Wednesday, January 19, 2005

Local Paper Dropped the Ball on Reunion of '80 Hawkeyes

The sports department of the local paper comes in for a well-deserved spanking today.

And that spanking is done by a veteran, and still-working, newspaper writer who knows his way around athletics at the University of Iowa.

Something I could not believe was how the Register dropped the ball on the reunion of the 1980 Final Four team,” the guy wrote in an e-mail to me.

It was a shock to that man and many others who were depending on the local paper for extended coverage of the ’80 Hawkeyes. The team had its 25th reunion last weekend in Iowa City and was honored at the Iowa-Minnesota game Saturday.

All the readers got in Sunday’s local paper was a photo of six of the team’s 14 players and a half-dozen paragraphs on Page 6C.

That’s an embarrassment.

The Iowa newspaperman said in his e-mail to me: “I bumped into Chuck Schoffner at the Iowa game Saturday, and thanked him for his AP package of stuff last week that included a general feature on the 25th anniversary, the sidebar on your old friend, Lute Olson, and the agate listing of all the team’s scores and roster for that year.

“Great stuff that our readers enjoyed, reliving the memories when a Hawkeye basketball team actually OVERACHIEVED. I know, that sounds foreign now.

“I asked if the Register had done anything prior to the game, thinking maybe I’d missed something, and he said no, that they were probably the only paper that didn’t. That’s sad. So many story lines not explored. No interview with Ronnie Lester, no update on the cancer struggles encountered by poor Kenny Arnold, who could barely sign his name or walk to the court.

“No updates on the current activities of other crowd favorites like Vince Brookins or Mike ‘Tree’ Henry. Iowa natives like Steve Waite, Mark Gannon and Bobby Hansen could have lended their perspectives, against the backdrop of recent disappointments.

“[Sean] Keeler is supposedly an Iowa native. How could he miss an opportunity? So he could write about steroids in baseball? So we could have a feature on Friday of Erek Hansen pimping his ride? C’mon.”

The writer added, “I interviewed Lester, Brookins and Gannon after the game, and I still was able to get to most of the coaches’ postgame media session. It wasn’t impossible to do more than was done. At the very least, a larger picture of the group, showing EVERYBODY, during the halftime show would have been interesting for fans. I taped the telecast and was disappointed ESPN Plus didn’t show any of it. A lot of Iowans have no idea how much love and respect Hawkeye fans felt in that arena Saturday afternoon, and it WASN’T for Steve Alford recently gaining his 100th victory at Iowa.

"The lines for autographs snaked around the councourse so far you couldn’t believe it. Fans were lined right up to game time, more than an hour total for some.

“This was just another in a long line of poor decisions by the paper we used to depend on.”


There were a number of well-written columns and stories by Iowa journalists on the reunion of the 1980 Hawkeyes, and one of the best was authored by Larry Peterson of the Creston News Advertiser.

Here it is:


CNA feature writer

IOWA CITY — They came from a variety of backgrounds.

Kids from the city streets of Chicago and Cleveland. Others from
small-town Iowa. Even a couple hometown kids who starred at Iowa City high
schools. What they had in common is that most weren’t highly recruited by
the nation’s basketball powers.

But somehow, coach Lute Olson molded them into a never-say-die squad that
knocked on the doorstep of a national championship in 1980.

“Have you ever been to a real big family Christmas?” says Mark Gannon, a
freshman from Iowa City Regina on that Final Four Hawkeye team. “That’s
what this is. We’ve got guys who grew up in the worst parts of Chicago,
where a lot of us wouldn’t even want to go into. We’ve got guys from right
here in Iowa. There’s just so much love between everybody. These guys
cared about each other on the court and off the court.”

Missing All-American guard Ronnie Lester for nearly all of the Big Ten
season, the Hawkeyes managed a 10-8 conference season and slipped into the
48-team NCAA Tournament field with a 19-8 record.

Perfect half

With Lester back in the fold, Iowa went on a four-game spree in the East
Regional, culminating in an 81-80 victory over Georgetown to claim the
region championship.

“We had one turnover, shot 78 percent from the field and missed no free
throws in a perfect half of basketball,” Olson said, recalling the
comeback from a 14-point deficit against Georgetown.

Lester scored 10 points before reinjuring his knee in the first half
against Louisville in the semifinals. Iowa was still within three points
with a minute left in the game before Darrell Griffith hit a deep shot to
stretch it to five points. Foul shots moved the final margin to 80-72.

Louisville went on to win the national title over UCLA, 59-54. Purdue
bounced a deflated Iowa team in the third-place game, 75-58.

Lester, still signing autographs long after Iowa’s 66-60 victory over
Minnesota Saturday afternoon, said he anxiously watched the remainder of
the Louisville game from the dressing room.

“I knew I wasn’t going back in the game to play, so I watched the game in
the locker room and I was just rooting for my guys,” Lester said. “It’s
tough when you’re hurt and you can’t get out there when you know you could
help. I would like to have played in the game to see what happened. To
look back and think that it’s been 25 years ago, it just doesn’t seem like

Gannon said the team member still have respect for Lester, a former scout
for the Los Angeles Lakers now in the team’s front office.

“When I look back, there are three guys who really controlled this team,”
Gannon said. “John Strief (trainer), Ronnie Lester and Lute Olson. Vince
Brookins, too, is one of the truly great people you’ll ever meet. Lute
knew how to motivate people. We’d run through a brick wall for him. He was
demanding, but really a fair man.”

Health concerns

The closeness of the team is evident in their shared concern for Kenny
Arnold, a sophomore guard from Chicago on that squad who had to fill in at
point guard when Lester was hurt in the Dayton Classic in late December.

