In the middle decades of the Twentieth Century, one might never have known that Rolfe High School once sported a girls basketball team. But a photo that I discovered, perhaps in the 1970s, in my parents’ archives in an upstairs bedroom at their farm provides evidence that the school did sponsor a team early in the century. I assume we had the photo because my great aunt, Ruth Gunderson VandeSteeg, was on the team.
The rumors in the 1950s had it that 1.) some Iowa girl had been killed during a game and 2.) strenuous sports activity could be detrimental to a girl in later years–something about inhibiting her ability as a grown woman to have children.
Also, Miss Marcum, the decades long principal, had an inordinate amount of influence, and perhaps her lack of support for girls athletics had something to do with the fact that, for decades, Rolfe did not have a girls team. However, other schools in the area such as Pocahontas, Rockwell City, and Twin Rivers had a long history of successful teams. Including ones that went to the state tournament on a regular basis.
Note: In 1995, I wrote a long essay about my basketball experiences in the Rolfe schools, and in 2011, I posted an abridged version along with photographs on the Rolfe alumni web site.
I recall working with a few other classmates in seventh grade to get signatures and send a petition to the school board to get girls basketball. But the effort was for naught until the Rolfe and Des Moines Township schools consolidated in the fall of 1959. DMT had a successful program, but in its first four years, the consolidated team, known as the Rammettes, won only a handful of games.
After a decade of slow progress, the early 1970s was an epic era for the Rolfe girls basketball team. In 1971, the team went on the road to the first round of the state tournament at Veteran’s Auditorium in Des Moines under the leadership of the late coach Al Van Houten and assistant coach Dennis Duerling.
In my audio archives, I have a tape of Louise Gunderson Shimon, a member of the 1971 team, who was a speaker at the 1980 RHS all-class reunion. Louise reminisced about going the state tournament. She remembered Rolfe had gone from the Twin Lakes Conference to the River Valley Conference. She also told about having a negative attitude regarding a situation and confiding in Coach VanHouten. Instead of being critical, he said, “I think we can make it to that big barn this year.” Of course, he meant the Veteran’s Auditorium in Des Moines. Louise also talked about the tremendous pride the team felt with fans from three schools cheering for the Rolfe players at the district final game at Dodger Stadium in Fort Dodge that they won on the road to the state tournament that year.
In one of our RHS essays, Jon Jordan of the class of 1972, wrote about being a cheerleader for girls basketball. “It was the fall of 1971, and the protests against the war in Vietnam were fresh in our tiny minds. Someone had dared me, Jon Jordan, and whatever poor fool I could con into joining me (Larry Loss), to show the faculty what was what, and rock their world by trying out for basketball cheerleading. This was an activity that was completely owned by pretty, spirited, and popular girls! Especially in small town rural Iowa. No school we were familiar with, or had even heard of, had male cheerleaders! None! It simply wasn’t done. And of course, in all honesty, we had no intention of actually being cheerleaders. We were making a statement.”
In another piece from the audio archives, Sandra Callon McDill speaks at her 1990 high school commencement. It was the last time Rolfe was home to high school students. As part of Sandi’s reminiscences, she talked about the town’s experimental mergers with other school districts. First, there was the arrangement with Havelock-Plover, then Gilmore City-Bradgate and finally, Pocahontas. The athletes had begun high school wearing the school’s traditional colors of red and gold and playing as the Rams and Rammettes. Next they dressed in blue and white and were named the River Valley Rebels.Then in their senior year, even though Rolfe maintained its own academic program, the athletes competed on Pocahontas teams and adapted to Poky’s red and white uniforms and the nicknames of Indians and Maidens.
In many respects and in hindsight, the history of girls basketball in the Rolfe schools is a rather short one. A dollop of interest in the sport around 1908, then a slow acceptance of the sport in the early 1960s, then a groundswell of support with a huge amount of success in the early 1970s. And by 1990, no more girls basketball at Rolfe.
Note: this article along with several photos was originally posted on the Rolfe High School alumni website that Helen created in 1999 and hosted for over a decade. The site has been dormant since about 2010, but the original version of the article can still be found at: