They are Forever Fillies

Alumnae of the Iola High School Fillies gathered Friday to look back at the start of girls sports at IHS.

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Local News

February 10, 2020 - 11:06 AM

Nan Yokum, who coached the inaugural Iola High Fillies team during the 1974-75 school year, is greeted by well-wishers Friday at a “Forever Fillies” reunion. She met with former and current players to discuss the team’s history. Photo by Erick Mitchell / Iola Register

While a name change is in the offing, the legacy of the Fillies will forever be secure at Iola High School, former principal Don Bain said Friday.

Bain, who was instrumental in introducing girls sports to IHS back in the 1970s, gathered with several members of the first-ever IHS girls basketball team from the 1974-75 school year Friday.

They were special guests of the current Iola Fillies squad, and appeared on court with the basketball team before Friday night’s contest against Burlington.

Before that, the Fillies alum gathered for a round-table discussion, along with Bain and former coaches Van Thompson, Mary Lacy and Nancy Yokum, who had the honor of coaching the inaugural Fillies squad.

They shared stories of the difficulties associated with getting girls sports off the ground, dealing with substandard practice conditions, and the support they received from others around the school.

The visit comes months after USD 257 Board of Education members agreed with a proposal to change the moniker for Iola’s girls teams to Mustangs, starting in the fall of 2021.

“The Fillies name will always be a legacy,” Bain said, in response to a question about the historical significance of the team’s name. “There were too many girls who participated under that name. All of their friends and all of their relatives are going to remember them as a Filly. That’s the way it ought to be.”

Members of the first-ever Iola High School Fillies basketball team are, front row from left, Teresa Dreher, Diane Bodemann, Cindy Summers, Jody Emmons, Patty Wilmoth and Melinda Britt; second row, Pam Stegman, Michelle Specht, Kathy Friskell, Donna Tippie, Aleta Platt and Cindy Burris. The photo was shared by Cathy Stahl as part of the publication in 2017 of The Chronicles of Allen County, Volume 3.

BAIN spoke about getting the program started.

While girls athletics had begun to take root elsewhere, and later mandated through Title IX legislation, Iola High School still had only offered boys athletics up through the 1973-74 school year.

But Bain was hearing from others — especially his mother — that girls deserved a spot on the playing field.

“It was my mother’s fault,” he joked. As the parent of three daughters, Bain said his mother encouraged him to introduce girls sports. 

Bain ultimately agreed. He visited with the school board, then with others around town, including Hugh Haire at Allen County Community College.

All agreed: it was time.

Nan Yokum, who was teaching physical education at the time, was tapped as the first girls basketball coach.

Laura Caillouett-Weiner served as team manager for the inaugural girls team. Caillouett-Weiner recalled the decision-making surrounding the team name.

“We were told, ‘this is your time. You don’t have to be the Mustangs. You can be the Fillies. You can be what you want to be,’” she said. “The Fillies name was suggested, and we thought, ‘OK, sounds good.’”

“I don’t know that there was any controversy in deciding” a name different from the Mustangs, Bain agreed. 

THERE WERE early struggles.

“We had just started, and you could tell it on the floor,” Bain said.

But what they lacked in experience, they made up for with effort and teamwork, Yokum said.

While ending the season with a 4-9 record, the average margin of defeat with a scant 4.8 points, Yokum said.

Members of the Iola High Fillies basketball team gather Friday afternoon for a photo with players from the inaugural IHS Fillies squad from 1974-75. Also included in the photo is Iola High alumnus Earl McIntosh, who helped organize the reunion.

The team dealt with substandard practice conditions. Most practices were in the school’s damp basement — the location of the school gymnasium. Water frequently accumulated in pools directly underneath the basketball goals.

Yokum shared an old Register article detailing other challenges.

“Students joke about the cockroaches that crawl out of their gym baskets, the rainwater water that seeps down the walls, the bumps of elbows trying to dress in a  stuffy crowded room … but the situation isn’t funny.”

Michelle Specht recounted taking a tumble on the wet floor once at practice. What she thought was a sprained ankle turned out to be broken.  

“I worried every day about somebody doing damage,” Yokum said.

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Other issues were a bit more trivial.

Bain recalled one of the players taking a pet frog on the team bus once, only to have the frog die along the way.

“Nancy had to deal with that one,” he chuckled.

But as the team grew more experienced, it improved immensely.

By the end of year two, the Fillies had tied for the league championship, Yokum said.

Mary Lacy, who served as an assistant coach in the early years, lauded the pioneers in women’s athletics.

“The biggest goal Nan and these girls accomplished, was they made it OK for you girls to show people women can be athletes.”

“Successful athletes,” current girls coach Becky Carlson added.

SPECHT, who retired three years ago as a teacher in Chanute, offered some advice for the high-schoolers.

Michelle Specht DiLisio, a member of the first-ever Iola High Fillies basketball team, discusses the team’s origins during a round-table discussion with the current team. Seated with DiLisio are Van Thompson, left, who coached girls at both IHS and Allen County Community College, and Don Bain, former Iola High principal who helped form the team.

“Forty-five years from now, or even 15 or 20 years, nobody is going to remember you played basketball, or who was the highest point scorer, or whether you sat on the bench or were the leading rebounder. Nobody remembers those things. I don’t even know if we remember that about each other. 

“What they are going to remember is what kind of person you were,” she continued. “Were you caring and respectful to your teammates and to other people in the building? Did you do the things you said you were going to do? Were you honest and respectful, even when nobody else was looking? Did you do the right thing?”

“It’s not about the points,” added Caillouett-Weiner, who teaches second grade at Jefferson Elementary. “It’s the bonds and friendships you make, with Coach and the administrators. I thank Nan and I thank Don for the ability to build those bonds and the lasting friendships.”

FRIDAY’S reunion was the brainchild of former Iolan Earl McIntosh, who organized a similar reunion during the football season for the 1942 and 1948 Mustang squads.

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