Outside the state, most would assume teen girls from Iowa in the 60s and 70s were simply known as the farmer’s daughter. A group of girls from Wayne County, however, were determined to be known and remembered from their time spent playing one of the most acclaimed sports in Iowa history, six-on-six girls basketball.
The quote “those were the good ole days” has been heard for decades by many. People talk of simpler times in many aspects before the invention of things such as the internet came to be. For the ladies of the Wayne Community Falconettes in 1971, it absolutely was the good ole days for them.
Through their success on the court they were able to form bonds and friendships that would last to this day. Friendships they may never have made had it not been for their close-knit team connection they had on the court.
When I met up with a group of women from this team, they came into the office following a lunch they had together. They walked in carrying their state tournament trophy and scrapbooks with smiles on their faces.
It was easy to see no matter how much time may have passed from their last get together to the next, they easily pick up right where they left off. The special bond they made from several years past on the basketball court carried with them through the years.
“The amazing thing was we didn’t run around together off the court that much,” said Jeanie (Klinger) Guikema. “Well except for Melinda (Shipley) Willey and Carla (Street) Foster who were inseparable, but we were best friends on the court.”
“And it’s a friendship that has lasted almost 50 years, well actually over 50 years now” added Willey.
“We started playing together in eighth grade and that’s when Jean (Shriver) Moore joined us from Allerton and that made the team when she came in as a guard,” said Guikema.
Those senior girls on the 1971 team remembered the pact they made five years earlier, during their eighth grade season. A pact to make it to the state tournament, which is the main goal of every high school basketball team.
“We said when we were eighth graders, we’ll see you in Vets in ‘71,” said Willey who was a senior in 1971.
That became the motto and goal they worked towards. And it worked. In 1971, the Falconettes led by head coach Jerry Wetzel made good on their goal and with a 25-1 record they earned a trip to the state tournament.
Any smaller school that has ever had the chance to make it to the state tournament would agree playing in that setting with a large crowd can be intimidating. This team however was used to the large crowds that followed them, as this was a time when no matter where the Falconettes played the stands were packed.
“Playing in the gym with the open space behind the baskets was intimidating but the people being there didn’t bother us because we were used to big crowds,” said Willey.
“There was a guy from Nodaway Valley that just told me last night during the game he always remembered Wayne packing a crowd,” said Moore.
“(Coach) Wetzel always scheduled preseason clinics and he was pretty clever with who he chose for us to play and he got us into a clinic that was played in Vets that fall,” said Susan (Pyner) Henderson. “So we had the chance to at least play on the floor prior to, but even with that it was still an intimidating, yet amazing experience.”
And what an experience it was. As they remembered not only did local Corydon businesses and the Wayne School close for the day, but the Seymour and Mormon Trail Schools did as well when they traveled to play at the state tournament level.
“We didn’t have to pay for anything,” said Willey. “The school gave us each $5 a day to use for food, since that was quite a bit back then.”
“The Chamber of Commercand every business came together and we were given pantyhose for dressing up and money to use,” Foster added. “Neely’s made us Wayne Community garment bags for our uniforms and Corydon State Bank made us gold ones too.”
“The community stood behind us,” Moore remembered.
Foster remembers the excitement of the pep buses that traveled to watch them play stating, “I remember when we won the district in Chariton to go to state, on our way home when we got to the top of the hill all you could see was cars. It was like a Field of Dreams experience and all we could see was cars and headlights. Once we got to the gym it was packed with a huge pep rally taking place right then and there.”
The class sizes may have been larger in Wayne at this time, but these ladies remember nothing but closeness within the school and community.
“Even when we lost the game at state there was a huge caravan of people waiting for us to come home still supporting us,” Willey said.
This six-on-six team made an impact on many people back then with kids idolizing their success on the court. Some to this day still acknowledging the team of 1971 any time they see one of the players out and about.
“While I don’t get back home often, when I would take dad out to eat, I still have people that come up to me and say they remember me from state and playing basketball,” said Guikema. “I always think my gosh as long as it’s been I wonder how I’m even recognized.”
