The year that was…. 1967: Oh, what a run!
By BRANDON HURLEY
The winter of 1967 was historical in many ways for Greene County athletics. Not one, but two area basketball teams made their first trips to the state tournament in Des Moines – the Paton-Churdan girls and Jefferson High School achieved success that has withstood the test of time. We here at The Jefferson Herald are honoring the 50th anniversary of the accomplishments with a two-part series. First up, Paton-Churdan and their record-setting batch of tall farm girls. Next week, our sports editor Brandon Hurley will have a feature on the Ram boys.
“Paton and Churdan were ghost towns,” recalls Vicky Lautner, formerly known as Vicky Weant.
A run unlike Paton-Churdan High School had ever seen (well, the 1967 class would in fact be the first group to graduate as Paton-Churdan) took place in the brisk Iowa winter of 1967, and the local communities went to great lengths to show their unwavering support, making the roughly hour and a half drive to Des Moines in March 50 years ago.
The P-C girls’ basketball team not only made their first ever trip to state that year, but did so in thrilling fashion, on the heels of a 27-0 undefeated regular season, a No. 2 ranking thanks to the scoring prowess of Lautner. The Rockets beat Farragut, 45-37 in the first round but fell to South Hamilton in the quarterfinals. It was a run that sparked a revolution for Paton-Churdan basketball.
Lautner is now the Parks and Recreation Director at the Jefferson Rec Center, but remembers that magical trip to downtown Des Moines half a century ago vividly.
I had the chance to sit down with the former P-C forward – who could also handle the ball extremely well – to relive some of those memories. From scrimmaging against the boys, staying in a hotel for the first time in her life, leading the record-setting Paton-Churdan basketball squad, and bringing two communities together, the six-on-six legend was glowing in the chance to revel in the long-lost memories. She had a stack of old articles and pictures her mom had stashed away at the ready as I walked in.
A TEAM DESTINED FOR GREATNESS
The Rocket faithful came out in droves in that winter, which makes sense as to why Lautner’s mom was so nostalgic. Women’s basketball was at its apex, and it trickled on over to the tiny communities in northwest Greene County.
“The whole towns of Paton and Churdan were probably in Des Moines for our games,” Lautner said. “And I think it really helped them come together. It was time when Paton and Churdan had just formed as a school. We had cars and cars following us all the way, with flags and honking.”
From the day she and her teammates set foot on a high school court as freshmen, the state tournament was their ultimate – and only – prize. Heck, the now former assistant Jefferson-Scranton girls’ coach only lost four games in her entire high school career, if that says anything about how dedicated, and successful those girls were.
Lautner – who went by her maiden name, Vicki Weant at the time (Of course, she was in high school) – led the Rockets in scoring during that magical state run as a senior, averaging 37.8 points per game. She paced the Rockets with 23 points in their state tournament victory over Farragut, and scored 29 more in their loss to South Hamilton in the quarterfinals.
Paton-Churdan basketball was emphatically placed on the map in the 60s by legendary coach Paul Trost along with assistant Ann Keerbs. The 1967 roster included Marjorie Tasler, Dorena Sims, Sue Gibson, Janet Hoyle, Barb Fritz, twins Doris and Donna Youngblood, Lautner, Barb Welander, Carol Fritz and Debbie Collins.
Guard Donna Youngblood was named a third team all-state member while Lautner (Weant) earned fourth team all state recognition following the 1967 season.
Height, a crisp passing game and top-notch quickness set the old Rocket players apart – every athlete was taller than 5’10”, even the guards, and they all could dish the rock. Coach Trost worked the girls to the bone, making sure they had all the fundamentals down. He had them practice the ability to only take two dribbles to get from half court to the basket (remember, this was six-on-six, you were only allowed to take two dribbles and three players from each team played on each side of the court). They worked tirelessly on passing, knowing their time to put the ball on the floor was limited. Coach Trost used the pick-and-roll game to his advantage quite frequently.
“We didn’t dribble just to dribble, we had a purpose,” Lautner said. “We learned to pass and focused on the fundamentals more.”
