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1984 Team Sets High Standard for Girls Basketball in Eads

By Betsy Barnett

February 16, 2024

As the scoreboard in the Eads gymnasium displayed 19:84 on the clock and the HOME team leading 56-55 (the OT score over Stratton in 1984), the Eads Girls’ 1984 State Championship team was honored in front of a packed gymnasium on Friday night, Feb. 9th. It’s been 40 years since the Eads girls’ basketball program grabbed their first state championship. They were the first of 9 teams that won titles for the Eads Lady Eagles—currently the most titles in girls’ basketball in any division in the state of Colorado.

The Eads Alumni Association welcomed everyone to the Eads vs Cheyenne Wells basketball game by first finding local sponsors who covered the admission into the game for 349 fans from both communities. Sponsors included Crow’s Stop & Shop Grocery Store, CWC Rail, Inc., GN-Bank in Eads, Eads NAPA Auto Supply, Kiowa Pharmacy, Teddy B’s in Cheyenne Wells, Saffer Spray Service, Hometown Gas & Grill, Eads Consumer’s Supply, Kiowa County Independent newspaper, and Golden Plains Insurance.

The Alumni committee had set up a nice Meet & Greet area in the multi-purpose room next to the gymnasium where the former players and coaches, their families, and many of their old friends and acquaintances met and reminisced on the achievements of the past. The team was then presented to the crowd after the girls’ varsity basketball game between Eads and Cheyenne Wells in which the Lady Tigers made it interesting in the end and Eads had to battle to hold onto a four-point victory.

The first Eads state champions were welcomed to midcourt and stood in the place they had put their hopes, dreams, and determination on the line 40 years before. As the 1984 team stood at midcourt, alumni Betsy Barnett gave a brief history of the Eads Girls Basketball program emphasizing the dramatic step female athletes made in Eads, throughout eastern Colorado, and the rest of the state and across the country after the landmark 1972 Title IX act was implemented giving girls equal access to competitive sports programs.

Barnett told the crowd, “In 1973 the official Eads girls basketball program was established, and the Lady Eagles took to the court playing a competitive schedule that year. By 1979, the first Eads Eagles girls’ basketball team advanced to the coveted state tournament in Denver. That group lost a nail biter in the championship by 3 points. Gail Crawford was the pioneering coach who took that first big step with the girls’ basketball program.

The Eads girls advanced to the state tournament in 1980, 1981, 1982, and 1983 but the Gold Ball eluded them. Finally, in 1984, the first girls’ basketball championship was achieved in Eads. The story of that state championship included a group of 5 senior starters and a lot of freshmen and sophomores. The seniors had been disappointed three years running but they would not be denied in their final opportunity to make girls sports history in Eads.

The 1984 state championship game was played at the Air Force Academy Cadet Fieldhouse. They played a very tough Stratton group. Eads had the lead 49-47 with just 9 seconds left in regulation when Stratton hit a basket to put the championship game into overtime, 49-49.

In the overtime period, Stratton jumped out to a substantial 5 point lead. Coach Crawford called a time out with just under a minute remaining to help his girls regroup. Crawford later said, ‘“All I had to do was look at the girls’ faces to know how much they wanted the title. My only concern was if there were any doubts. There weren’t!”’

Crawford gave them a little defensive adjustment going out of the huddle and the Eads girls came roaring back. Within the final minute of the overtime period and down five, the Eagles scored 6 points including a pair of free throws by Trudy Howard with :57 seconds left; a layup by Kristen Kelley with :36 seconds left; and two crucial free throws with 4 clicks on the clock by Kristy Hines. Eads won the dramatic championship 56-55.

The rest they say is history as the 1984 team opened the door for 8 more gold balls for the Eads girls’ program—the 9 basketball titles are the most for any school in any division in the state. The last championship for the Eads girls’ program was won in 2008—15 years ago.”

After the story of the 1984 basketball championship was told, Barnett then introduced each member that was present, as well as listed each player that was on the team. During introductions the current Eads players, still in uniform after their game, presented each of their role models with a gift bag and joined them at midcourt.

First Barnett introduced the five senior starters—three who were present. They included:

Shelly Watts Pearcey who was inducted into the Colorado State University-Pueblo Thunderwolves Sports Hall of Fame in 2023 for her outstanding collegiate performance and contributions to girls’ basketball after high school, Kristen Kelley Schwartz, and Trudy Howard. The other two senior starters not present were Dana Legg Sorton and Kristy Hines Huppert.

Barnett noted there were no juniors on the 1984 team, but the team then consisted of a number of talented sophomores and freshmen. Two sophomores were on the team including Shannon Lessenden Dixon who was present and given a gift bag, and Diana Mitchell Sniff. The freshmen included Heather Mosher Awtrey who was present. Other freshmen not present included Lori Jones, Shelly Hines Rogers, and Kristi Griswould Hirsch. One other freshman that was on the team was Terry Wall Haught who passed away in 2020. On Friday night, Terry’s son Denny Jo was present representing his late mother.

The team had two managers that were recognized including Cindy Engelhardt Pitman who was present and Landa Eikner who passed away in 1987.

Finally, the coaches were introduced, including Howard Mestas as the assistant coach. Head coach Gail Crawford was present and received a standing round of applause. The legendary coach was inducted into the CHSAA Hall of Fame in 2023. Crawford took the microphone and said a few things about his experience in those early years of girls’ basketball in Eads.

He gave credence to the first pioneer players in 1973 as well as the 1979 team that he took to the state tournament for the first time in Eads girls’ basketball history. Finally, he said his date to the Big Dance with the girls from 1984 was one of the best experiences of his life. He pointed out that their achievement meant a great deal to the school and the community. He closed by thanking the 1984 team for establishing such a high standard in Eads and for representing well their team and school again—40 years later.

One last significant contribution handed out by the Eads Alumni Association was contained in those gift bags given to the 1984 players by the current 2024 players. Each player received an ornament keepsake made from the wood of the Eads gymnasium floor that was damaged and replaced in 2023. Debi Jacobs Derby, an alumnus graduating in 1977, made each of the keepsakes that were personalized with information from the tournament as well as listing each person on the team.

Dawna Weirich, alumni chairman said, “The Eads Alumni Association was very honored to present these unique keepsakes to the 1984 basketball team players, coaches and managers.

Thank you, also, to all the local businesses that made free admission possible.”

Shelley Watts Pearcey referenced the unique keepsakes given to the team in a social media post after the ceremony, “We did more than just play basketball on this floor. We played volleyball, cheered, sang, danced, homecoming skits, laughed, cried, hugged and much more. If this wood floor could talk, the stories it could tell. What a great treasure to have a little piece of EHS history.”

Friday night stands as a very satisfying experience for not only Eads Eagles fans and the community but also for fans of girls basketball in general It seemed important to give credence to the pioneers who came before and for the current crop of players—and those to come—who are their benefactors each and every time they step out onto the gym floor.

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