Sometimes I ponder how I might do the memorable stories of my career differently today, using digital tools.
Today I’m starting an occasional series of blog posts that will revisit some of those stories, sharing that musing as well as discussing some other journalism lessons and techniques that those stories illustrate.
I’ll start with an easy example. This story involved a video, but I wrote it in 1996, before news sites could post video. In those dial-up days, no one had the bandwidth to show or watch video online.
This is a story I’ve cited before in my blog (and I mentioned it in the chapter I wrote for the Verification Handbook that will be published soon by the European Journalism Centre). It was a story (a four-part series, actually, for the Omaha World-Herald), looking back 25 years at the Iowa state championship of the Farragut High School girls basketball team.
We didn’t have a particular news peg for the series. In January 1996, my editors at the Omaha World-Herald wanted some strong Iowa story ideas because the Des Moines Register was pulling back from coverage of western Iowa. We thought we could increase our penetration there. As a seven-year veteran of the Register who had graduated high school in Shenandoah, Iowa, and still had family there, I wasn’t surprised when the editors came to me asking for story ideas. I mentally ran through the western Iowa towns I knew, pondering stories we could do. When I came to Farragut, I naturally thought of girls basketball.
The Admiralettes (Iowa schools made feminized or diminutive versions of their boys’ team nicknames for the girls’ teams), often shortened to Adettes, had won the state championship in 1971, when most schools in the country didn’t have girls basketball teams but when Iowa’s small schools played the sport with passion, generating intense interest in the state championship. I launched my journalism career the next August and covered the Adettes’ defense of their 1971 championship. They were undefeated and ranked Number 1 in the state going into the tournament, but lost in the first round.
As I considered whether Farragut might present a good story for the World-Herald, I noticed that in a couple months, it would be 25 years since the Adettes’ championship. I pondered how girls’ and women’s sports had changed under Title IX, passed in 1972, which ensured equal spending for male and female sports. Before long, I had an outline for a three-part series that would examine how girls sports had changed since 1971, the impact the game had on the girls’ lives a quarter century later and how their small Iowa town had changed.
My editors liked the idea and we agreed it would run the week of the girls’ state tournament. I had just a few weeks to track down and interview the women who had played in that game and to find other sources I would need.
Even then, though, Internet research was a first step in my reporting. At an Investigative Reporters and Editors conference in 1995, I had learned about the value of the fast-growing World Wide Web as a reporting tool. Google wasn’t available yet, but I probably used other early search engines, such as Alta Vista or Yahoo!, to do some initial research for the story. It was much tougher then, though, to track people down online.
Of course, if I were doing such a story right now, I would check to see if Farragut alumni or any of the classes represented on the team had a Facebook group or page. The Class of ’72 Reunion has a Facebook group and I see three team members there.
But that’s really hypothetical, what I might do if I were starting a story like this about another team. The truth is, I knew how to track down the Farragut girls. My brother, Don, married Pam Albright, a starter on that 1972 team that lost at state. Pam was injured her freshman year, 1971, so she didn’t play in the championship year. But her sister Becky was the leading scorer in 1971 and I knew her married name (Head) and knew that she was living in Imogene, Iowa, so she was easy to reach. And once I talked to one member of the Adettes, she put me in touch with the rest pretty quickly. I can’t recall whether she had all their contact information, but she had enough that I got in touch with several quickly. Maybe one of the other teammates provided the last contact or two.
Facebook (or at least Google) might help find some of the Mediapolis sources I wanted. I was able to reach the Mediapolis star, Barb Wischmeier Liljedahl, and her coach, but I don’t remember how.
Working a story like this now, even if I didn’t need Facebook to find the players, I would probably use Facebook to crowdsource, asking on the Class of ’72 page (and other class pages) for people to share my request to connect with other students and fans who attended the game. Still, I managed to connect effectively by word of mouth.
The video is what would make the biggest difference in this story. And it made a huge difference even back in 1996.
In my reporting, I asked probably about 20 people, including Liljedahl and all the Farragut players, how Farragut won the championship game. The consistent answer, often recalled in vivid detail, was that Wischmeier shot Mediapolis to an early lead, using her 6-foot-1 height to score over the smaller Farragut players. Farragut coach Leon Plummer sent his smallest Adette, Tanya Bopp, into the game to guard the towering Wischmeier. Bopp drew a bunch of charging fouls, everyone recalled, getting Wischmeier into foul trouble and fueling the Farragut comeback.
In my reporting, I learned that the team members had contacted the television station that broadcast the championship game and sometime in the 1980s, when videocassette recorders became popular, they all got copies of the tape of the championship game. I borrowed a player’s tape, figuring I’d watch to get some details of the game: perhaps to describe the celebration when the game ended or to describe Wischmeier knocking Bopp to the floor.
But here’s what I learned in watching the video: Bopp drew only one charging foul on Wischmeier. All-State guard Terri Brannen drew the other three fouls. Bopp’s foul did fluster the taller girl and did shift momentum in the game, and foul trouble caused Wischmeier to be less aggressive. But as that charging foul grew into legend, it had grown in number. The video gave me a wonderful narrative thread for my story, an actual legend that I could honor by debunking it.
I have used this story often in training and in this blog to discuss how unreliable memories can be and why reporters need to seek verification and documentation, even when they trust their sources. Everyone was giving me their honest memories about the championship game, but their memories weren’t accurate. I needed to find and use documentation to tell the full and true story of the championship game.
With video being a key part of the story, if I were doing the story today, I would use the actual video (with permission from the TV station, of course) in my storytelling. Perhaps early in the story, where I introduced the legend, I’d insert video of the actual foul. Later in the story, where I debunked the legend, I’d show a clip of the three fouls that Brannen drew on Wischmeier. I would insert the videos into the text as part of the narrative, as Gene Weingarten did in his Pulitzer Prize-winning Pearls Before Breakfast story, which wove video and writing together artfully. I might add another clip of the end of the game and the celebration. (I’d do that for this blog post, but I returned the tape to the Adette I borrowed it from.)
The story taught or illustrated some other lessons about writing and reporting:
Plan a major project. Though the legend was a surprise, much of the project followed my initial plan before I did a single bit of reporting: A first story on the championship game and how girls’ sports have changed; subsequent stories on what the championship meant to Farragut and how the town has changed and on the lives that have unfolded since for the champion girls. Having a clear plan was essential for executing the story in time for the state tournament.
Stay flexible enough to change the plan. As I interviewed the women who had won the championship 25 years earlier, I was struck with how important their coach was in their lives. I suggested a fourth part of the series, about Leon Plummer and his continuing impact on the girls he coached.
Interview in person when you can. I interviewed most of the Adettes in person in their homes. My editors popped to send me to Calgary to interview Brannen, to northeast Missouri to interview Bopp and across Iowa to interview other teammates. Phone (or today Skype or Hangout) interviews would not have been as good. Meeting someone in person gives you a chance to build rapport, to overcome inhibitions, to see the things around the home that take the conversation in different directions. We shot baskets in their driveways. I met husbands and children, some of them playing high school sports themselves. We looked at yearbooks, scrapbooks and newspaper clippings. And, of course, one of the women dug through her basement to find a video.
Try a rolling interview. My trip to Calgary was essential to getting a good interview with Brannen. She wasn’t sure she had much to say, telling me on the phone that she’d pretty much moved beyond basketball. But I had to talk to her. She was the All-State Adette, the one in the Iowa Girls Basketball Hall of Fame. She had gone the furthest in education (becoming a veterinarian) and had moved the farthest from her Iowa home. I had covered her in her senior year and I knew she was a shy, quiet person. Even though she was reluctant to talk, I needed to talk to her.
The rolling interview helped me build rapport and get her talking. We started out in her home, and she didn’t have much to say at first. But a cat hopped on her lap. Even shy cat people like to talk about their cats. I suggested we go to dinner and we talked more as we drove (your eye contact is with the road when you’re driving, so some people feel more comfortable talking while driving). And the dinner table is a place people feel comfortable talking, so we made more progress at dinner. Then we went to her vet clinic, where more cats stimulated more conversation. By the time we returned to her home, she was ready to talk about the championship game, about what basketball meant to her and how she had moved beyond it.