What made P-C’s run to the state tournament and placement among the state’s best even that more impressive was in part due to the fact they played in an era where there weren’t any classes – they weren’t placed in Class 1A like they are now, every high school program played in a big tournament, together.
“When you made it to the state tournament, you were legit,” Lautner said.
Trost took P-C to state the following year in 1968 as well, going 25-1, a two year run in which they went 53-2. Trost led the Rockettes to back-to-back undefeated regular seasons. Barb Welander scored 54 points in a 1968 district game.
The Rockettes won their opening state tourney game in 1968, 53-51 over Villisca but lost to Rockwell City, 72-70 in overtime in the following contest.
P-C won a string of seven straight conference titles (Back-to-back in the West Central Conference and five straight in the Little Central Conference).
The Paton-Churdan girls were a force to be reckoned with and were blessed with an exceptionally tall team, one that had some quickness to it as well.
“Really, it came out of nowhere, too,” Lautner said.
IN TROST WE TRUST
Coach Trost was a no-nonsense coach, the typical old school top dog you often hear stories about. If you missed curfew, you wouldn’t start the next night. And the legendary coach was trained with a one-track mind, nothing but the fundamentals and wins would satisfy him.
“Coach wasn’t one to focus on the rankings,” Lautner said. “I honestly didn’t remember we were rated that high until I looked up a few things. He was a great coach, and he was very patient.”
Trost was big on being a team, a cohesive unit. All the girls dressed alike on gamedays – often in matching blouses or dresses, ones that the moms would make. They also had team meals after the games, and not just meals for the starters, everyone was included, down to the last bench player and the managers.
“Everything we did, we did it as a group,” Lautner said.
One activity the team would partake in if given a free night, was to head off to the local skating rink and scrimmage against, none other than the boys. Even their free time was spent practicing basketball. This certainly was a team destined for greatness.
Though the entire team was especially tight knit, they didn’t have a whole lot of time to spend together off the court. They were either playing basketball or doing chores. They didn’t dare go out before game nights, for fear coach Trost would come down hard, whether you were with your family, friends or significant other.
“You have to remember, we were all farm girls, so we had chores we needed to do,” Lautner said. “And even if we wanted to go out, coach would keep track of us.”
Lautner said she deliberatley avoided having a boyfriend in high school so she wouldn’t come into any trouble.
Trost had set a 9 p.m. curfew for the girls the night prior to games – he’d even make house calls to check if the girls were staying true to their word.
“He called my house several times over my four years, asking for me,” Lautner said. “My dad would tell him I was in bed, but he’d still ask to talk with me, just to make sure. He’d get us out of bed, even if we were sleeping.”
MAKING NOISE AT THE BARN
Lautner wasn’t nervous to take on Iowa’s powerhouses in Des Moines, she was more anxious about the historic facility the state tourney was being held in – Veteran’s Auditorium.
“The intimidation (came from) playing in ‘The Barn,’” she said. “The place was huge, the crowds were huge and it was packed up to the roof. We were really in awe when we stepped on to the court.”
To finally make an appearance at Veterans Auditorium was a dream come true.
“We lived for it,” Lautner said. “It was a great feeling. We had worked so hard to get there. We wanted to go to state so bad, it was ingrained in us (from day one).”
Expectations were high entering the game as the Rockets were facing undefeated Farragut, but that’s not what rattled Lautner.
The crowds hadn’t bothered Lautner before, she was used to being the spectacle of the town, not just in Greene County but even on the road, too.
“I didn’t hear the noise at home, even though it was loud,” she said. “But playing in ‘The Barn’ was different.”
The atmosphere certainly took its toll on Lautner in the first half of their game with Farragut. she put up a measly four points, hitting just two of eight from the field.
The Admiralettes (I know, things were weird back in the 60s) not only held Lautner without a point in the second quarter, but she didn’t even attempt a single shot. Despite her struggles, P-C fought back from a six-point second quarter deficit (18-12) to take a 21-18 lead into the break, due in large part to a 9-0 run.
That poor first half performance had the senior beside herself in the locker room, as it would any high school athlete representing their community at the state tournament. She remembers crying and having a mental breakdown – this wasn’t how she was supposed to play on the “Big stage.”
