Remembering the champs of 1976
For a short time, Kansas had its own version of the “Hoosiers’’ story made popular by a movie with the same name in which a small town basketball team in Indiana (Hickory) takes on and defeats basketball teams, in a state tournament format, from much bigger towns.
The 1986 “Hoosiers’’ movie was based on a true story about how in 1954, the small Milan High School (student enollment of 161) won the Indiana prep basketball title by defeating teams from the cities of Terra Haute and Muncie in the state finals.
In 1975 and 1976, the Kansas State High School Activities Association sanctioned what was called “Grand State’’ basketball tournaments in which five statewide class winners competed in a tourney to determine an overall “Grand State’’ winner.
Grand State basketball tournaments were offered just one year for boys (1975) and two years for girls (1975 and 1976).
Highland Park of Topeka was the Kansas boys Grand State Champion in 1975, the only year it was offered for boys.
Wichita North (featuring girls basketball legend Lynnette Woodard) was the Kansas girls Grand State Champion in 1975.
Jackson Heights was the Kansas girls Grand State Champion in 1976.
On Friday of this week, at halftime of the Cobra boys varsity basketball game, the 1976 Lady Cobras players, coaches and managers will be recognized on the 40th anniversary of its rare Kansas prep sports achievement.
Also that evening, some memorabilia from the Lady Cobras’ Hickory-like basketball season will be on display in the hallway near the entrance to JHHS.
Jim Dodson, a local organizer for the 40th year recognition event, said most of the 1976 team’s players, coaches and managers plan to attend the event Friday.
Jackson Heights’ Lady Cobras entered the 1976 Class 1A State Basketball Tournament at Hays with a 21-0 record, according to news stories in The Holton Recorder.
The Cobras were led by head coach Ken Thomas and assistant coach Dave Henry. Members of the team were Sherri Hasenkamp, Kirby Hossfeld, Connie Minner, Sheri Oxandale, Brenda Holaday, Sherry Gerhardt, Mary Troxel, Connie Brown, Myla Spencer, Kim Cochren, Lori Humphreys, Cindy Ideker and managers Sally Askren and Rhonda Smith.
Connie Brown led the Cobras in scoring and rebounding in Class 1A state competition and was named to the all-tourney team. Myla Spencer was an honorable mention pick to the all-tourney team.
It was the first-ever statewide class basketball championship for Jackson Heights and it had been achieved in just the seventh year of the school’s history.
The previous two seasons, the Lady Cobras had reached the Class 1A State semifinals and finished third both of those years.
By winning the Class 1A State Basketball Title, the Lady Cobras earned the right to compete in the Kansas Grand State girls basketball tourney.
At Class 1A State, Jackson Heights beat Westmoreland in the title game, 40-36. The Cobras had defeated Westmoreland two weeks earlier in regional competition at the Cobra court.
The Recorder reported that a crowd of more than 500 Lady Cobra boosters traveled all the way to Hays to watch the team also win 43-34 over Wilson and 40-28 over Norwich.
By winning the Class 1A State Title, Jackson Heights became the first team in Class 1A girls basketball history to go 24-0, it was reported in The Recorder.
At this point in the 1976 season, the Lady Cobras were already laden with more honors and trophies than they could carry. And they were not done.
The Grand State girls tourney field was made up of Class 1A champ Jackson Heights (24-0), Class 2A champ Hill City (25-0), Class 3A champ Buhler (22-3), Class 4A champ Liberal (19-1) and Class 5A champ Hutchinson (21-3).
In the first round of competition, back at Hays, Hill City beat Liberal 54-40 and Buhler beat Hutchinson 52-37.
In the second round, Jackson Heights beat Buhler 39-36.
In the Grand State championship game, Jackson Heights was pitted against Hill City.
Senior players on the Jackson Heights team were Kim Cochren, Cindy Ideker, Sheri Oxandale and Mary Troxel.
Junior players on the team were Connie Brown, Connie Minner and Kirby Hossfeld.
Sophomores on the team were Lori Humphreys and Sherri Hasenkamp.
The lone freshman on the team was Brenda Holaday.
Jackson Heights went on to beat previously unbeaten Hill City 45-42 to win the 1976 Grand State girls basketball title and post a perfect 26-0 record.
To beat Hill City, the Lady Cobras made 11 of 16 free throws in the fourth quarter of the game and for the season they were above 60 percent accurate on free throws.
Kim Cochren scored 27 points in two Grand State tourney games and was named to the Grand State all-tourney team. Connie Brown and Myla Spencer were honorable mention picks to the Grand State all-tourney team.
Harold Lamberson, bus driver for the girls basketball team that season, told The Recorder in 1976 that the team’s success ultimately was due to his new suit.
“I could not even wear a different tie all season,’’ Lamberson said. “The girls were so superstitious. After they won sub-state, they told me to get a new suit. I did and they kept winning.’’
At the time, the student enrollment at 1A Jackson Heights was 104, 2A Hill City’s was 198 and 3A Buhler was 467. Liberal and Hutchinson were even bigger schools.
Girls basketball was in just its fifth season ever at Jackson Heights, the Lady Cobras were state qualifiers the last three seasons in a row and the team had an overall record of 78-11.
Some members of the 1976 Jackson Heights girls basketball team and managers as they are known today are as follows – Rhonda (Smith) Cormier of Soldier, Sally (Askren) Alley of Circleville, Brenda Holaday, Mary (Troxel) Tinkler, Sheri (Oxandale) Dibbern of Netawaka, Sherry (Gerhardt) Streeter of New Castle, Wyo., Sherri (Hasenkamp) Bugner of Greer, S.C.
Kirby (Hossfeld) Wittenbach of Topeka, Connie (Minner) Barnhardt of Havensville, Connie (Brown) Barnhart of Lexington, Ky., Myla (Spencer) Cole of Circleville, Kim (Cochren) Bethell of Houston, Texas, Cindy Ideker and Lori (Humphreys) Fickle of Topeka. Coaches of the team were Ken Thomas (of Whiting) and Dave Henry (Fairview).
Note: The 1977 Jackson Heights Lady Cobras went 23-1 overall the next season and the team’s only loss was to Pratt-Skyline in the Class 1A State Basketball Tournament.