Memories of going to state last a lifetimePublished 10:12am Tuesday, March 13, 2012
Column: Pothole Prairie
Covering the New Richland-Hartland-Ellendale-Geneva High School girls’ basketball team’s winning trek through the sectional playoffs reminds me of my hometown’s successful basketball program and our days in the spotlight at state.
I had the good fortune to graduate from basketball powerhouse Pomeroy High School in Pomeroy, Iowa, which later became Pomeroy-Palmer High School and hoisted some state titles in boys’ and girls’ ball. In my sophomore and junior years, the boys’ basketball team went to state, and I got to ride the pines at the state tournament. Only they weren’t pines. If you get to state, you get to sit on actual cushioned chairs.
I won’t regale you with those memories, because I am sure you are about to turn the page right now, but I will say that going to state — whether you win or lose when you get there — provides memories that last a lifetime. And it often is one of the earliest examples to the young athletes of what dedication, teamwork, fundamentals and excellence can achieve. These are principles they can take with them for life.
Last year I covered the Glenville-Emmons boys’ basketball team’s streak in the postseason. The Wolverines didn’t make it to state, but they had the people of Glenville and Emmons filling the gyms, just like the NRHEG fans have been.
Town pride is riding on the games. To this day, I love being able to say my little dinky school — my graduating class had 28 people in it, and we were the largest class in the high school — was a basketball powerhouse.
It’s a bigger deal to these small towns than the big towns. For a big school like Albert Lea or Lakeville North, they don’t have as many other schools to battle to get to the final eight, which is what state pretty much is. Plus, in big towns, there are all kinds of other things to go see besides a local basketball team, whether it is another sport or another community that night. In a place like New Richland, there are no movie theaters or shopping malls. No one would dare schedule something like a fundraiser dinner on a basketball night. Even if you aren’t much into basketball, you have town pride, and these girls represent your town. You can’t not go!
If New Richland is anything like Pomeroy was back in my day, the stores will close early Wednesday, maybe even close altogether. The town will seem vacant. Everyone will be in Minneapolis.
Of course, Minnesota does the favor of having the games in the evening and at two venues. People can work, close early, then head up Interstate 35.
In Iowa, now like then, all the games are at one venue in Des Moines. They start at 1:30 p.m. and often end around 10 p.m. It’s madness, but it’s fun. And when a small-town team plays in the afternoon, it means two small towns are closed down that day. Schools let out. Cops take the day off. Cats and dogs look after the empty streets.
I remember reading every bit of press I could find. I checked our teams rank in the Des Moines Register every Tuesday. I soaked up the stories in the Register and the Fort Dodge Messenger. I loved the massive number of photos our local weekly, the Calhoun County Journal-Herald, would print. There was no Internet in those days, but if there had been, I probably would have hunted for any photo galleries I could find. As a teen, I could talk forever about high school basketball in Iowa, the players, other good teams, the stats, the strategies. From Boyden-Hull to Rock Valley, I soaked up basketball.
My school didn’t win a title while I was there, but it was one of the best in Class A, the smallest class. My school did win three titles between 1994 and 2002, with one runner-up.
The most amazing thing is that for each of the eight teams that make it to state it all started so inconspicuously months earlier. A group of students gathered to stretch, run some laps around the gym, maybe some quarter courts, then do some drills and then scrimmage. They might have sat in a classroom and drew lines on a chalkboard or whiteboard. They might have shot free throws for hours. No matter how small they started at that first practice, they eventually planned out their strategy with their coach, worked their tails off, then proved their determination on the court.
I love amateur basketball. Don’t you? Defense matters so much more than in the pros. Our team, when we broke our huddles, we say, “Defense!”
Congratulations to the NRHEG Panthers and good luck Wednesday against Braham. Be strong on defense! Make it really hard for Braham even to pass the ball. You can do it!
Tribune Managing Editor Tim Engstrom’s column appears every Tuesday.