April 22, 2024

Almost state champs

The year was 1984. People were wondering if George Orwell’s predictions for the year would come true; in basketball socks were up to the knees and shorts were nowhere near them; and Mt. Pleasant’s boys’ high school basketball team went to the State Tournament for the first time since 1976. Mt. Pleasant residents look back on that era and remember where they were when they heard the news. In hushed voices, they whispered, “Mt. Pleasant’s going to State.”

The year before, the team was beaten by Cedar Rapids Regis in the sub-state game. Mt. Pleasant’s team made the commitment then, “Next year we are going to State.”

They had the team, they had the coach, they had their three goals: (1) Go undefeated at home, (2) Win their conference, (3) Get to State. They accomplished all three.

Their coach was Jim Kelly, a graduate of Loras College in Dubuque, an Honorable Mention All-American in basketball, who had been drafted by the Cleveland Cavaliers. He didn’t make it as a pro, but as a high school basketball coach, he had the winning spirit and knew how to instill that winning attitude in others. He had coached this group of young athletes since Middle School, in both basketball and physical education, and knew them well, both their athletic abilities and personalities.

The team had been together since Middle School, some earlier than that, like grade school. Not only were they buddies, but they were completely unselfish when it came to supporting each other and working together as a team. The sub-state game against Knoxville in 1984 was held in Ottumwa. When they stepped off the bus and walked through the doors to head to the locker room on the other side of the gym, the bleachers on Mt. Pleasant’s side were filled with hometown well wishers on both decks. Walking in front of that cheering crowd was so motivating, the team felt as if they had already won the game. To say that Mt. Pleasant supported their teams wholeheartedly is an understatement.

And then the magic happened. With eight seconds left in the first half, a red-hot Mt. Pleasant guard, who had also been the football team’s quarterback, took the ball and let loose with a football style throw from beyond the mid-court line to score a rim rattling three-pointer! The crowd erupted in an explosion of wild cheering that did not settle down for the duration of halftime. The team, in the locker room, hearing the crowd, could not contain themselves. They were convinced they had the game won already. Coach Kelly could barely settle the team down enough to discuss strategy for the second half.

Knoxville did come back in the second half to tie the game, but there was no way Mt. Pleasant was going to let the game slip away. They won, 54 - 47, and were on their way to the STATE TOURNAMENT!

But wait. In achieving the team’s third goal of making it to the State Tournament, they neglected to set a fourth goal of WINNING STATE! They faced a stiff opponent in Iowa Falls with a big tall center who ate Mt. Pleasant alive. Three of Mt. Pleasant’s starters fouled out trying to defend him. Iowa Falls’ leading scorer in the state knocked down 53 points against Mt. Pleasant to notch the victory, 74 - 63.

The Mt. Pleasant team made the best of it. The game was on Tuesday. In those days, win or lose, the teams could stay in Des Moines the whole week. The team dressed up in their uniforms and played nerf hoop in their rooms, and video games in the hotel arcade. They walked together as a team to Veteran’s Auditorium, AKA “The Barn,” to watch the other State Tournament games. On Saturday night they walked proudly to center court and received their state trophy.

This year is the 40th anniversary of that near State Championship team. On Saturday, March 16, they all met at the Mt. Pleasant Country Club to talk about old times, have dinner, and relive that almost moment. One thing they wanted to do was recreate their team picture from 1984. Hair is a little thinner, and waistlines are...well, we won’t talk about that. Coach Kelly was also there, along with long-time assistant coach, Kent Bennett. They are still a close knit group, 40 years later, win or lose.

Contact Curt Swarm at curtswarm@yahoo.com