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Belles of the Ball, Part 1

Belles of the Ball, Part 1

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Published by Steve Buttry
This is the first installment in my 1996 series for the Omaha World-Herald, Belles of the Ball, about the 1971 Iowa state girls basketball champions, the Farragut Admiralettes.
This is the first installment in my 1996 series for the Omaha World-Herald, Belles of the Ball, about the 1971 Iowa state girls basketball champions, the Farragut Admiralettes.

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Published by: Steve Buttry on Jun 25, 2011
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This is the first in a four-part series, ³Belles of the Ball.´
Copyright 1996 Omaha World-HeraldReprinted with permissionMarch 3, 1996 Sunday SUNRISE EDITIONSECTION: NEWS; Pg. 1AHEADLINE:
That Championship Season:In Small Towns, Big Wins Last For a Lifetime
By STEPHEN BUTTRYWORLD-HERALD STAFF WRITER Farragut, Iowa  From Calgary, Alberta, to Charlottesville, Va., to Smithville,Texas, and especially in this tiny town, those who watched and won the 1971 Iowa girls basketball state championship game vividly remember the pivotal moment.It was probably the biggest moment in Farragut's history and unquestionablythe most memorable.With the championship on the line, Farragut Coach Leon Plummer sent 5-foot-2Tanya Bopp onto the floor to guard 6-foot-1 Barb Wischmeier.Miss Wischmeier, who would go on to play basketball around the world and wina spot in the Iowa Girls Basketball Hall of Fame, had scored 18 points by themiddle of the second quarter to give Mediapolis a four-point lead over Farragut's Admiralettes.Miss Bopp, a sophomore reserve, promptly drew a charging foul, frustratingMiss Wischmeier and fueling the Farragut comeback.Thus are small-town legends born. And, as befits such a legend, it has grownin the telling, swelled by the excitement of the moment and the passing of theyears.Miss Bopp and the rest of the "Adettes," as they were commonly known, wereliving their childhood dream.In Farragut and Manilla and Guthrie Center and hundreds of other Iowa towns,girls basketball was a special game and a special dream, like boys basketball inIndiana or high school football in Texas.Winning the state championship gave girls and towns a moment of glory thatlasts forever."I still remember it like it was today," said Tanya Bopp Bland. "That'ssomething no one could take away from you." Iowa girls nurtured the dream intheir driveways or barnyards as early as they could dribble a ball.
 
 Janelle Gruber Bryte remembers playing with her sister on the family farmsouth of Farragut, a southwest Iowa town of 500. They provided their own radiocommentary, pretending they were their Adette idols and their driveway wasVeterans Memorial Auditorium in Des Moines. "One of us would be Beverly Bickettand one would be Pixie Pease, and we'd be playing in the state tournament." MissGruber, playing alongside Bev Bickett's little sister, Bonnie, clinchedFarragut's '71 championship with her fourth-quarter free throws.Mrs. Bland, Mrs. Bryte and the other Adettes have long since scattered.The pigtails they wore on the basketball court have given way to shorter styles and permed looks of another age. Several have daughters and sons playing basketball or other sports in high school and college.Guided by lessons in discipline and teamwork, the Adettes have traveled avariety of career paths: veterinary medicine, teaching, coaching, farming,sales, banking, retail management, the Navy, school bus driving and health care.Like the girls, their sport has changed greatly from the game that gave theAdettes their moment of glory that Saturday evening, March 13, 1971.Six girls played on each team then, three on offense and three on defense. Inessence, the sport was two three-on-three games, with no players allowed tocross the center line.And it was dominated by Iowa's small towns. In other states and in Iowa'scities and larger towns, girls seldom had the opportunity to play basketball. Nebraska high schools didn't start playing until 1975.Iowa's unique hold on girls basketball developed in the 1920s, when the stateathletic association tried to eliminate girls' sports.Women's physical education departments at major universities viewedcompetitive sports as something "that was going to ruin motherhood," said Chuck  Neubauer, who coached girls basketball for 32 years at Harlan, Guthrie Center and three other Iowa towns.Instead, the educators favored "play days," where girls would play gameswithout spectators and without keeping score.The school superintendents in Iowa's small towns disagreed, forming their ownathletic organization and holding their own tournament. Most of the teams werecoached by the superintendents themselves. "In the 1920s, Iowa was playing whenno one else in the United States was playing," said E. Wayne Cooley, who has
 
been executive secretary of the Iowa Girls' High School Athletic Union since1954.As the New York Times story about Farragut's victory said: "After a bumper corn crop, perhaps the most revered thing in the state of Iowa is a championgirl basketball player." Connie Yori achieved that lofty status with Ankeny in1980, before going on to play and now to coach basketball at CreightonUniversity in Omaha."I was really fortunate that I got a chance to play in the real heyday of girls basketball in Iowa," Ms. Yori said. "They placed those female athletes ona pedestal that was very unusual." Not that Iowans were unconcerned with their girls appearing ladylike. To keep the players from sprinting and crashing intoeach other, they divided the court and allowed only two dribbles in succession.Team uniforms included skirts, a fashion that persisted into the '70s with a fewteams ("Thank goodness we never had to wear those skirts!" Mrs. Bryte said).Ladylike "-ettes" were added to the nicknames of the boys' teams, no matter howcomical the result (Mediapolis was the Bullettes).The distinct nature of the game only enhanced its mystique among Iowans."It was," said Neubauer, "something unique that the small towns justgravitated to and claimed as their own." Towns with a team in the statetournament would shut down for the day, or the week if they kept winning, aseveryone drove to Des Moines to watch their girls play. Even for teams thatdidn't qualify for the tournament's "Sweet Sixteen," just making the trip asspectators was a highlight of the year.Throughout tournament week, girls wearing letter jackets would fill DesMoines' downtown stores and suburban malls, many of them shopping for promdresses.Vets Auditorium, which holds about 13,000 people, sold out frequently duringtournament week. Sally Ashler, the widow of Farragut Coach Leon Plummer,remembers that she almost didn't get into the '71 championship game and wasn'table to sit with the Farragut cheering section.Larry Porter, now The World-Herald's outdoor writer, covered southwest Iowasports in those days and has covered the National Basketball Association, aheavyweight championship fight and Husker bowl games. "The absolute peak, mostfavorite event that I've ever covered," Porter said, "is a girls state basketball tournament in Iowa." Porter, other reporters, Farragut fans andothers who loved the tournament cite many of the same reasons: the contrast between absolute concentration during the game and unbridled emotion afterward;the pageantry surrounding the championship game, with all the tournament teams

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