Arnold suffered a brain tumor a few years after college, and again faces
cancer issues. His mobility was limited in Saturday’s ceremonies.

“Right now our main concern is Kenny,” Gannon said. “We want to make sure
he’s getting everything he needs. He’s been a little down, and we’re
hoping this event picks him up a little. All of us get to Chicago quite a
bit, so hopefully we can stay a part of his life as he battles this. He’s
a great, great person.”

Fontanelle native Jerry Strom, in his 25th year as a basketball
administrator at Iowa, said the team supports and encourages Arnold.

“Kenny wasn’t sure he wanted to come to this, because he was having some
trouble walking and didn’t know if he wanted to take part in it,” Strom
said. “The other guys would have none of that. They insisted that he

Team members signed autographs on the arena’s concourse for more than an
hour prior to the game. At halftime, each player was introduced under a
spotlight after coach Olson delivered a video message, and CBS highlights
from the 1980 Final Four were shown. The group gathered at midcourt to a
rousing ovation. ESPN Plus television coverage of the game did not show
any of the ceremony.

Current Iowa coach Steve Alford also praised the appearance of Iowa’s only
Final Four team in 49 years.

“I want to say a big thank-you to our 1980 team,” Alford said. “That was
an era when I was in early high school, and I had a lot of fun watching
the matchups of Ronnie Lester and Isiah Thomas. That’s a very special
team. Great guys. For them to call come back is tremendous, and our staff
was excited about it. Hopefully some of their magic rubbed off.”

23-10 Overall, 10-8 Big Ten

Dec. 1 — Northern Illinois W 86-43
Dec. 3 — Colorado State W 113-66
Dec. 6 — Northern Iowa W 78-46
Dec. 8 — at Detroit W 80-54
Dec. 11 — at Wichita State W 81-62
Dec. 15 — at Iowa State W 67-64
Dayton Classic
Dec. 22 — vs. Mississippi State W 81-62
Dec. 23 — at Dayton W 61-54
Dec. 29 — Drake W 77-66
Jan. 3 — at Illinois W 72-71
Jan. 5 — at Michigan L 68-65
Jan. 10 — Ohio State L 77-71
Jan. 12 — Wisconsin W 66-65
Jan. 17 — at Indiana L 81-69
Jan. 19 — at Michigan State L 75-67
Jan. 24 — Northwestern W 86-64
Jan. 26 — Minnesota W 80-73
Jan. 31 — at Purdue L 70-56
Feb. 2 — at Minnesota W 73-63
Feb. 7 — Michigan State W 44-39
Feb. 9 — Purdue W 74-59
Feb. 14 — Indiana L 66-55
Feb. 16 — at Northwestern W 60-58
Feb. 21 — at Wisconsin L 62-58
Feb. 23 — at Ohio State L 70-69
Feb. 28 — Michigan W 83-67
March 1 — Illinois W 75-71
NCAA Tournament
At Greensboro, N.C.
March 6 — Virginia Commonwealth W 86-72
March 8 — North Carolina State W 77-64
At Philadelphia, Pa.
March 14 — Syracuse W 88-77
March 16 — Georgetown W 81-80
At Indianapolis
March 22 — Louisville L 80-72
March 24 — Purdue L 75-58


Mike Arens, 6-4, Sr.
Kenny Arnold, 6-2, So.
Greg Boyle, 6-2, Jr.
Kevin Boyle, 6-6, So.
Vince Brookins, 6-5, Jr.
Jon Darsee, 6-5, So.
Mark Gannon, 6-6, Fr.
Bob Hansen, 6-5, Fr.
Mike Heller, 6-8, Fr.
Mike Henry, 6-9, Jr.
Steve Krafcisin, 6-10, Jr.
Ronnie Lester, 6-2, Sr.
Randy Norton, 6-0, So.
Steve Waite, 6-10, Jr.


In a recent column, I wrote that a retired writer and editor at the local paper e-mailed me about Mike Kilen--a reporter who now works there.

“[Ken] Fuson is supposed to be their hot-shot features writer,” the retiree told me. “But he only writes one story every two months. In the meantime, Mike Kilen turns out damn good feature stories every few days, and probably for a hell of a lot less money than they are paying Fuson.”

I said later in the column that I know Fuson better than I know Kilen, but that they both are talented writers.

Now comes an e-mail from another writer—an Iowan who is still working, but not in Des Moines.

“I’m very familiar with Mike Kilen’s background, and am similarly impressed,” the guy writes. “He’s a Minnesota native who was writing sports at the Mason City Globe-Gazette…..In the fall of 1989, he had just moved to the Gazette to write features. His work there was stellar, particularly in a series that followed the dying days of several AIDS patients. Riveting. Then he went to Nashville. He’s being wasted on some frivolous topics on the Iowa Life page [at the Register], when he’s capable of being Fuson-like in news features. But I almost always read his stuff anyway, because he’s so good at weaving details and setting the scene. You should have read his sports stuff. VERY GOOD. In fact, he’d easily be the best sports columnist on the staff if they’d give Keeler the boot.”


On the subject of outstanding writing, I certainly want to mention the four-part series Marc Hansen just completed on Randy Brown.

At first, I was afraid it was a bad idea for Brown to agree to tell his story--even with the help of Hansen's tremendous writing ability--but Marc put me and everyone else at ease with another wonderful job.

You can be certain that the paper’s editors will enter Hansen’s series in a bunch of writing contests, and I hope he wins everything in sight.

Vol. 4, No. 300

Jan. 19, 2005