Remembering the champions

The South Hamilton Hawkettes lived again for a short while on Friday evening when fifty years of basketball at the school was celebrated. Special honorees were members of the Hawkette team of 1965, who won the state championship that season when they defeated West Des Moines Valley 61-47 to cap off a perfect season record of 28-0.

Six player girls basketball ended in Iowa in 1991. The team name Hawkettes was changed to Hawks in 2004.

Along with former SH superintendent John Gannon (the first superintendent for the newly consolidated district in the early ’60s) and Dick Rasmussen, assistant coach of the ’65 team, a cheerleader and a manager of the team, there were eight of the former teammates who gathered in Jewell Friday. Even though these women are in their 60s now and it’s been a lifetime since they were in high school playing six-on-six basketball, on Friday it was easy to see how much being part of a winning team meant to them, and how pleased they were to see each other again.

What did they remember about playing at the state tournament and winning it all? “It was overwhelming” was one answer. “It was so big there at Vets (auditorium)” was another. “I remember how the school and all the towns were just about empty when we were playing in the tournament games,” answered one former player.

For Neela Hill Kottmeier, a senior guard on the ’65 team, being on the team was more than winning. “Looking back, what I took with me was not how to dribble a ball. I took with me the team work, the leadership, and the ability to deal with pressure,” commented Kottmeier, who came from her St. Louis home to be with her teammates. “It was such an opportunity to play at such a high level. We really worked hard.”

As Linda Mortenson Hove, a senior forward on the state championship team who now lives in Kenwanee, Illinois, put it, “When I think about those times, it brings lots of fond memories. It was an honor to be there at the tournament. It was the highlight of my high school years.”

It was an honor, too, being at the school for the celebration Friday evening. “We’re very proud to have you back here,” SH superintendent Tim Johnson told the group before the game. “It’s very special for us to be able to have you back. You try and try to teach kids about school pride, but that’s what you all show us.”

Between Friday’s games, the women were recognized individually as each was introduced to the crowd, escorted across the gym floor, and given a rose before pictures were taken of the team with the huge first place trophy from 1965.

Julie Hockman Twedt, now of Omaha, was the only cheerleader from 1965 who came to Friday’s celebration. A senior then, she remembers very well getting to travel with the team. “We were a part of the team. I remember it was exciting to get to stay at a hotel in Des Moines during the tournament. We all had so many highlights.”

Kathi Fisher, head varsity girls basketball coach at South Hamilton for ten years now, was one of the organizers for the event. As a coach, she believes it’s very important to have her players knowledgeable of the school’s strong basketball tradition. “I think it helps the players play with more emotion and conviction knowing the history and the expectations we as coaches have for them. We have to live up to and play to the standards set by our former players,” Fisher commented. “I think it also gives my players a purpose, a meaning, for playing tenacious and hard.”

Todd Coy, now in his 17th year as athletic director at South Hamilton, was pleased with the interest in Friday’s celebration. This is Coy’s 25th year of teaching at South Hamilton, where he coached football for 24 years and wrestling for 11 years. That’s long enough to get to know the tradition of South Hamilton sports, one that makes Coy proud.

“It’s fun to be in this environment,” he said, “even though it’s nothing like the days I’ve heard about when fans would come at 4:00 to be sure to get a seat in the old gym for a high school game for the girls that won the title.”