State Tournament -- 1980-81 Altamont Girls


Published on March 8 2021 2:26 pm
Last Updated on March 9 2021 11:50 am
Written by Millie Lange

Altamont shows off the hardware they won during the 1980-81 season.

Forty years ago, a group of girls played basketball for the love of the game. And because they loved the game so much, their talent took them to the Class A State Tournament in Champaign.

“We knew we had talent, but we also knew that there were some talented teams in the area,” said Kristi (Goers) Lange who was one of the guards on the 1980-81 Altamont High School team. “During that era, there were only two classes, A and AA, so we were really competing against A and AA teams in the postseason.”

“Absolutely no,” said Pam (Berg) Kepley. “We knew that we just loved playing basketball. We had a new coach every year. We just wanted to play ball.”

The coach that year was a young Tena Krause.

“Tena was in her first year coming out of Greenville College,” said Kepley. “She was tough. She worked us very hard but with good reason. Everything that she did made sense and she knew what she was doing. We weren’t used to that. We wanted to play and she took us to the next level.”

“Tena was a first year coach who had a great knowledge of the game of basketball,” said Karla (Goers) McGinnis, Kristi’s twin sister. “We all respected her and knew that she knew her stuff. She made us work hard, but that paid off.”

“Coach Krause was an excellent coach,” said Kristi. “She was a calming influence during tight games, but also knew how to motivate players to play to the best of their ability.”

Members of the 1980-81 team were the Goers twins, Berg, Mary Jesgarz, Deb Culver, Mary Ann Higgs, Lois Milleville, Sharon Stivers, Shannon Stone,Jacque Osseck and Sara Spilker. Sheryl Schroeder was scorekeeper and Diane Culver and Chris Morris were managers.

“I was the only senior,” said Berg. “Karla, Kristi, Mary and Deb were the varsity team members. Then we had six other players who were the junior varsity.”

“Pam was our leading scorer,” said Karla. “She was our center and did a great job of getting rebounds and scoring. Mary was a good scorer and also good rebounder. Kristi and myself were the guards with Kristi the point guard and I was the wing. Deb was a forward who scored and rebounded for us. Our sixth man was Lois. She was a good player to come off the bench and help.”

“Pam averaged double-double in scoring and rebounding,” said Kristi. “She was also tall and was such a strong force on the inside. Karla was so quick and loved the fastbreak. She was a very good ball handler, defensive player and shooter. Mary was such a good all-around player. She was our best passer. Deb (Culver) Palmer played hard all the time and was a good rebounder and shooter. Lois (Milleville) Phillips and Shannon (Stone) Floyd were strong players coming off the bench. Also adding support to the team were Mary Ann (Higgs), Sara (Spilker) Hoene, Sharon (Stivers) and Jacque (Osseck).”

“Mary, Karla and Kristi and I had a lot of experience,” said Berg. “Carolyn Huelskoetter is the one who pretty much began the whole push for girls sports at Altamont. This was something that we really kind of grew up together. We didn’t have that sport in grade school and we just played with our family members on the side.

“We didn’t have formal teams for girls basketball until we got to high school. We just took what we knew from our own experiences. I had so many cousins who played basketball for Altamont and that’s just what we did on the weekends. I grew up knowing more about basketball because I was at every game.”
When asked about games that stood out during the season or some of the tougher teams, the threesome chatted about the different teams they faced that year.

“We were the underdog in most of our postseason games,” said Kristi. “We were able to defeat Greenville by two in the regional. Newton beat us by 20 points earlier in the season and we were able to narrowly defeat them, 54-51 in the sectional. In the super-sectional game we had an off-night shooting. Fortunatelyfor us, Villa Grove didn’t shoot well either and we won by four points.”

“Some of the tougher teams were Farina LaGrove, Cowden, Newton and Effingham,” said Karla. 

“Newton in the sectional championship game,” said Berg. “We had already lost to them early in the season badly.  The championship was at Altamont. That was the first time we had a lot of fans. We were so excited to be in our own gym. I didn’t think we were going to beat them but we wanted to keep playing.

