The pride of Clutier returns home
Chargin’ Czechs’ 1942 State Championship white basketball back in community
It’s been 80 years since Clutier High School’s ‘Orange & Black’ girls’ basketball team – better known as the Chargin’ Czechs – was crowned the 1942 state basketball champions but it certainly seemed like only yesterday on Sept. 18 as members of the tightknit Czech community welcomed home – for the second time – the team’s championship white ball.
Just past 1 o’clock on Sunday afternoon, two Clutier Community Fire Dept. trucks led a parade of vehicles through town in celebration of the ball’s return.
The small but proud band of vehicles began by parading past Clutier’s picturesque white fencing – dedicated to the 1942 team in 2007 – on the Bohemie Alps community’s eastern edge. After passing the former, now vacant Clutier school, the parade wound along several side streets and Main Street before ending the journey at the American Legion Post home on the town’s western edge.
It was a parade held in memory – in honor – of the parade carried out in 1942 when the town’s beloved Chargin’ Czechs returned home from the state tournament in Des Moines as champions with an undefeated 31-0 season record.
For the last 18 years, the white ball along with the team’s state championship trophy, a Chargin’ Czech uniform, and other team memorabilia have been on display at the Iowa High School Athletic Association’s Iowa Hall of Pride* located in downtown Des Moines.
Prior to its donation to the Hall of Pride, the ball, trophy, and companion memorabilia had been on display at the Clutier Public Library.
But in the aftermath of the Hall of Pride’s permanent closure this summer, all the donated artifacts began to slowly trickle back to the original owners — including those items originating in Clutier.
A reception for the ball’s homecoming was held following Sunday’s parade in the Legion Hall – organized by members of both the Clutier Alumni Committee and Bohemian Plum Festival Committee including Tracy Sienknecht, Ardene Cross, and Carol Vokoun.
Roughly 40 people attended the reception – enjoying frosted sugar cookies made to resemble a basketball and bearing the Chargin’ Czech name – from former Clutier basketball players and their families to members of the Clutier community, both past and present.
Eileen Hora formerly of Clutier, now Traer – a decorated member of the team from 1946 to 1948 – accepted the ball from Sienknecht during the reception program as the most senior Chargin’ Czech present.
After handing the ball to Hora in a ceremonial gesture, Sienknecht – working as program emcee – prepared to gingerly accept the 80-year-old ball back and replace it on its perch at the front of the room but Hora – ever a six-on-six ‘Iowa Girl’ – tossed it back spryly with a wry grin, eliciting laugher, applause, and general enthusiasm from the audience.
Also in attendance were family members of the only surviving member of the 1942 team, Dorothy (née Hadacek) Hayek.
Hayek – now 97 and a resident of Keystone Care Center – is still as sharp as a tack, her son Marc Haack shared, but was physically unable to make the trip to Clutier.
In addition to Haack, relatives of Hayek present on her behalf included Hayek’s daughter Mary Tiedemann as well as Hayek’s stepchildren Colette Wiebbecke, George Hayek, and John Hayek.
The importance of 6-on-6 girls basketball
As part of the reception, Sienknecht gave a brief synopsis of how the ball, the trophy, and companion memorabilia ended up at the Iowa Hall of Pride.
Back in 2004, Sienknecht – athletic director at North Tama Schools at the time – answered a call put out by the Iowa High School Athletic Association for a white state tournament ball. The Clutier ball – housed in a display case in the Clutier Public Library – was the only one of its kind with a known existence, it seemed.
After consulting with the Clutier Alumni Committee – which controlled the rights to the ball, the trophy, and memorabilia – as well as the surviving members of the 1942 team, the decision was made to donate the items to the Iowa Hall of Pride.
“There were four ladies left,” Sienknecht said. “All four of them were just ecstatic [at the prospect].”
Over the years, Sienknecht said the 1942 Chargin’ Czechs display was one of the most popular displays at the Iowa Hall of Pride – even more popular than 2008 Olympic gold medalist, Iowa native Shawn Johnson’s display or the display of legendary actress Cloris Leachman who was born in Des Moines.
“It gives me goosebumps now to think how many lives [the Chargin’ Czechs’ display] really did touch,” Sienknecht said. “Dorothy said many times that’s where it needs to be – people need to see this.”
Part of the allure of the display can be attributed to the love Iowa still has to this day for its rural-rooted six-on-six girls’ basketball which was played from roughly 1920 to 1993.
The sport took hold in Iowa’s small, rural school districts long before the larger districts would take it up, giving those communities an identity that many still carry with them today even after their local school was closed — the districts consolidated.
It is a history that resonates even with those who weren’t alive to remember it – a time when the ‘Iowa Girl’ carried the pride of her community with every flick of her wrist, every dribble, every ‘swoosh’ made.
The Chargin’ Czechs – led by head coach, Clutier Superintendent John Schoenfelder – dominated the sport throughout the 1940s, making six trips to the state tournament – winning in 1942 with a win over Wiota, 40-26.
Collectively from 1939 to 1948, Clutier’s girls’ basketball teams had a 201-18-1 record, according to previous North Tama Telegraph reporting.
In 1961, Clutier merged with Traer, and the Clutier High School was closed – thereby drawing to an end the Chargin’ Czechs’ history but certainly not its legacy as evidenced by the enthusiastic welcome the ball received 80 years later.
As she drew her formal remarks to close in the Clutier Legion Hall last Sunday afternoon, Sienknecht probably summarized what most in the room were feeling at that moment: “[The Iowa Hall of Pride display] has given many people the opportunity to know our much-loved Chargin’ Czechs.”
The 1942 Chargin’ Czechs’ white state championship basketball and memorabilia are again on display at the Clutier Public Library. The companion state trophy is currently undergoing refurbishment – paid for by the Iowa High School Athletic Association – and will be returned to the library at a later date.
*Telegraph note: The print version of this story contained several incorrect references to the ‘Iowa Hall of Fame’ rather than the ‘Iowa Hall of Pride.’ The electronic version is correct. The Telegraph deeply regrets the error.