A rolling interview was also helpful with Bonnie Bickett MacKenzie, the only senior starter on the 1971 champions. Interviewing her in her home was fine, but watching her in her classroom helped me better understand the woman she had become.
Find the things that help tell the story. Of course, the video was the most important thing one of the Adettes gave me. But after I got Terri Brannen talking about basketball, I asked her if we could take a photo of her with her basketball. She wasn’t sure where it was, so, of course, we had to find it. It was in her basement, a little flat, a detail that showed better than her quote how she had moved beyond basketball.
Courtesy titles in news stories are just silly. The Omaha World-Herald was one of the last newspapers to insist on courtesy titles for women. The references to “Miss” this and “Mrs.” that in the story were just silly and look more so in retrospect. The New York Times’ persistent use of courtesy titles mystifies me, but at least the Times doesn’t apply them in a sexist manner. The World-Herald did, and I found it embarrassing that I had to use them, especially in a story such as this, where nearly all the main characters were women.
News organizations should be transparent. I told my editors that we should disclose my family relationship to a former Adette and the fact that I had covered the team the following year. My editors disagreed, saying they trusted my integrity and the readers don’t care about the people doing the journalism. That was nonsense, of course. People do care. This story had my voice and my perspective throughout. We should have been transparent about my connections to the team. I’m pleased that Poynter’s new Guiding Principles for the Journalist elevate transparency to a core principle of journalism ethics. I hope a news organization doing such a story today would be more transparent about the reporter’s past.
How I’d use digital tools
Beyond the use of the game video, I think video would play an important role in telling such a story today. The digital version of the story on the coach would certainly include a widget of Touts of the former Adettes discussing Plummer’s coaching and his continuing impact on their lives.
For the story about the town, I might create an interactive map of the downtown area, with color-coding and/or icons showing which properties had the same businesses now that they did 25 years ago, which had closed and which had new businesses. That story also would probably have some video of the Adettes and townspeople talking about how the town had changed.
For the final story, about the Adettes today, I probably would use ThingLink to make a team photo interactive. As you hovered your mouse over a player’s photo, you could click the icon that would appear, and it would preview a video of the woman talking today. (I talked to most of them in person, but I had a telephone interview with a reserve who had moved to Texas. Now I’d do that interview by Hangout and record the interview using YouTube.)
We used a few then-and-now photos in the print package for this story. But if we were doing it now, we would round up dozens of old photos from 1971 and use many more current photos. We might use them in a video or a photo gallery, probably both.
While working on the story, I’d post some 1971 Adettes photos on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Pinterest, inviting girls basketball fans (not just from Farragut, but from any Iowa teams) to submit their own old photos for use with the series. We’d invite the community to share stories and photos of other champions and their favorite memories of going to the state tournament.
As I read the plain-text newspaper story, I see anew the value of linking. Links provide context, depth and clarity. Of course, adding links to a 1996 story is not an exercise in reality, especially when it’s a story about a 1971 game. Nothing about that game was covered online, and even many of the links that would have been available in 1996 have long since expired. But I demonstrate the value of links by adding some that are good some 42 years after the game and 17 years after the original story. Here’s the story, as published on March 3, 1996, with links added.
That Championship Season:
In Small Towns, Big Wins Last For a Lifetime
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.
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.
(Here’s where I’d insert the video of the actual charging foul.)
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 (update note: If writing the story today, I would identify Chuck as Cooley’s biographer), 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.
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
This was a sidebar that ran with the 1996 story. Now it might be an interactive graphic and/or a video.
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.
This is an occasional series, updating lessons from memorable stories of my career. I took a similar approach (though the updated lessons are just a paragraph at the end) in a 2011 post about a story I wrote about the rescue of 3-year-old twins who nearly froze to death.
A 2011 post about storytelling also fits in this series. It doesn’t address digital issues, but addresses some changes in thinking about storytelling.
If you’d like to share some updated lessons from memorable stories you have worked on, please let me know and we’ll discuss the possibility of a guest post. Or update the lessons on your blog and call it to my attention and I’ll link to it here.
You can read the rest of the series here: