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Cowgirl team finished second in the first OSAA sponsored girls state basketball championship

LON AUSTIN/CENTRAL OREGONIAN - Becky 'Boo' (Mitchell) Connolly, Cathy (McCabe) Lane, Tim Huntley, Cindy (Binder) Miller, Kristi (Garrison) Redd, Brenda (Cardin) Coats and Lori (Garrison) Meadows pose together for a photo during the recognition of the 1976 Crook County High School girls basketball team at Marshfield High School on March 7. The 1976 CCHS team finished second to Yamhill-Carlton at the first official OSAA-sponsored girls state basketball tournament.The 1970s were a golden era of girls athletics at Crook County High School.

Girls athletics were in their infancy in the state of Oregon, and Crook County quickly rose to the top to become a dominant force in the state of Oregon.

The Cowgirls won numerous state championships in track and cross country, as well as winning state championships in basketball.

The 1975 Crook County girls basketball team won a state title. Seven members of that team graduated, and the 1976 season started slowly.

The team was not even expected to make it to the playoffs, but they got hot late in the season and went on a tear, winning the league title and returning to the state tournament.

"We didn't talk about it a great deal, but 1976 was the first year that the OSAA sponsored a girls tournament, and so from that point, it was pretty special," Tim Huntley, the team's head coach, recently said. "The '76 team, we were able to do more things because we had Cindy (Binder) Miller returning, and Cheri (Hoppes) Rassmussen was a freshman, and that helped us. She was not on the '75 team because she was only an eighth grader. And then Cathy (McCabe) Lane was back, and she was a really good leader. She was kind of like having a coach on the floor because she had been there and done that."

The Cowgirls rolled past Cascade 46-28 in the opening round of the tournament, which was held at Marshfield High School in Coos Bay. Crook County then upset tournament favorite Tillamook 49-46 on Friday before dropping a hotly contested game to Yamhill-Carlton 43-40 in Saturday night's championship game.

The two teams had been tied at 40 late in the contest before Yamhill-Carlton guard Kathy Buxton was fouled on a late driving layup. The ball went in, and Buxton made the ensuing free throw for the winning margin and her only points of the game.

"I think that all of us thought that we hadn't played our best game," Huntley said. "We had missed some easy shots and things like that, but you know, it was sort of the infancy of girls basketball, and even today you are still dealing with 16- and 17-year-old kids, and it's just part of the deal."

Fast forward to 2020, and members of that team were recently surprised when they were contacted by people from Coos Bay and invited to attend this year's Class 3A state championship as honored guests.

On Friday, March 6, several members of the team made their way to Coos Bay. The Cowgirls and a 1968 boys team from Sutherlin were both served a dinner, and then the Cowgirls were recognized at halftime of the girls championship game between Clatskanie and Sutherlin on Saturday night, March 7.

"Oh gosh, it was a big surprise," said Lane, who was selected to the all-tournament team in 1976. "It was fun, though. We had six of us that showed up and the coach, we all had a good time visiting."

Lane added that the reunion brought back good memories and that it was nice of the people in Coos Bay.

Marshfield is the only current OSAA venue that takes the time to recognize past teams during its state tournament games.

The Pirates have a proud athletic history and a hall of fame room dedicated to Marshfield athletes.

A copy of the Crook County page of the 1976 State Basketball Tournament. Toni Miller is pictured in the front row on the far left, but is not listed in the text directly under the photo.At halftime, the former Cowgirl players were introduced on the floor. OSAA Executive Director Peter Weber and Assistant Executive Director Brad Garrett spoke about the history of the OSAA playoffs and how important it is to remember history.

The announcer spoke about the individual team members, then, once the event was over, the team sat in the stands for the remainder of the championship game, watching as Clatskanie went on to take a convincing 51-40 victory.

"I feel so fortunate to have been a part of this reunion," said Kristi (Garrison) Redd. "The reunion brought back fond memories of being involved in sports at CCHS with my best friends."

Redd noted that the team was special because it was like family. And no family was more closely involved in the program than the Garrison family.

Redd's mother, Linda Garrison, was a junior high school PE teacher and best friend and co-worker to Diane Hayes. Hayes was a high school PE teacher and directed all Crook County girls athletics in the early 1970s. Hayes eventually resigned her position as head basketball coach, turning the reins over to Huntley so she could devote more time to the cross country and track and field programs.

Redd's father, Kay Garrison, was a CCHS coach and the school's athletic director in 1976, while her sister Lori Meadows was also a member of the team.

