This is the first in a four-part series, ³Belles of the Ball.

´ Copyright 1996 Omaha World-Herald Reprinted with permission March 3, 1996 Sunday SUNRISE EDITION SECTION: NEWS; Pg. 1A HEADLINE: That Championship Season: In Small Towns, Big Wins Last For a Lifetime By STEPHEN BUTTRY WORLD-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 unquestionably the most memorable. With the championship on the line, Farragut Coach Leon Plummer sent 5-foot-2 Tanya Bopp onto the floor to guard 6-foot-1 Barb Wischmeier. Miss Wischmeier, who would go on to play basketball around the world and win a spot in the Iowa Girls Basketball Hall of Fame, had scored 18 points by the middle 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, frustrating Miss Wischmeier and fueling the Farragut comeback. Thus are small-town legends born. And, as befits such a legend, it has grown in the telling, swelled by the excitement of the moment and the passing of the years. Miss Bopp and the rest of the "Adettes," as they were commonly known, were living 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 in Indiana or high school football in Texas. Winning the state championship gave girls and towns a moment of glory that lasts forever. "I still remember it like it was today," said Tanya Bopp Bland. "That's something no one could take away from you." Iowa girls nurtured the dream in their driveways or barnyards as early as they could dribble a ball.

Janelle Gruber Bryte remembers playing with her sister on the family farm south of Farragut, a southwest Iowa town of 500. They provided their own radio commentary, pretending they were their Adette idols and their driveway was Veterans Memorial Auditorium in Des Moines. "One of us would be Beverly Bickett and one would be Pixie Pease, and we'd be playing in the state tournament." Miss Gruber, playing alongside Bev Bickett's little sister, Bonnie, clinched Farragut'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 a variety 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 the Adettes their moment of glory that Saturday evening, March 13, 1971. Six girls played on each team then, three on offense and three on defense. In essence, the sport was two three-on-three games, with no players allowed to cross the center line. And it was dominated by Iowa's small towns. In other states and in Iowa's cities 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 state athletic association tried to eliminate girls' sports. Women's physical education departments at major universities viewed competitive 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 games without spectators and without keeping score. The school superintendents in Iowa's small towns disagreed, forming their own athletic organization and holding their own tournament. Most of the teams were coached by the superintendents themselves. "In the 1920s, Iowa was playing when no 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 since 1954. 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 champion girl basketball player." Connie Yori achieved that lofty status with Ankeny in 1980, before going on to play and now to coach basketball at Creighton University 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 on a pedestal that was very unusual." Not that Iowans were unconcerned with their girls appearing ladylike. To keep the players from sprinting and crashing into each 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 few teams ("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 how comical 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 just gravitated to and claimed as their own." Towns with a team in the state tournament would shut down for the day, or the week if they kept winning, as everyone drove to Des Moines to watch their girls play. Even for teams that didn't qualify for the tournament's "Sweet Sixteen," just making the trip as spectators was a highlight of the year. Throughout tournament week, girls wearing letter jackets would fill Des Moines' downtown stores and suburban malls, many of them shopping for prom dresses. Vets Auditorium, which holds about 13,000 people, sold out frequently during tournament week. Sally Ashler, the widow of Farragut Coach Leon Plummer, remembers that she almost didn't get into the '71 championship game and wasn't able to sit with the Farragut cheering section. Larry Porter, now The World-Herald's outdoor writer, covered southwest Iowa sports in those days and has covered the National Basketball Association, a heavyweight championship fight and Husker bowl games. "The absolute peak, most favorite event that I've ever covered," Porter said, "is a girls state basketball tournament in Iowa." Porter, other reporters, Farragut fans and others 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

