Whenever the story of a girls sports team is told, it’s easy to assume that its success came only as a result of Title IX, the 1972 federal legislation that required public schools to offer sports to girls.
However, that is not the case in the communities of Ravenwood and Parnell, which are rural northwest Missouri towns about 20 minutes from the Iowa state line.
Here, the girls were playing basketball in the late 1960s. Which also helps answer this trivia question: Who was the first girls basketball powerhouse in the Show-Me State?
Yes, that title belongs here among the farm and corn fields, and it’s why the Missouri Sports Hall of Fame is proud to induct the Northeast Nodaway High School Girls Basketball Era of 1973-1979 and the 1982 Team.
When the Missouri State High School Activities Association launched a postseason tournament to decide a girls basketball state champion, Northeast Nodaway stormed out of the chute.
The Lady Jays advanced to the Final Four every year between 1973 and 1979, winning state championships six times (1973, 1976, 1977, 1978, 1979), and then won it again in 1982. All were in Class 1.
All were coached by Claude Samson (MSHOF 1990), who in a 1980 newspaper article written by a former player downplayed his role in the success.
Said Samson, “Sure we have had a lot of good teams, but it’s because we have had a heck of a lot of good players.”
That is true. In fact, the program enjoyed a home winning streak that ran from 1969 to 1985. The Blue Jays’ gym certainly was an advantage. It’s one of those where only one sideline offers bleachers – and those go only five rows deep – and sit opposite a performing arts theatre stage. Just know there isn’t a lot of room out of bounds.
Northeast Nodaway finished 31-0 in 1973 after beating South Shelby 41-35.
“It was unbelievable,” Kathy Brown said of the 1973 state championship game, played at nearby Northwest Missouri State University in front of 3,000 spectators. “Here we were from a little town of 300 people, a high school with 100 kids, and we were playing for the championship at a nearby college gym against a team from South Shelby.”
That group wasn’t afraid of anyone. In fact, Samson brought in boys to practice against them during the season, and the girls welcomed the challenge.
And so a dynasty began from that winter.
The 1974 team placed third, and the 1975 team was a state runner-up.
The 1976 squad finished 30-1 after a 38-31 victory against Hale. A year later, Northeast Nodaway scored a 41-17 victory in the finals and finished 32-0.
The 1978 team held off Wheaton 41-32 in the finals and ended the year 32-0. It was a 30-3 season to close out the 1970s, as Northeast Nodaway beat Greenwood 52-37. The Lady Jays won it all again in 1982, beating Purdy 44-28, and finished 30-1.
“We were trailblazers and didn’t even know it,” Brown said. “We took for granted that girls’ sports other places was just like it was for us … games always well-attended and plenty of community and parental support.”
Patty Berg Paxson emphasized that Samson raised the bar.
“What most people don’t realize is all of this winning and “the streak” was the pressure we were under,” Paxson said. “The more the winning streak went on, the more pressure there was. We didn’t go out on the court ‘hoping’ to win. We were expected to win. Claude Samson had a way to figure out what us girls were capable of, and incorporate that talent into the team.”
Northeast Nodaway had meant a lot to Samson, who spent his freshman, sophomore and junior years there before graduating from nearby Maryville High School. He returned in 1965 as the head basketball coach.
Players remember him for not roaming the sidelines, as you see coaches do these days. He was a disciplinarian, though, and wasn’t afraid to move a varsity player to the junior varsity.
“Claude Samson was our highly respected coach who made us what we were by instilling tons of discipline and insisting on sticking to the fundamentals,” said Janet McCrorey Waldeier. “His motto was, ‘Offense wins reputations, but defense wins the games!’ He was also fairly quiet on the sidelines, saying ‘You coach a game before the game.’”
Overall, what an era in northwest Missouri it was.