A couple of Fridays ago, most of the members of our 1993 State Championship Basketball Team came home to our hometown of Hudson. It has been 25 years since that amazing season and our school honored us at halftime of their varsity boy’s basketball game. The Pirates and the Cyclones were doing battle that night in the old gym we used to call home and even though the game had a lot of importance to this year’s Hudson Boys Team, it was not the focus for us or for many of those who came to remember the magic created by that team 25 Hudson teams ago.
Honestly, I did not know what to expect leading up to that night. I was not really sure how many of the guys were going to actually make it back for that night. Obviously, that season was very special to each of us who was a part of it, but life has a way of taking you away from home. After 25 years, most of us have wives and kids now. We have our own families. With that comes a lot of responsibilities and expectations and it can be difficult to get back sometimes. I was pleasantly surprised to find out that there would be 11 of us players from that team that were able to make it back. I guess you are never too old to go back.
That morning I had gone down to the basement of my house and pulled the Hudson shooting shirt that we wore for warm ups off the hanging space where I keep all of my old Hudson stuff I wore when I was an athlete for old Hudson High. It was my hopes that I would be able to wear it for that night. Despite the fact that I have recently lost 40 lbs., it was still too tight on me to wear in public. I shouldn’t have been surprised since I had gained 100 lbs. since I had last worn that shirt. I just had to laugh silently to myself and place the shirt back on the rack. Maybe it will fit me for the 50th reunion.
On the drive home to Hudson from Ames that night, my mind was filled with so many memories from back when I was a basketball player. Life really was a lot simpler then. I thought back to how bad I was at the game of basketball when I started and how I made a decision that I was going to make myself a good basketball player and I did ultimately do that, but it took a lot of work. It took so many hours shooting hoops up in the barn. I remembered how I would show up early for games and shoot baskets and work on my game for 1-2 hours before games and then for another 1-2 hours after each game. It was just me, the basketball, and an empty gym. That is when the real progress was made, when no one was watching. I shouldn’t say no one. I can remember the janitors that would be there after games cleaning up the gym. I can remember Henry cleaning everything three times, not because it needed it, but because by doing that, it allowed me more time to be in that empty gym, working on my game. Eventually, they would have to make me go home because they had to lock up. Later one of the janitors had a copy of the key to the gym made and gave it to me so that they could go home after cleaning and then I could stay as long as I wanted. I just had to make sure the door was locked and all the lights were turned out when I did finally leave. It was kind of like in the movie Rudy. That could have been a huge liability, but they trusted me and I never broke their trust. I never spoke of that until now because I never wanted that janitor to get in trouble, but I think we are OK telling the story now. The statute of limitations is up on that one.
I thought about Grandma Rose and our shared love of basketball and that Hudson team. She went to every single game that season home and away and would always wear her pair of luck blue rain boots that became one of our good luck charms as the tournament approached that season. She supported me so much and there were many days when I felt that she was the only other person in this world who understood me and my drive to make myself a better basketball player. She always encouraged me and gave me the space to do what I needed to do to reach my goals and that really meant the world to me. She would have absolutely loved to have been there on this night, but unfortunately, she just missed it by less than a year as she passed away last spring. Even though she would not be there in person, I could still feel her spirit there and that brought a smile to my face.
When I arrived home at the farm and joined up with my mom, Jill, who would be with me the rest of the night. It was fitting that she was the one with me. Mom has always loved me unconditionally and I honestly owe my love of sports to her. She pushed me to try sports, even though I did not like them, and later discovered that it was one of the great loves of my life. She too, was at every single game that season and I loved that she could be with me on that night to look back and remember together.
When we entered the gym (it is the same gym we played in), we saw that they had a section reserved for the players and families of that State Championship team. We found our seats and as the game started, I found myself talking with my old teammates more than I actually watched the game happening in that gym. I guess that was appropriate for us on that night.
