1974 JHS basketball team served as a catalyst for girls sports
The Jamestown High School girls basketball team won the first-ever Class A State Basketball Championship in 1974.
Tom Gould was asked an unprecedented question in the fall of 1973.
In an interview with a Jamestown Sun reporter, Gould, the head coach for the first-ever Jamestown High School girls basketball team was asked: "What do you expect from your first game?"
"I said: I don't know, I've never seen a girls basketball game before," Gould said with a laugh. "I was scared of girls, I mean what the heck?"
What the first-time, girls head coach would stand to witness was not anything he — or frankly the state — was expecting.
About two and a half years after Congress passed Title IX into law, Gould and the Jamestown High School girls basketball team went on to win the first-ever sanctioned Class A State Girls Basketball Tournament. Jamestown defeated Williston in the finals in November 1974.
The 50th anniversary of Title IX coming into law is June 23. Gould and the 1974 team putting together a state championship run was just one of many golden moments the Buffalo City has seen in relation to female athletics.
"I think at first, some of the kids were skeptical of the quality of girls' sports, but I was blessed and I had some kids who were above the norm in the state at that time," Gould said. "I know some of the games we played, I just marveled at what these other kids were doing — warming up they were like bouncing the ball off the wall. (But) my girls knew how to play the game. They must have put in time prior to us starting the sport."
Kathi Fischer certainly put in her 10,000 hours.
"I played a lot of basketball with the guys when I was a little girl," Fischer said. "I would go out and play pickup games on the driveway with the boys and the guys were always very willing to let you play if you had some skills. I can't say that I ever felt like I wouldn't be allowed to play with them.
"In junior high, we had intramural basketball but if you really wanted to develop your skill-set, you went out and played with the guys. That's where I was (and) I think a lot of the gals on our team did that so our skill-set was very, very good."
The Jays entered the first-ever, sanctioned state tournament held at the Jamestown Civic Center as the heavy favorites carrying a 30-0 record that began with a 43-3 victory over Buchanan in early September 1973.
Fischer along with 2019 Jamestown High School Hall of Fame inductee, Lynne Nitschke, manned the team's starting backcourt, with Fischer largely directing the offense from the point. Most of Jamestown's scoring went through the pair of all-state guards. Fischer averaged 19.5 points per game.
The Jays averaged 54.4 points per contest, downing Lisbon by 70 points in the team's most lopsided victory of the season.
"I remember writing a report about Title IX and that was probably the only time it stuck in my mind," Fischer said. "At that time, I didn't feel that unusual push for women's sports.
"When you are in it making history, you don't really realize you are. (Title IX) wasn't something that I remember intentionally being for or against. We were just given this opportunity and we took it, we ran with it and we capitalized on it."
Even the most historic moments can be a blur when a team as focused as the '74 Jays come to play.
"The one memory I have of the whole thing was actually in the first round on that Thursday, Fischer said. "We played Bottineau and it was a 1 o'clock game."
Fischer said she and her teammates were over at the Civic Center warming up for the state quarterfinals with a pretty good crowd of people watching when all of a sudden they let school out and the march from what is now Jamestown Middle School to the Civic Center began.
"I can feel it right now — how we looked up and there were all these kids. The enthusiasm was just electrifying in that building — it was just amazing." Fischer said. "You knew you had the backing and the support and people were just so excited. That's a memory I will have forever."
Fischer dropped 20 points in the state quarterfinals on Nov. 14, 1974, helping Jamestown to a 47-39 win over Bottineau. The Jays got past Grand Forks Central 35-29 in the state semifinals, which set up the undefeated Jays for its second-go at Williston in the title game on Nov. 16
Williston entered the Jamestown Civic Center with a 15-1 record in tow. More than 4,400 spectators were estimated to attend the state championship game.
"The attendance at the games just kept going up and up and up," Gould said. "We were the new kids on the block and they were very well received."
Jamestown clung to a one-point lead in the fourth quarter and continued to battle against the strong defensive effort put forth by the Coyotes.
Down the stretch, Dianne Carlson converted 3-of-4 shots at the stripe to help the Jays clinch a 34-30 victory.
"It wasn't a high-scoring game but there was a lot of action — a lot of good basketball," Fischer said. "Between the two teams, the athletes were really good basketball players."
Jamestown's winning streak lasted four games into the fall of 1975. Grand Forks Central was the team to finally dismantle the squad on Sept. 23, 1975. The Knights took it 31-28, ending the Jays' 37-0 win streak it had earned over parts of three seasons. The streak lasted 746 consecutive days. Gould wound up coaching girls basketball in Jamestown in some capacity for more than 30 years.
"I was really blessed," Gould said. "I had some really, really super kids who were very coachable. All of my years coaching the girls' sports were very enjoyable."
JHS sports teams had laid claim to five state titles prior to 1974 in football (1939), boys track and field (1953), boys cross country (1969) and girls gymnastics (1960, 70).
Gould and Fischer were both individually inducted into the inaugural Jamestown Athletic Hall of Fame class in 2017. The state championship team was the first team to be inducted into the Jamestown High School Hall of Fame back in 2019.
"It was a starting point, it was history being made," Fischer said. "When you are in it, you don't really realize the importance or the history-making event until you step back 50 years or whatever and that's when you realize that it was a very special moment."
Gould said at the time of the state championship, the young girls of the Buffalo City just idolized the members of the state championship team, gravitating toward them and looking to them to define what it meant to be not only a female athlete but also a Blue Jay.
"I remember just going into the grocery store and moms stopping me saying, "Oh, my little girl wants to be just like you," and I realized the impression and impact I was having on these young girls," Fischer said. "If we wore our hair in pigtails, they wanted to wear their hair in pigtails because someone on the team did.
"They saw the success and they wanted to be a part of a real, quality program too. We were in a position where we were positive role models for these little girls and I hope that we did fulfill that role."
Fischer said since the team won it all, nearly 48 years ago, the Buffalo City has produced numerous athletes who have done great things in the sport of basketball. Fischer said the city of Jamestown and the Jamestown athletics community should be proud of the program, the consistency it has been able to maintain and the sportsmanship that has been taught to athletes throughout their entire athletic careers.
"When you are out on that court, you are definitely a role model to some little eyes that are watching you," Fischer said. "I was really blessed to come on at a time where there were great opportunities for women's sports.
"I was blessed to have an amazing coach and play with a group of talented, all-around athletes. At that time, we were all very willing to pave the way for women's sports."