and champion teams from other sports paraded across the court; men wearing tuxedos sweeping the court; legendary public address announcer Jim Duncan introducing new members of the Hall of Fame. The '71 Adettes break into smiles when asked to describe the tournament experience. "They treated us - this sounds silly - like princesses," said Tess Laumann Cullin, who was a reserve guard. The tournament, which opens Monday, remains an Iowa spectacle, but the game played there has changed, and the state's monopoly has vanished. In the 1970s a federal mandate known as Title IX required schools to offer comparable activities for boys and girls. Iowa's larger schools started playing basketball and soon ruled the sport. After Southeast Polk in suburban Des Moines won in 1977, no school from a town smaller than 5,000 people won a statewide championship. The tournament was split into two divisions in 1985 and four in 1994. Other states were joining the fun, too. From 1972 to today, the number of schools and girls playing basketball nationally tripled. Colleges offered more scholarships, and women's championship games got national television exposure, spurring interest and ambition. "There are many more opportunities for women and girls than there used to be," Ms. Yori said. In Nebraska, high school girls basketball games started in 1975. Now nearly 8,000 Nebraska girls play at the high school level. Fan interest grew slowly. When Ms. Yori came to Nebraska in the early 1980s, "there was an obvious difference in fan support and financial background and so forth in coming from Iowa and crossing the Missouri River into Nebraska." Now the Nebraska teams are winning fans, too. Barb Liljedahl, who was Barb Wischmeier when she played Farragut in 1971, now lives in Mondamin, Iowa. She saw a fervor reminiscent of the Iowa fan support when she took her 13-year-old daughter to see South Sioux City's nationally ranked girls team play Blair Feb. 23 before a sellout crowd in Fremont. "They turned about 500 people away," Mrs. Liljedahl said. The newcomers to basketball, lacking the tradition so beloved in Iowa's small towns, didn't see the charm of the six-girl, split-court game. Other states played the five-girl, full-court game played by boys. Larger Iowa schools favored that game, too.

In 1985 Iowa began playing two games, a five-girl version with mostly large schools and the old six-girl game with more small towns. Even in the small schools, girls increasingly began to favor the faster game, despite their mothers' sentimental attachment to the six-girl format. With one-third of the state's schools converted by 1993, the Girls' Athletic Union switched the whole state over and divided the tournament into four classes, based on enrollment. The '71 Adettes' views of the new game range from enthusiastic support to stubborn opposition. "I have to admit when they started out I didn't like it either," said Becky Albright Head, who led the '71 Adettes in scoring. "But I've learned to go with the flow." The diminutive team nicknames began disappearing, too. Bonnie Bickett MacKenzie, who was Farragut's only senior starter in 1971, said her teen-age daughter scoffed when she heard the nickname of her mother's team. "Admiralette - like there is such a thing!" Mrs. MacKenzie laughed. Farragut's girls became the Admirals two years ago. The five-girl game is not as popular with fans, though, as six-girl was at its peak. Attendance remains strong at district and regional games, but it has dropped off at state tournament. Attendance for the week, which peaked at 96,000 in the late 1970s, runs about 75,000 now. Despite the slump in attendance, the tournament remains one of Iowa's premier events, continuing much of the pageantry of the past. Coach Plummer found the hoopla annoying. Leo Humphrey, who was Farragut's superintendent at the time and sat next to Plummer keeping score during the game, remembers him muttering, "I thought we came to Des Moines to play basketball." Finally they played. The Mediapolis Bullettes, from a town more than twice the size of Farragut, were heavily favored. The Bullettes had beaten two-time champion Montezuma Thursday night, ending an 89-game winning streak. Miss Wischmeier, who had scored 71 points against Montezuma, would be matched against the Adettes' Terri Brannen. Both were all-state players, but Miss Wischmeier had a 5-inch height advantage. "We were intimidated," recalled Jan Vest Vasek, a sophomore reserve forward now living in Smithville, Texas. "Barb Wischmeier . . . was the most awesome