At halftime, they brought us out on the court and recognized us to the fans. Each of us had a chance to take the mike and introduce ourselves and where we live today. It is interested to note that after 25 years, there were a lot of people in the stands that I did not know. It was like my hometown, but not fully. There were enough people there that I did know though that I knew I really was home. Those people who were in that gym that night that had been there 25 seasons ago still remembered and that was good enough for me.
When I think back to the 1992-1993 basketball season, I was only a sophomore. I really looked up to Coach Dober, the other coaches, and my teammates. I was still at a point where I was learning how to play the game of basketball effectively. I can say that I developed more as a basketball player over the course of that season than any other season that I played basketball. I experienced great growths both physically and intellectually as to how the game should be played. I had some great role models, but I especially took the lead of Brian Hemesath, who taught me so much! He meant more to me than he will ever know.
As I look back now to that tournament, we really had no business winning a state title that season. The teams we played, especially Winfield-Mt. Union and Boyden-Hull were more talented athletically and physically than we were. But the one intangible factor was heart and we had the heart of a warrior that season and we were determined that we were not going to lose. The whole state thought we would lose to Winfield-Mt. Union, but someone forgot to give us that message. That 48 hour period of knocking off Winfield-Mt. Union (one of the biggest upsets in the history of the boy’s state basketball tournament) and then following it up with another monumental upset of Boyden-Hull the very next night was the stuff of legend. It happened so quickly and honestly was a blur to me.
The thing I will remember more than anything was the relationships. The relationships we had with our coaches who coached us to look deep within ourselves and bring out the best in us, even better than we knew we had, and guide us to places we didn’t even know we could go. The relationships with my brothers (teammates) and how we pushed each other to do better. Our silly little pregame rituals. The silly times on the buses traveling all around Iowa on those cold dark nights. The crazy moments in restaurants, shopping malls, and hotel rooms in Des Moines that year. The quiet times in the locker room before entering the stage. The BIG stage with all the lights and screaming fans with everyone watching everything you do. The relationships with all the parents and how they loved and supported us through all the wins and losses. Fortunately, the losses were so few. The relationships with all the fans of Hudson.
There is something so special about a small town and how they wrap their arms around a team. Their support of us all that season was amazing. There were times when we would go to away games and we would have as many fans as the home team. When state came, the whole town of Hudson pretty much closed down and came to the barn in Des Moines to support us.
I remember the elation, by everyone after winning the first basketball title ever for our school. I remember how the Grundy Center fire department led our bus through Grundy County on our way home from state. This was so amazing to me because they were our bitter rival, but not on that day. I remember the Hudson fire engines waiting at the county line and the two fire departments trading off and our own Hudson Fire Department leading us back home to our beloved town. I remember the parade and pep assembly. Such pure joy by everyone!
Small towns are so special and state championships in small towns are even more special. The fact that we were a team that season that no one outside of our town thought we could win a title, yet we did anyway, is something that is straight out of Hoosiers. I have not lived in the town of Hudson since 1995, but Hudson has never left my heart. With age, life changes you and memories fade, but that team and what we did that season, will never leave the collective soul that makes up our great town of Hudson! I am just so grateful that I was able to be a part of that special moment in time.
Following the game that night, some of the players had to go home to their current lives so we said our goodbyes to them. Some of us were able to travel to Peppers, in Cedar Falls, to have a couple of drinks and talk about what we are doing now and the memories we had from that special season so long ago. The time went quickly though and soon we all had to say our goodbyes and head back to our lives of today. For that brief night, we were able to find a way to stop time and step back in time to that time of our youth. It was great to visit there again, even if it was for only a brief time. As the midnight hour struck, like Cinderella, we too had to step back into that time machine and return to our own realities of today. We all have our own lives, but being a part of that team, in that time, changed each of us and helped make us who we are today. We each carry that experience with us in our hearts wherever we go and like a great magnet, that experience draws us back together, even for the briefest of moments. I guess you really are never too old to go back!