MILFORD, Iowa | John Adams was a Founding Father for the U.S., having served as the first vice president and the second president. His son, John Quincy Adams, served as the sixth president.
At Okoboji High School in Milford, you might call John Adams Sr., a "Founding Father" for the Pioneer girls basketball team. He resurrected the program, after all, after the air left the ball and the gym in the 1960s. Adams, a teacher at the time, resuscitated the girls team in 1971 and coached the club to a 1-1 record, a split with Sutherland High School.
Imagine the pride he has today as the Pioneers, coached by his son, John Adams Jr., prepare for their first state tournament, a 6:45 p.m. Monday tilt versus Pekin at Wells Fargo Arena in Des Moines.
Need another source of pride? How about the senior shooting guard, Shaelyn Adams, daughter of the head coach, granddaughter of the "Founding Father."
There are more "Adams Family" connections on this team than you'd find in the old black-and-white TV comedy.
"It was an unbelievable feeling on Monday night," John Adams Sr., told me, growing ever-serious, thankful and, well, a tad emotional. "Shaelyn and I had a real big hug at center court."
I can see why, what with a family steeped in these local hoops fortunes.
John Adams Sr. came to the Iowa Great Lakes to teach and coach in 1967. He coached boys basketball for four years, as well as cross country and girls track. When some of the parents of the girls track participants asked him to consider reviving the girls basketball program, he jumped at the opportunity.
"It helped that my friend, John Mitchell, was here and could coach the boys basketball team," he said.
With that, the Pioneers broke ground, opting to play just two varsity contests in 1971-72, while facing a number of junior varsity clubs in the area. A full schedule commenced the following season, and the Pioneerettes (as they were called then) went 6-6.
Adams then left teaching to start the Lakes News Shopper, an advertising enterprise he and wife, Mary Adams, ran for decades. Back then, coaches had to be school district employees. When Adams went into private business, he had to hang up his whistle.
That requirement had changed when John Adams Jr. returned to Okoboji in 2006. John Jr., a basketball player who starred on Pioneer teams prior to his 1990 graduation, played at Sioux Falls College for one year before transferring to Iowa State University, where he served as the men's basketball manager and, eventually, a graduate assistant, picking up tips and friendships along with way with Cyclone greats such as Johnny Orr, Tim Floyd, Fred Hoiberg and Loren Meyer.
John Adams Jr. went to the University of Tennessee-Martin for one year and worked as an assistant coach before being hired by Orient, Iowa, native Steve McClain, then the head coach at the University of Wyoming. Adams toiled on the bench and the recruiting trail for the Cowboys for eight years, helping the program earn one berth in the NCAA Tournament and three in the National Invitational Tournament (NIT).
"We also won two Mountain West Conference titles," he said.
But, by 2006, Adams and wife, Michelle (the former Michelle Vander Pol of Orange City, Iowa) were realizing that family life trumped that of an all-too-busy college hoops coach. There were nights at home with two young children, Shaelyn and Tyler, when John Jr. thought about recruits he should be watching or calling.
"Mom and Dad had started the Lakes News Shopper and were getting near retirement age," John Jr. said. "We came back and worked for them for one year to see if it was the right fit."
It proved to be a winning strategy, and remains so, for John Jr., Michelle and their children. As he and Michelle own and operate the Lakes News Shopper, the kids immerse themselves in school activities; Shae, as a senior, and Tyler as an eighth-grader.
John Jr. didn't entirely leave coaching, of course. He coached youth sports for several years (basketball, softball and baseball) and then assisted with the high school boys' program four years ago. Two years ago, he joined the girls program, and on Monday night directed a team built around 11 seniors to a 40-34 victory over Grundy Center, a regional final verdict that sent Okoboji to its first state tournament.
"I fouled out with two minutes left on Monday night and I remember Dad saying to me, 'This is not going to be your last game,'" Shaelyn said. "I'll never forget that. And I'll never forget the plays my teammates made to win the game and send us to state."
"My proudest moment probably goes back to when these seniors were in seventh grade and I was coaching them," John Jr. said. "I remember talking to them a little about the state tournament back then. But what I really remember saying is that if the 11 girls stayed together and all of them walked out for introductions on their Senior Night, that would be my proudest moment."
It happened earlier this month. The only bummer? Okoboji's only setback this year came that night, on Senior Night, a loss to MOC-Floyd Valley.
"Thank goodness we had a couple of tournament games at home, so the girls didn't have to leave their home court with a loss," he said.
Along the way, he and Shaelyn and her peers have racked up points, wins and priceless memories. It reached an apex on Monday as Okoboji fans packed the gym for the regional final in far-away Clarion and then lined up for a welcome home caravan led by fire trucks, semis and an estimated 100 cars.
"I remember winning a conference title in front of 16,000 people at Wyoming," John Jr. said. "And I remember other homecomings after big wins in college."
He pauses and concluded the interview this way: "I wouldn't trade any of them for what we had on Monday up here. It was just awesome."