As we close out the year, 2018 marked the 25th anniversary since Iowa women’s basketball made the switch from six-on-six to five-on-five. With Iowa being the second-to-last state to fully make the switch to the now seen five-on-five game, last week I focused on some of the players from the 1971 Wayne Falconettes six-on-six team that made it to state.
This week I wanted to focus on the 1971 Coach Jerry Wetzel along with Coach Stan Rupe that followed in Wetzel’s footsteps on the road to state as he led the Lady Falcons to state in 2000. Both coaches began with six-on-six teams before making the transition to five-player.
Wetzel began his coaching career at Wayne in the fall of 1969 reigning as head coach until spring of 1981. Rupe worked with Wetzel as his assistant coach beginning in fall of 1978 until taking over the head coach position in 1981 after Wetzel moved to the Indianola school district to coach.
After meeting with a group of gals from the 1971 team, it was easy to see they thought very highly of the man that led their team to the state tournament. The respect was mutual as Coach Wetzel praised this team not only for their success but their team camaraderie as well.
“I’ve had two teams that have played great together and respected one another on and off the court and that Wayne team from ‘71 was one of them,” Wetzel said as I asked him what he felt made his team successful in 1971. “There was no jealousy on the team and that’s why we were great.”
“It really was fun coaching them and even though at times I got a little rough with them, we did have a lot of success,” he continued. “Not only did the girls get along, but the parents did as well. We would have get group get-togethers with the parents and girls and no one was jealous of anyone’s play.”
“It was a very rare thing that team had and I was proud to be a part of it,” Wetzel continued. “Even when Jeanie (Klinger) won All-State, the entire team congratulated her and was happy for her.”
When asked the biggest difference he has seen from the former six-on-six days, he felt coaches absolutely have more fundamental teaching to do now with five-on-five.
“With six players we made them specialists,” Wetzel began. “I worked to make sure my forwards could guard just as well and that helped our play. This team was good on defense, the forwards and guards.”
“I don’t think the girls ever knew this, but when it was time for all-conference selection, the Southeast Warren coach asked if I put any of my forwards up for guards because I could have since they were just as good,” he added.
With the game changing from six players to five, he has seen other changes as well that he wasn’t as pleased about.
“We see kids now being specialized in only one sport where they work year-round on just the one sport,” Wetzel said. “The numbers have dropped and not near as many players are on teams anymore. That’s ok for bigger schools, but that can be a problem in smaller districts like Wayne and Seymour.”
When asked what he misses most about the six-on-six days his answer resembled what the girl’s team told me the week prior, “the high scoring games and packed gyms.”
When the game change took effect, Wetzel was already within his coaching career with the Indianola school district. He attended clinics and the teams within the conference scrimmaged throughout the summer to prepare for the new game they were about to encounter.
The studying and time put in paid off for Wetzel and his first five-on-five team at Indianola, as they were state bound the first year out of the gates. While they didn’t go on to win state, just making the trip to state was viewed as a success as the Indianola girls were new to five-player game just the same.
“I miss the days of six-on-six in many ways, but the five-player game is here to stay,” Wetzel said.
For Coach Rupe, the change didn’t come soon enough. While he spent lots of time preparing with clinics and reading books to help coach the new five-player game, he was more than ready to embrace it.
“I thought it was the best thing there was switching and I wasn’t going to battle the change but instead make the most of it,” Rupe stated. “Six-on-six had its day and I was ready for the change.”
While embracing the change, Rupe believes some girls were definitely made for the six-on-six game.
“Some girls were just meant to be guards and if any team had a six-foot forward they could dominate in scoring,” Rupe said. “And it helped for some not having to run the full length of the floor.”
When word broke of the new changes coming ahead, Rupe wanted to get a jump on the game and helped transition Wayne girl’s basketball to five-on-five one year ahead of the mandatory state change. Rupe sat down with former Wayne basketball coach Paul McFarland to begin preparations.
My philosophy when coaching was run and gun, press and go,” Rupe said. “That’s the name of the game in five-on-five play.”
While the change to six-on-six was made mandatory statewide to all schools beginning in 1994, a school district near Wayne pushed for the change years before. A lawsuit brought forth by Lamoni school board member Bill Russell in the early ‘80’s is what got the wheels turning for the change.
Russell brought forth a Title 9 Lawsuit claiming discrimination, as he wanted his daughter to have the opportunity to play five-on-five basketball before her graduation. Lamoni school district approved the change to play women’s five-on-five for the 1984-1985 season and petitioned the Bluegrass Conference to change as well.
Other schools within the conference did not change leaving Lamoni with no choice other than having no games to play or revert back to six-on-six play. The school district chose the latter, leaving them a six-on-six team until the statewide mandatory change went into effect.
As the game has changed, Rupe believes the athletes have as well, “athletes now are bigger, stronger, faster than they were in previous years.”
“Kids do specialize in sports now whether it is football, basketball, track, softball or baseball, where during the six-on-six days, most kids played other sports offered within the school,” Rupe continued. “We seen less injuries in girls basketball during those days as it was not as physical as it is now, well other than Amy (Ogden) who tore her ACL two years in a row.”
While the change to five-on-five was a big one, it wasn’t the only change Rupe would see during his time as a coach with the Lady Falcons. The three-point shot was introduced during his time as he remembers painting the lines onto the gym floor.
Rupe was also the coach when Wayne changed from the Bluegrass Conference to the Pride of Iowa Conference where they are still a member to this day. While head coach, Rupe gained numerous victories including winning the Conference Championship their first year in the new conference with his greatest achievement of all taking place in 2000 when he led the Lady Falcons on their first trip to the state tournament in five-on-five play.
“I took those girls during Thanksgiving break that fall to Texas where we got into a tournament and played tough teams,” Rupe said. “It was just another preparation.”
“I was fortunate enough to have some really great athletes when coaching six-on-six to five-on-five that helped make my teams successful,” Rupe stated. “It didn’t hurt either having some move into the district that were instant five-on-five players and already knew the game when the change came.”
Rupe continued coaching at Wayne until the end of the 2003 basketball season. He transferred to Ottumwa were he coached there until taking a position at Graceland University as the Defensive Coordinator for the Yellow Jackets football team until his retirement.
While both coaches Wetzel and Rupe have retired from coaching, if you get the chance to speak to either one you can hear the passion for the game in their voices. A passion that was noticed by many as they both held various positions within the National High School Athletic Coaches Association throughout the years.
One game brought the two men together and whether it is six-on-six or five-on-five, both coaches will forever have in common the thrill of playing at state with the memories that will last a lifetime.