By CHUCK OFFENBURGER
IOWA CITY, Iowa, March 18, 2023 – There are some of us old-timers who thought we’d seen girls’ sports – and maybe even women’s sports – get about as big as they were going to get back in the late 1960s and 1970s. That’s when the Iowa high school girls’ state basketball tournament championship games were filling 14,000 seats at Veterans Memorial Auditorium in Des Moines and were being watched on TV by people in nine states.
Do you remember ’68, when Denise Long and the Union-Whitten Cobras beating Jeanette Olson and the Everly Cattlefeederettes 113-107 in overtime? If you do remember it, congratulations, you’re old.
And more congratulations to you, because you’ve now lived long enough to see a new high point for girls’ and women’s sports in Iowa – and for that matter, the nation. And it’s a bunch of Iowa women who’ve made it happen.
Both games were being televised nationally – and beyond, come to think of it.
And get this: All 14,382 available seats in Carver Hawkeye were sold out for the games, and it only took 53 minutes for the sell-out to happen when tickets went on sale last Monday morning at 9 a.m.
A full-house Friday at Carver Hawkeye Arena, as the teams were being introduced.
My wife Mary Riche, an Iowa grad, managed to get our tickets by, starting at 9 a.m., dialing the Hawkeyes ticket office 85 times in about 45 minutes, getting busy signals on the first 84 calls. On her 85th call, she was put on hold – she listened for 15 minutes to a recording of the Hawks’ play-by-play broadcaster Gary Dolphin’s call of a football victory over Northern Illinois – before a remarkable cheerful ticket agent “Patrick” filled our order for four tickets for Friday’s game, and four more the second-round game Sunday. God bless Mary Riche, and “Patrick,” too.
Meanwhile, our friends Tim Boyle and Amy Johnson, of Cedar Rapids, got up early Monday, drove to Carver Hawkeye, and became the 17th people in a line that wrapped around the arena before the ticket office opened at 9 a.m. They got their tickets, too.
You may have thought stories like that only happen for rock concerts by P!NK, Taylor Swift, Lady Gaga and maybe Garth Brooks.
Well, Clark and the Hawkeyes now have that kind of star power themselves.
Don’t just take my word for it. On Wednesday morning, the Washington Post published a loooong profile story about Clark by the paper’s national NBA writer Ben Golliver, who is one of the best sportswriters of our time. Did it reach 2,000 words in length? I do know that it was longer than Clark is tall – how’s that for a measure?
That story is the best piece I’ve read by a major writer about a college basketball star since – are you ready old-timers? – a profile of Princeton University’s Bill Bradley during the 1965 season by John McPhee in the New Yorker magazine. Not to put any pressure on Caitlin Clark, but Bradley went on to become a perennial All-Pro for the New York Knickerbockers, a U.S. senator and a candidate for U.S. president.
Clark, during the post-game interview Friday, by TV commentator Christy Winters-Scott, a former star player for the University of Maryland. (Photo by Mary Riche)
After the TV interview, commentator Winters-Scott snaps a “selfie” with Clark. (Photo by Mary Riche)
Actually, Clark embarrasses me a little every time she steps out on the basketball floor and has a game as glorious as hers was Friday – 26 points, 12 assists, 7 rebounds, and how do you measure how good her floor-play is except with one word: “Great!”
The reason she embarrasses me is not because she got a technical foul earlier this year for making a bad play and then saying too out-loudly to herself, “Damnit!”
Rather, I get embarrassed because I think back to when she was a sophomore at Dowling Catholic High School in West Des Moines. Because it was being reported she already had scholarship offers from Iowa and other major women’s basketball programs, I went to see her play one Tuesday night when cross-town rival Valley played at Dowling.
Oh, she could score, rebound, and move the ball real well. But she was sort of non-stop chatter at every break in the action, dramatizing foul calls against her, questioning the referee about calls a couple times, and even giving one a little pat on the butt after their chat.
Caitlin Clark, I told friends later, “is such a hotdog that this is not going to turn out well.”
She’s first-team All-American (again). She is almost certainly the national player-of-the-year. She is already being recognized as one of the best athletes, female or male, the state of Iowa has ever produced. She is selling out arenas everywhere she plays. And – with the new rules now in place – she’s making more money in product endorsements while playing for the University of Iowa than she could make as a pro player in the WNBA. So, we could have her playing for the Hawkeyes for another two years.
This is turning out better than anybody could have imagined.
You can comment on this column below or write the columnist directly by email at email@example.com.