When we came out, it was a shock to Newton. We were ready to play and we had grown a lot. We had never won a sectional in Altamont. We were just so excited.”

“Newton, T-town, Farina, Greenville, Kinmundy, Casey, Villa Grove and Eldorado were some of the tougher teams we faced,” said Kristi.

The Indians finished with a 17-5 record for the season. They had a fun time along the way.

“We signed a form that we wouldn’t drink or smoke and would keep our grades up,” said Berg. “We were asked to give up something at the beginning of the season. I gave up chocolate. Then we were asked to give up one more thing after we had played a while. I gave up sweets totally. That was like ‘now, you’re killing me’ but I held to it. Someone had a piece of cake for me and I told them I couldn’t have it so my mom put it in the freezer and I ate it after the season.”

“Deb Culver, during post-season, made a really good move and made a basket,” said Karla. “The newspaper quoted her saying that she ‘faked out the big girl.’ We teased her about that quote. It was funny at the time.”

The community of Altamont was excited when the team won the super-sectional over Villa Grove, 33-29.

“Our community was super supportive of our team,” said Karla. “Many decorated their cars and had orange and black attire from head-to-toe. We loved all the support from our community.”

“We were kind of sleepers,” said Berg. “We didn’t have people coming to the games at first, a few loyal fans, mostly our close family members and Jake McMerry. He was at every game. Our boys team was so good and everyone was going to their games and we did too.

“Once people started realizing that we were starting to play games that we were winning, then other people heard about it. By the time we got to the regional, the community was noticing. Then by the time we went to the sectional there were posters in every store front. People were wishing us luck, asking us about our game. They saw us on the sidewalk downtown and wished us good luck. Four of us went to Immanuel Lutheran Church and people at church changed the service for lent making it earlier so we could go and then go to the game. That was during sectionals.”

“Altamont really supported the team," said Kristi. “Sports can really bring communities closer and I really saw that happen. Many of the businesses had signs in their windows showing support. There was an excitement among the community members and students at school. We really appreciated all the support that Altamont showed to the team.”

The Indians lost in the opening round to Eldorado, 79-57.

Kepley averaged 15 points and 12 rebounds as the team leader. Jesgarz averaged 15 points and seven boards.

“Our scoring was very even and that’s what was fun,” said Kepley. “When someone didn’t have a good game, someone else did. Kristi was around 12 points and two rebounds while Karla averaged nine points and two rebounds and Deb eight points and four rebounds.

“We got along so well. I don’t remember anybody ever being mad at anybody. We never said ‘how many points did we get?’ Those stats weren’t shared with us. It wasn’t about individuals. We had to wait until the Altamont News came out to see what we scored. But that wasn’t that important and wasn’t a priority for us.

“By the time we went to State, people were sending us cards, notes, flowers. They were encouraging us. Even afterwards, when I go back to Altamont, I still have people say they remember when we went to State.”

Kepley was a teacher for 33 years. She taught special ed 22 years and second grade the last 11. Kepley has faced a lot of battles in her life but she is now facing the ultimate.

“I have terminal brain cancer,” said Kepley. “I stopped teaching because of my cancer. I have already lived past my due date. On average people live two years and I have lived 3 ½ years. 

“I feel blessed. I have two daughters who are in their mid-20’s and they are very helpful to make sure I can do what I can do. They are also starting their careers. I have a house in Altamont to be around family and a house in Indianapolis. I love to spend time in Altamont and see the basketball games and if I’m not there, I live stream them.”

McGinnis is a sixth-grade teacher at Altamont Grade School. She is married to Mark and they have two sons, Jordan and Justin who are both married, and they have one grandchild.

Lange is married to Brian and they have two children, Tyler (30) and Katie (26) who both live in Texas. She taught third graders for 34 years at Altamont Grade School and retired in May of 2020. She still lives in Altamont.

The 1981 Altamont yearbook said . . . 

“The girls’ basketball team brought home hardware that will be long remembered.”

And it has been and is still remembered by the players, managers, coach and community.

Coach Tena Krause (kneeling) talks with her players during a game.