Jill and I began dating 26 years ago by planning to take in a high school basketball doubleheader. I say planning, because we didn't see two games on that night, early in the 1991-92 season.
We left Storm Lake, Iowa, for a Tuesday tip-off as Harris-Lake Park (Jill's alma mater) played at Ruthven-Ayrshire High School. Jill's younger sister and brother, twins Todd and Tara Gunderson, played for the Wolves.
We departed after the girls' contest, intent on driving west to Spencer to catch my brothers in action for the Storm Lake Tornadoes, who battled the Tigers. Ed Gallagher was a senior that year; Jerry Gallagher, a sophomore.
A not-so-funny thing happened on the way to venerable Spencer Fieldhouse: We got snow. Sideways snow. Blinding snow. Snow that socked our portion of Northwest Iowa into submission, arriving on the wings of 40 mile-per-hour winds.
I drove Jill's Chevy 10 miles per hour as she stuck her head out the window to check where we were on Highway 18. "You're on the wrong side of the road," Jill told me calmly. "You're almost in the ditch."
A trip that should have taken 15 minutes lasted an hour in the most treacherous driving conditions I've seen. (Jill’s parents, Bob and Jeanine Gunderson, and the rest of the Harris-Lake Park team and fan base, spent the night at Ruthven-Ayrshire High School.)
Jill and I all but crawled into Spencer and breathed a sigh of relief. I remember seeing the late Albert City, Iowa, businessman Wayne Hyde at a gas station as I removed an inch of ice from the wiper blades. He advised me to snatch up a motel room in town if I could.
We checked at one motel and found all rooms taken. I pulled out of that motel and promptly put Jill's car in the ditch 100 yards from a second motel.
We struggled to get out of the car, but did and found the last open room.
Since nobody we knew had a cell phone at this point, I used the motel phone to call KAYL Radio in Storm Lake. The station's board operator passed a message to Chris Boeckman, KAYL sports director, who, over the air, told my parents, Don and Anne Gallagher, of Storm Lake, that I had room in our room at the inn. (My mom used to sit in the bleachers while listening to Boekman’s play-by-play.)
My folks made their way to the motel after the game and stayed with us, my dad second-guessing a few officiating calls as the Tigers bounced the Tornadoes that evening.
I think it marked the first time Jill had met my parents.
I rose early the next morning and headed south with my mother, back to Storm Lake, where I compiled details about the blizzard for the Storm Lake Times newspaper. My mom dashed to work in the Storm Lake schools, which had a 2-hour late start.
Jill, then a student at Buena Vista University, stayed in Spencer with my dad as they hatched a plan to get her car towed from ditch. Jill and Don enjoyed breakfast at the Country Kitchen, sitting with one of the men, Ron Baack, of Emmetsburg, Iowa, who refereed the game in Spencer the previous night.
Jill and I exchanged vows the day after Christmas one year later. We eventually welcomed five children into this world and have watched them laugh, cry, learn and grow. They've played baseball, softball, golf, football, soccer, volleyball, piano, trumpet and trombone. They've run in track and cross country and found a mixture of success and failure in speech, drama, choir, academics and so on.
And, for the most part, they've savored playing and watching basketball with their friends and our extended family of players, coaches and fans. Heck, our wedding weekend 25 years ago featured a "Gallagher versus Gunderson" basketball game, running scoreboard and all, a contest that included five collegiate basketball players and four eventual high school basketball coaches.
"Basketball is frequently a game of mistakes," Jill often told players she coached at Woodbury Central in Moville, Iowa, where we settled 18 years ago. "There are missed screens, errant passes and shots that don't fall. You can't play this game if you're too worried about screwing up. You will make mistakes."
Rather, she said, players must focus on doing their best. Work to limit errors by repeated practice. Celebrate the makes, the assists and the rebounds while wearing out the net on your driveway.
Keep your head up, and work to make sure your teammates feel the love, too.
Without wading too deep, I realize parallels in life and marriage exist. We've committed our share of "turnovers" along the way, starting with a dangerous slip in Spencer that highlighted our first date.
We spent the past weekend celebrating, watching games in Central DeWitt High School in DeWitt, Iowa, where two sons coach, and at Simpson College in Indianola, Iowa, where one daughter plays. We'll celebrate in the same manner the rest of this month, covering roadways across Northwest Iowa and beyond, me at the wheel as Jill subtly offers wit and wisdom, attempting to keep me from veering off-course.
Thank God -- and thanks to so many of you -- we've enjoyed incredible "sledding" in our quarter-century as teammates.