"Our 1976 team was lucky to have played in the first OSAA State Championship game at Marshfield," she said. "I salute and commend all of the great athletes, especially those girls who played basketball on the CCHS teams before and after me. They are all important in the success of CCHS girls basketball history."

Meadows, who played on a Cowgirls team that finished fourth at the state tournament in 1978, was also honored by the experience.

"That team was special because of the family atmosphere that it created," she said. "I think our families were close, and it just felt like there was a lot of closeness amongst one another. What I remember about Marshfield is when we did go there, they were really good hosts. Those people were just really gracious hosts. They were very gracious to all of the teams and made sure that they had everything that they needed."

Meadows added that it was really fun reconnecting with former team members.

"It brought back a lot of memories of things that we did while we were there in '76," she said.

Those memories included taking Lane to see the ocean for the first time and taking a team photo.

"One of the things that we did is we went out and had a great big huge picture taken," she said. "Of course, none of us can find the picture. It's a beautiful picture, but none of us can find ours."

Meadows added that although she is grateful for the experience, just how fleeting things are was brought into clear focus the following week.

"We were gone (in Coos Bay) and didn't get to watch the boys home playoff game," she said. "I feel bad for the boys team that was playing this year with them not getting to play for fourth place. I can kind of connect with how they are feeling, not getting to play. That's tough."

Other players on the 1976 team that made the trip to Coos Bay included Becky "Boo" (Mitchell) Connolly, Brenda (Cardin) Coats and Miller.

"I do remember being terrible disappointed," Miller said of finishing second in 1976. "You do want to hold on to your title. But I thought that this year was a real fun time. It was an honor that they had our team come out, and I hope that they continue the tradition that they've got going on."

CENTRAL OREGONIAN FILE PHOTO - All-State Cowgirl guard Cathy McCabe drives past Kathy Buxton of Yamhill-Carlton in the finals of the Oregon State AA Girls Basketball Championships at Coos Bay.Miller, who was a second-team all-tournament selection in 1976, added that it was fun to reconnect with people that she had not seen for years.

"Some of the people that you stay in touch with or that were your best friends in high school were people that you participated in sports with. It was really fun to get to go to a state playoff, and to get to do that two years in a row was a great experience. It was nice to be able to reconnect with some of the people that had shared that special season, and I think it's just awesome what Coos Bay does."

"The people in Coos Bay just went out of their way to make it a nice experience," Coats added. "They were just extremely friendly and well organized, and it was really nice to connect with some people on the team that I hadn't seen for a long time, and it was fun to watch the state championship game, so it was just a real nice experience."

Like the other team members, Coats said that it was their sense of togetherness that made the team what it was.

"We were not only together on the basketball court, we did a lot of other sports together as well," she said. "We all were doing athletics, and I think that maybe because we were kind of in the infancy of that, we had early morning practices at 6 a.m. I know that my sophomore year, we had to drive to Powell Butte for some practices because we didn't have equal access to the gym back then. I think the bus time and a lot of things like that, it helped us get to know everybody well."

Coats added that in light of what is going on currently with the coronavirus, she feels lucky that the team was recognized when it was.

"I guess it was fortunate that it happened," she said. "With what's going on right now, it was one of the last state championship games that happened for this year, and we really appreciated all of the time and energy that they spent trying to make it special. It's something that we will remember for a long time."

As the final team member to attend the event, Connolly was also excited.

"It was wonderful," she said. "It was so much fun. It's been maybe 44 years since you've seen some of those people. It was a real shock. It was just surprising because we were the runner ups."

Like her former teammates, Connolly said that the team was special because of how close the girls were.

"Huntley was awesome to us," she said. "He drove us hard and you respected him. We had a competitive spirit amongst ourselves too. We worked to make each other better, because it took the second team to make the first team. Just because you weren't a starter didn't mean that you didn't have a part of it because they had to compete against us every day."

Connolly added that she believes one of the reasons that Crook County had such successful girls programs in the '70s was because their coaches were ahead of their time.

"Our coaching staff was so far ahead of Title IX (the law passed in the early '70s to ensure that girls and women had equal rights in athletics), I didn't remember feeling like we were downtrodden, but I do remember that the boys got the gym a lot more than we did. We had nice uniforms and we traveled. I don't recall other than competing for gym time that this was a big ugly, because I think our coaches were good. It was very nice to see the state of Oregon recognizing us. The head of the OSAA, the head guys were out there on the floor to greet us old women, and that was nice."

"I think some of the girls talked about we needed to do a bigger reunion at some point, and I just told them, 'Do it soon,'" Huntley said.


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