The small west-central Iowa school had made a name for themselves not only regionally, but across the whole state of Iowa. Paton-Churdan had rocketed up the rankings to No. 2 overall riding a 27-game win streak and an undefeated regular season. They were ready to make their presence known, and though they clung to a three-point halftime lead, Lautner feared it was all about to come crashing down.
Maybe the crowds, the pressure, or the reality of their dreams finally coming true had begun to set in. Maybe she had reached a breaking point, at the tail end of her senior year.
Assistant Keerbs stepped in to calm the veteran down, reassuring her the game was in fact not over, that the Rockets held the lead and a victory was in sight.
“Vick(y) is a senior and thinks every game will be her last. She felt she wasn’t playing well, so I had to use some psychology on her,” Keerbs said following the game in an article published by the Des Moines Register.
The pep talk worked as Lautner exploded for 17 second half points to laed her team to the victory, nailing five of her first six shots. The Rockets led 30-26 after three quarters as Farragut tried to slow the game down and spread the ball around, imploring a stall tactic. P-C shook off the slowed gameplay and stretched their lead to eight points (44-36) midway through the fourth, eventually holding on for the victory.
Barb Welander scored 21 points to aid Lautner’s effort as the Rockets shot 45 percent as a team. The Rockets were 15 of 20 from the foul line, including a nine-of-11 effort from Lautner.
P-C struggled with the size of South Hamilton in the quarterfinals, surrendering a three-point halftime lead as they lost 58-51, ending their 28 game win-streak.
Lautner scored a team-high 29 points, while Welander contributed 14.
P-C led 15-12 after one quarter and 26-23 at the half but were outscored by seven in the third as South Hamilton took a 38-35 lead into the final frame.
The Hawks extended their advantage to nine midway through the fourth and held on for the seven point win.
Lautner was 11-of-18 from the field in the loss.
South Hamilton’s Sharon Taylor scored a game-high 35 points, despite shooting a mediocre 14 of 42 from the field.
THE TWINKLE OF GREENE COUNTY’S EYE
At the time, Paton-Churdan was one of the few schools in the area to have female sports. Jefferson High School didn’t have a girls team, so the support was substantial for the record-setting Rocket squad in the winter of 1967. Add that to the Jefferson boys’ first-ever trip to state in any sport in the school’s history a few weeks later, and it was a hopping place throughout the county. On their parade out of town on their way to Des Moines, the Rockets made a trek through Jefferson to “scoop-the-loop.” The team had even built a reputation outside of the county, and when they ran up against fans away from the court and let them know they played for Paton-Churdan, it was almost as if the fans had spotted a celebrity. Girls’ basketball was just that big back in the day.
“It was a great feeling, we all had worked so hard to get where we were,” Lautner said.
She was a big proprietor of six-on-six basketball, and was disappointed to see it go by the wayside in 1993. She loved the intricacies of the game and the tactics it took to come out on top.
“It was so much more fun to see how the girls maneuvered and how they found ways to score,” Lautner said.
After high school, Lautner caught the coaching bug at Tarkio College in Missouri as a player/coach for the local club team she and a few fellow Iowans started. They recruited high school players from all over the Midwest and even played in places like Kansas City.
The former Rocket star later parlayed that experience into an assistant coaching job on the girls high school team in Jefferson, a position she held for 20 years. Lautner even made a pair of return trips to state, this time on the sidelines for her daughter’s freshman and senior years. Lautner credits her itch for coaching thanks to Keerbs, who always knew how to connect with her players.
“That was really neat to be able to be apart of that,” Lautner said on coaching her daughter.
Paton-Churan High School is hosting a 50th anniversary celebration this Friday at the Rockets’ home doubleheader versus Woodbine. A ceremony will be held for the members of the 1967 state team in-between games. The school will also host a reception following the conclusion of the boys’ game.
Though Lautner said she hasn’t really stayed in touch with many of her teammates, she looks forward to reconnecting Friday and reliving the glory days.
The girls’ game starts at 6 p.m. in Churdan.