BATTLE CREEK, Iowa | Six years ago, I drove to Battle Creek on a Friday night in March. The top-ranked OA-BCIG Falcons were playing in the girls' state basketball championship game that evening.
I headed to Battle Creek in hopes of finding a fan who, rather than make the drive to Des Moines for the tournament, spent the evening watching the action on TV.
I met and reminisced with Arlene Wright, a resident of Willow Dale Wellness Village in this Ida County town of 713 residents. Wright was 88 when she died on Sunday. Her funeral is being held at 10:30 a.m. Thursday at St. Joseph Catholic Church in Anthon, Iowa.
Reading her obituary this week in the Journal brought back memories of that night, and gave me reason to consider how fortunate I am to cross paths, often by chance, with so many Siouxland residents.
Wright had the game on the television that night. She watched as Jessie Pauley and Morgan VanDerSloot scored 11 points apiece in leading the undefeated Falcons to a Class 2A state title in a 46-35 victory over Estherville-Lincoln Central.
Wright mentioned how her interest in basketball started when she was a child, a child who grew into a prep basketball force at New Providence High School in New Providence, Iowa.
She told me she'd played in the state title basketball game some 65 years earlier. "Coon Rapids beat us by about 10 points," she said.
I checked. Coon Rapids 48, New Providence 40.
Wright, who was 82 at the time, recalled how a chiropractor helped her get ready for the game. She'd been ill that week in 1946, and three games in Des Moines, victories over Numa, Lakota and Guthrie Center, had her feeling sore prior to the championship tilt.
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Wright, who was known as Arlene Lawler in her prep playing days, was a 5-8 post in the six-on-six version of the game. "We practiced during the school day because families couldn't send people to school to pick up their kids," she said.
Wright recounted how life wasn't all fun and games in the 1940s. She spent time away from school that year caring for her sick stepmother who died one month after the state tournament. Wright's mother had died in 1938.
Less than one year later, Wright wed Gene Wright, a cattleman from New Providence who fought in Germany during World War II. Four years later, Gene Wright headed west to be closer to the Sioux City Stockyards.
Gene Wright's brother, James Wright, helped the couple move by driving their John Deere A tractor all the way from New Providence to Anthon in February 1952. The tractor, which had no cab and no heat, began to break down on his 150-mile trip. He could only drive 10 miles per hour.
Arlene's son, the late Bob Wright, told me that night how James Wright knew the tractor needed a spark-plug. The trouble? He was driving west on a Sunday morning and no implement dealers were open.
"He came by a Deere dealership along the way and pulled a plug from a new tractor they had sitting outside," Bob Wright said.
It worked. He kept driving. He dropped off the tractor and found a ride back to New Providence. Along the way, James Wright made sure to stop at the implement store to pay for the plug he'd lifted from the new tractor a few days earlier.
Gene and Arlene Wright, who had six children, farmed for years at Anthon. Gene was 85 when he died 10 years ago. Arlene, who lived to be 88, told me the couple enjoyed watching their children play high school basketball. That season of 2010-11, she said, she'd made it to seven of grandson Brady Wright's games at nearby MVAO High School.
As I left, I asked Arlene what she enjoyed most about the game of basketball. She smiled and shrugged her shoulders, and said, "Winning."