I turned 55 years old this past summer, and as many in my age group can probably relate, simple memories elude us.
What I had for lunch yesterday, what was the name of the blonde singer in ABBA; you know...important, if somewhat useless, information.
But I have a crystal clear memory of where I was and what I was doing exactly 40 years ago tonight.
It was 40 years ago — December 3, 1977 — when the Wolsey Cardinals girls’ basketball team capped an undefeated 24-0 season by defeating the Clear Lake Cardinals 37-36, at Huron Arena.
It was a momentous event in the life of a sophomore basketball junkie, to see his school’s team win a state title. And, in a teeny-tiny way, I got to be a part of it too. Full disclosure - I am a 1980 graduate of Wolsey High School.
It was an amazing atmosphere. That night was the biggest crowd that I have ever seen at Huron Arena. Wolsey is, of course, just a few miles down Highway 14, but Clear Lake was not too far away and it wouldn’t come as a surprise that few people in either town stayed home that night. That is part of the joy of Class “B” sports – the hometown fans show up.
I remember sitting on the old wooden bleachers at the Arena. Lower level, east side, with Wolsey fans stretching to the rafters above me, as Clear Lake fans did the same on the opposite side.
As I already noted, Wolsey was undefeated that year, with two of its closest wins coming to our nearest rival, a few miles further down Highway 14 in Wessington, which had an excellent team as well. Wolsey beat Wessington by a single point in the districts that season and also survived two close battles against Woonsocket.
But differences, at least at the fan level, were set aside for the state tournament. There was a large number of Wolsey students, of course, but students from other local schools were mixed in liberally. At the state title game, I sat near a buddy who was from Wessington, with two girls from Hitchcock. More memories.
My teeny-tiny part of that championship came about when John Streifel, the girls’ coach, asked some of the football players to come up and scrimmage with his team. There were no football playoffs at that time, so when we played our last scheduled game, we hung up the cleats and laced up our high top sneakers.
I remember little about the scrimmage, except that Coach asked us to not take it easy on the team, as they were preparing for the district tournament. “Just don’t hurt anyone,” he said.
He needn’t have worried. All of us football players got beat on pretty soundly at that practice. I don’t remember who came out ahead at the end, but I know I had sore ribs for a week afterward, thanks to my cousin, who was a reserve on the title team.
Clear Lake had Robin Anderson, who at that time was probably the best girls’ hoops player the state had produced, and a supporting cast.
We had Janelle Frank and Jean Boomsma, our one-two punch. They were joined in the starting lineup by Marty Meyer, Terri Hagedorn and Debi Jungemann.
Names which, like where I was on 12/3/77, will always be right there, top of mind.
Jean scored 17 points, Janelle added 12, but it was Debi who stepped up to the free throw line in the last 20-some seconds - all 5-feet, 3-inches of her - and knocked down what turned out to be undoubtedly the two biggest free throws of her career, and arguably, in the pantheon of Wolsey basketball.
They were her only points in the game.
The team leaned on Janelle and Jean for the bulk of the offense, however there was not a weak link in that lineup. Every player knew her role and each did it to perfection. 24-0 perfection.
Janelle and Jean each earned All-Tournament and All-State recognition that season, but just as Jordan never won a title without Pippen, the Cardinals don’t have their names etched in Class “B” basketball history without each member of that team.
Two more things.
First - The South Dakota Peace Officers Ladies Auxiliary had created what has since become the Spirit of Six award, in recognition of cheerleaders from Rapid City who died in a plane accident. The 1977 girls’ basketball season was the first year that the award was presented and the Wolsey cheerleaders - Julie Lashwood, Gayle Cooper, Ann Krutzfeldt, Cyndy Robinson and Laurie Olson won the very first Spirit of Six Award.
The Yankton girls’ basketball cheerleaders won the “A” version of the award, but it came a week later and this isn’t about Yankton.
So the Wolsey girls were the first.
Secondly, everything that I can find says that the ‘77 Wolsey Cardinal girls’ basketball team was the first team from the 281 Conference to win a state title.
According to conference281.k12.sd.us, the 281 Conference was formed in 1965 as a track and basketball conference and included the schools of Brentford, Conde, Cresbard, Hitchcock, James Valley Christian, Tulare, Wessington and Wolsey. Football was added in 1968. The earliest instance of a local state title won by an area school other that Huron, according to the South Dakota High School Activities Association’s website was a track championship won by Yale, in 1911, by a school not included in the 281 Conference, and long before it was organized.
I have been assured that the 281 Conference intends to honor the 1977 State “B” Champions and the Spirit of Six winners during the 281 Conference Tournament in January. It is an honor that is very well deserved.
I will never forget sights and sounds of that night in particular and the three days of the 1977 state tournament in general. A little-known song, by a popular four-man British band capped the evening 40 years ago. I think about it every time that I hear Freddie Mercury and Queen sing “We Are the Champions.”
The Wolsey girls were, and are, the 1977 Class “B” girls’ state basketball champions.
Now and forever.
The 1977 Class “B” Girls State Champion Wolsey Cardinals