player you could ever want to watch." Miss Wischmeier later would star for now-defunct John F. Kennedy College in Wahoo, Neb., and play on national all-star teams. Bev Bickett, whom the Gruber sisters had emulated in their driveway games in the '60s, told her sister, Bonnie, to take a shot quickly and chase away the jitters. "My sister's voice was just pounding in me," recalled Mrs. MacKenzie, who took Farragut's first two shots and made the second one. Mediapolis jumped to an early lead, though, as Miss Wischmeier exploited her height advantage over Miss Brannen. By the end of the first quarter the Bullettes led, 19-12. Plummer had a plan, though - a plan that became the heart of the Adettes' legend. The coach, who died in 1976, is remembered by Cooley, reporters and opposing coaches as a master strategist. He had eaten breakfast that morning with Warren Swain, who called the play-by-play for KMA Radio in Shenandoah and now is the voice of the University of Virginia Cavaliers. Over breakfast, Swain recalled, "Leon Plummer said, 'I wonder what Mediapolis would do if we put Tanya Bopp on Barb Wischmeier. ' " All of Iowa found out in the second quarter. Miss Bopp, a quick, feisty 5-foot-2 sophomore, was the shortest Adette, with the shortest hair. All the girls pulled their hair back into pigtails on the sides of their heads, using thick blue yarn to go with their white uniforms and white yarn for the blue uniforms. Miss Bopp's hair was barely long enough to fit inside the yarn, but the other girls insisted, calling her style "mini-pigs." Plummer sent her in to guard Miss Wischmeier about midway through the second quarter. "Oh, you should have seen that!" said Emily Bengtson, one of the hundreds of Adette fans who made the 150-mile trip to Des Moines for the championship game. "That great big, tall Barb Wischmeier and then that little, tiny Tanya Bopp." "I remember people laughing when I went into the game," recalled Mrs. Bland, now married and living outside Greentop, Mo. "The idea was to either steal the ball, make her charge me or, if it got necessary down under the basket, then I'd have to jump up and foul her before she could shoot." In more than two dozen interviews with players, fans and reporters who saw the game, everyone mentioned what happened when Miss Bopp guarded Miss Wischmeier. "She just ran right over the top of Tanya," said Janice Pierce Anderzhon, a starting Adette guard.

Miss Bopp fell backward onto the floor, drawing a charging foul on the taller girl, who appeared not to have seen the defender. Repeatedly in interviews, people spoke of Miss Wischmeier fouling Miss Bopp in the plural. Some specifically remembered Miss Bopp drawing two or three fouls. Terri Brannen, now a veterinarian in Calgary, thought her teammate probably drew three fouls. It was Miss Brannen who actually drew three of Miss Wischmeier's four fouls in the game. A videotape of the television broadcast of the game showed that Miss Wischmeier fouled Miss Bopp just once. A little fond exaggeration is fitting for such a legendary moment and such a legendary team, said Des Moines Register columnist Chuck Offenburger, who covered the '71 Adettes as sports editor for the Evening Sentinel in Shenandoah. "It's exactly the way you want great champions to be remembered." There is no exaggerating, though, the psychological importance of the play. It's all Barb Wischmeier Liljedahl remembers of the game 25 years later. "I think her mission was to get me in foul trouble, and that's what she did." Mediapolis was ahead at that point, 25-21. By halftime, Farragut was ahead, 34-33. In the third quarter, Farragut opened an 11-point lead. "We made them play our game," Mrs. Bryte said. That game was a patient - opposing fans called it boring - offense, nicknamed the "Gas Buggy" by Porter. Farragut forwards would pass and pass until one of them got an open shot close to the basket. And late in the game they stalled, following orders from Plummer not to shoot unless they had a layup. "I'm sure it just drove the other teams crazy to see our Gas Buggy offense," Mrs. Bryte said. It did. Opposing fans would boo and groan as the Farragut girls would take their two dribbles then pass again and again. About midway through the fourth quarter, the Adettes passed 10 times on one possession, finally getting an open layup for Miss Gruber. Moments later, they passed 17 times before finally turning the ball over. As the game wound down, Mediapolis repeatedly fouled Miss Gruber, the only sophomore in Farragut's forward court. She made most of her free throws, sealing the victory. As the clock wound down, Plummer tried to keep his girls calm, but excitement