As we have seen the change in Iowa girl’s basketball through the years, going from the infamous six-on-six games to the now five-on-five matchups. These ladies never had the opportunity to play the current five-on-five method. And they aren’t too upset about that.
“I think what made the six-on-six game what it was, was the two dribbles,” said Foster. “It was slower but it felt like a much faster paced game then what they are now. In my opinion you played more as a team in six-on-six than what is done now and we were pretty equal in scoring.”
“I think the biggest thing with our team and why we seen success, was there wasn’t any one superstar,” Willey added in. “We were selfless and one big team.”
“We were not selfish,” Henderson added in.
“Our whole team made us a winning team,” Willey added.
“Our forwards were made stronger because of the guards we had,” Foster said. “We scrimmaged but it was our starters we were up against in practice.”
Another difference noticed from the days of 71 to now is the fouls called. Or as some may say that played six-on-six, the lack of fouls called now.
“We could not touch the girl in any which way or form or else we would be called for a foul,” said Guikema. “Now since switching to five-on-five they are all over the place and a foul could be called at any time in a game.”
“It’s a knockdown drag out now,” Moore added.
“And they don’t wear kneepads now either, where we wore kneepads and socks to our knees,” said Foster.
With some of these ladies being a farmer’s daughter, they would have chores to do before school some mornings or after practices and games. Thankfully being farm girls helped make them tough on and off the court.
“I remember the last game when we were beaten by Moravia, Terry Darland was tripped by a referee and broke her wrist,” Foster began. “In the district final she was in a soft cast and when Moore fouled out, Darland was our go to girl. Coach said just go in and put your hands up so they took the cast off and put tape on and she went out there that night.”
“I had forgotten all about that,” Darland said. “I remember the game it happened, I was sick with the stomach flu and I sat hoping the coach wouldn’t put me in, then as the game ended I just caught the back of the ref’s shoe and fell.”
“It showed how tough she was playing with a broken wrist,” Foster added.
“Our coach was tough on us too,” Foster continued. “He (Wetzel) made us what we were and I will respect him until the day I die.”
“He was tough and we respected him,” said Moore. “I was raised to always respect my elders no matter what the case be and we respected him.”
“We also had to be tough to catch Jean’s (Moore) full court passes,” Foster chuckled as the others agreed. “If Melinda or I snuck around the back side of the basket and she seen us, she would chuck the ball and it would hit us hard but just right.”
“We had to pay attention because they were coming whether we were ready or not,” said Willey agreeing. “They were hard passes too.”
“I made you tough and I didn’t break any of your hands,” Moore said as she laughed.
As conversation carried on memories of other rules, regulations and teams played from the six-on-six era, prove just how much has changed. Today’s high school girls playing basketball would never second-guess or have assumed they were ever different.
For these ladies, the three-point shot was something they never had the chance to score. Even without the help of three-pointers, they remember high scoring games being more common in the six-on-six days than now.
“I miss the days of high scoring games we had back then where it was nothing to have 70 to 80 points scored in a game,” said Henderson.
“We were all jumpers then too,” Moore said. “I could touch the rim back then and our guards were jumping to get rebounds while the forwards all had a jump shot.”
“I shot a hook shot back then,” Henderson added. “Girls don’t do that now and I’ve told my granddaughters I want to show them how to shoot the hook shot too.”
Along with the changes within the game itself, Wayne’s conference and class size has seen changes as well. Long before Wayne was moved into the Pride of Iowa conference, they were in the Bluegrass Conference.
Along with this, there was only one class that played at the state tournament. When the ladies of 71 made it to the state tournament they joined 15 other teams to compete in one class level. Not like today where school sizes determine which class you play in whether it be Class 1A, 2A where the Lady Falcons come in currently, 3A, 4A and even as big as 5A for some.
In spite of the changes the game has seen from then until now, these ladies will always carry with them the memories made from their amazing season. Even though their state appearance was short, having been beaten in the first round by Ida Grove 55-53, not everyone can say they made it to state. The Falconettes of 1971 will always have that to be proud of.