton Community School District in the 1960s. According to a Cedar Valley Times story, most of the school’s trophies — including the 1927 state championship trophy — were inexplicably taken to the dump during the reorganization.
No high school was more dominant in girls’ basketball than Clutier in the 1940s. From 1939 to 1948, Clutier teams had a 201-18-1 record, made six state tournament trips and won the Iowa title in 1942 with a 40-26 win over Wiota.
The Chargin’ Czechs went 31-0 in 1942. Community members followed the team’s every step. Since basketball was essentially the only extracurricular activity for girls then, every female in the school tried out for the team. Betty Mundt of Clutier was the 1942 state tournament’s top scorer with 75 points in four games.
The Clutier high school was closed in 1961 when it merged with Traer to form Traer-Clutier. In 1965, with the addition of Dinsdale, Clutier became part of the North Tama school district.
In 2007, Clutier further commemorated the 1942 team by dedicating an entry into town. At a cost of $8,000, a fence and brick monument were constructed.
The Iowa Hall of Pride in Des Moines hasn’t forgotten about Clutier, either. The Hall has an area dedicated to the 1942 team as part of its Six-Girl Basketball in Iowa display, complete with the championship trophy, the white basketball that was used then, a team picture and a uniform.
In 2007, Clutier’s mayor proclaimed Sept. 15 as Chargin’ Czech Day in perpetuity.
From Newhall’s 1927 team to the Benton Community School District opening in 1965-66, Benton County towns were wildly successful in basketball. If teams weren’t making the state tournament, they often were eliminated on the tourney trail by a Benton County neighbor.
Van Horne (1962) and Garrison (1957) were other Benton County towns that won girls’ state basketball titles. Keystone, Norway, Vinton and Blairstown all had teams make a boys’ or girls’ state tournament.
The Van Horne Hornets, coached by Larry Wiebke, topped tradition-rich Mediapolis in the title contest, 62-57.
The 1962 tournament was noteworthy because it was the only one ever played in Waterloo. A bowling tournament in Des Moines that March forced the move to Waterloo.
Benton Community is celebrating the 50th anniversary of its first graduating class. Students from eight towns in the county attend Benton. Before its opening, five of them made state tournaments out of their old high schools: Newhall, Van Horne, Keystone, Blairstown and Norway. Three boys’ teams and three girls’ squads have made state tournaments since Benton Community was formed.
Two icons of the girls’ state basketball tournament were E. Wayne Cooley and Jim Duncan.
Duncan, former Drake University professor and broadcaster, presided over dozens of halftime shows. In his unique voice, he would introduce Hall of Fame inductees starting with, “The yeeeeaaar was ...”
Duncan long was affiliated with the Drake Relays and the track at Drake Stadium was named after him in 1988.
Cooley was the longtime executive director of the IGHSAU and fought for the Iowa Girl as much as anyone. The state tournament has been televised since 1951 and was shown in nine states as late as 1968, the year Union-Whitten beat Everly, 113-107, in overtime for the title. Union-Whitten was led by Denise Long, who scored a state-record 6,250 points in her career.
Cooley brought national attention to Iowa girls’ basketball, resulting in two Sports Illustrated essays, Long’s appearance on “The Tonight Show” when she was taken in the 1969 NBA draft and several features in national publications.
He staunchly and stubbornly defended the 6-player game that had been the staple of rural Iowa for years. But with the passage of Title IX and pressure from many angles, Cooley relented. Five-player basketball was introduced to larger schools in 1985 and the state went to 5-player basketball for every school in 1994.
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