was taking over. "I remember thinking, 'My gosh, we're going to kill 'em,' " Mrs. MacKenzie said. "I could hardly believe it. I was trying to stay composed." When the horn sounded, with Farragut leading 67-60, Miss Albright threw the ball into the air. "When you're little and you watch on TV, they throw the ball into the air at the end of the game," she said. "And that's what I remember. I got to throw the ball in the air." "It was bedlam," remembered Barb Young Lundgren, a 5-foot-11 second-generation Adette who had guarded Miss Wischmeier much of the game. "Everyone running out on the floor and screaming, especially since we weren't picked to win." The New York Times ran a picture of the celebration, featuring Barb Meek, a senior reserve guard who had played long enough to foul Miss Wischmeier twice. "Me with my mouth wide open and my finger up," remembered Barb Meek Bosley, now married and living in Shenandoah. "It wasn't a real flattering picture, but I didn't care." Farragut's underdog status was confirmed later that evening at the championship banquet. The hall and cake were decorated in the black and orange colors of Mediapolis. The coach's championship blazer was a bit tight for the rotund Plummer, with sleeves that were too long. Adette fans thought it would be a good fit for Mediapolis Coach Bud McLearn. "Everyone just laughed and enjoyed it that much more," Mrs. Bryte said. They've been enjoying it for 25 years. Winning the championship "was an undescribable feeling," said Ms. Anderzhon. "Other than bearing children, I can't think of anything in my life that's been more exciting." A Different Game The game played by the Farragut Admiralettes in 1971 would appear strange to fans of today's basketball. Some of the differences were due to the peculiar rules of Iowa girls basketball: Six girls played on each team, rather than five. Forwards could play only offense and guards could play only defense. Each group of three had to stay on its own end of the court. If a guard was fouled, a forward shot the free throws. Players could take only two dribbles. There were no backcourt violations. Guards did not have to get the ball across midcourt in 10 seconds, and forwards could pass back across midcourt to the guards after the ball was in the offensive end. Guards were not allowed to grab the ball when a forward was holding it, unless the forward was in the lane under the basket. After a basket was made, the referees tossed the ball to the half-court circle, where a forward tossed it in bounds to a teammate. (After a free throw,

though, the ball was taken out under the basket, just as in the five-girl game.) The team that had the ball at the end of the first and third quarters kept possession to open the next quarter. Some of the differences were due to evolution of basketball in general: When opposing players tied up, both grabbing the ball simultaneously, possession was determined by a jump ball, rather than alternating possession. On the first six fouls of a half, one free throw was awarded. Starting with the seventh foul, a bonus shot was awarded if the first free throw was successful. Today the team that is fouled gets or retains possession out of bounds if the bonus is not in effect. The 1971 game had no three-point shots. Now three points are awarded for shots made from beyond an arc 19 feet from the basket. NOTES: Belles of the Ball. The Legacy of the '71 Farragut Adettes. See accompanying graphic under "Basketball - High School - Iowa." GRAPHIC: Color Photo/1; CHAMPS THEN AND NOW: The Farragut Adettes won the Iowa girls basketball state championship in 1971, weeping for joy as they held their trophy aloft. Twenty-five years later (inset), six members of the team gather in the Farragut gymnasium. From left they are Janice Pierce Anderzhon, Penny Phillips, Becky Albright Head, Barb Young Lundgren, Barb Meek Bosley and Tess Laumann Cullin.; B&W Photos/2; LOOKING BACK: Top, twenty-five years after she drew a foul on Barb Wischmeier, Tanya Bopp Bland is a Farragut legend. Her daughter, Tina, pictured in the pin Mrs. Bland is wearing, plays softball at Columbia College in Columbia, Mo. Above, Becky Albright (No. 13) watches as the ball whizzes past Hampton's Rhonda Harris in the first game of the 1971 Iowa girls basketball state tournament.; Line Graph/1, Darrell Forbes/World-Herald/1; STEVE BUTTRY/WORLD-HERALD/1

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