SIOUX CITY – The coach maintains to this day he never lost a game of “HORSE’’ to one of his star players.
The player isn’t so sure.
As you read this, though, the player has gone one up on the coach.
In a trailblazing personal Odyssey, albeit female, Mary Schrad’s journey through life so parallels a theme that has culminated in a homecoming, so to speak.
As a member of the first professional women’s basketball team in the country, in many respects, the Iowa Cornets, Schrad and her teammates were inducted into the Women’s Basketball Hall of Fame in ceremonies Saturday in Knoxville, Tennessee.
Schrad, a graduate of Bishop Heelan High School and Briar Cliff University (then College), was an original member of the Iowa Cornets, the first franchise to sign on with the Women’s Professional Basketball League in 1978-79.
A shortened reference to the official WPBL has always been WBL and the Cornets and the league enters the Hall of Fame in the special category – “Trailblazers of the Game.’’
“An incredible honor to be part of this,’’ said Schrad. “When it all began back in Sioux City … I’m so grateful.
“I can’t say it enough, how my life changed dramatically in Sioux City, at Heelan and then Briar Cliff.
“There aren’t enough thank-yous to go around. Teachers, coaches, lifetime friends I’ll treasure forever.’’
One of those present for the induction ceremony in Knoxville was her Heelan Coach, John Adams.
“Mary Schrad was relentless in her drive to succeed and I can’t count the times we’d play a game of HORSE for an hour after practice,’’ quips Adams, who as an Iowa State track standout became the only athlete in Drake Relays history to nearly pull off running two legs of the college 480-yard shuttle hurdle relay. “She was so intent on improving her shot, but I won every time we were shooting because I’d get to the free throw line and she’d have problems.
“She’d make every double-pump shot, reverse layups with either hand and jumpers everywhere, though.
“When Mary joined our team late her freshman year I’d pretty much had the team figured out, but it was like God had dropped a Michael Jordan-type player in our lap.’’
Schrad was born in Carroll, but an abusive home life resulted in her being moved to Angel House Villa Maria Child Care Center in Sioux City.
At Villa Maria, she walked to school or a bus stop almost every day with her high-scoring forward teammate Sue Jones.
She remained close to her mother and brothers, however, while living at Villa Maria.
When he turned 18 she moved eventually into dorms at Briar Cliff.
At Heelan, Schrad was an outstanding forward on two Heelan teams that made strong runs to state tournament berths as the first Sioux City high school to play Iowa’s legendary 6-on-6 game.
As a senior in 1973-74, the Crusaders lost two of their first three games then went on a seven-game winning streak, but after defeating George on Dec. 17, 1973, several Heelan players decided to take a impromptu late night sleigh ride together just before Christmas.
A group on a toboggan veered off course, though, and in the ensuing crash, Schrad suffered a paralyzing broken back and her playing career appeared to come to an end.
After lengthy rehabilitation and a determination to walk again, she returned to the game at Briar Cliff, but with a different approach.
At the time she was injured , she was averaging 25.8 points a game while Jones wound up averaging 32 points for a team that finished 22-6.
At Briar Cliff, Schrad scored 1,149 points in 60 career games and snared over 700 rebounds.
While coaching at Dakota Wesleyan in 1991, she became the first woman to be inducted into the Briar Cliff Athletic Hall of Fame on a day when her team spoiled the Chargers homecoming game, 72-70.
She also coached in the high school ranks, winning a state championship at Limon, Colorado (not far from Durango), and at Casper (Wyo.) Junior College. She was at Dakota Wesleyan four seasons and then guided the women’s program at NCAA Division II Western State in Gunnison, Colorado, for several seasons.
Interestingly enough, two of Schrad’s original college basketball playing dreams were shattered rather melodramatically.
Her experience at Briar Cliff, though, salved a young teenagers’ disappointment.
Sister Annette George was the Briar Cliff coach and she gave her the opportunity to excel.
The late Sister passed away just over a year ago. “I’m forever in her willingness to have faith in me,’’ says Schrad. “Sister Annette was also a trail-blazer in women’s athletics.
“My gosh, she went to clinics all over, like at Notre Dame listening to Digger Phelps and Bobby Knight.
“I cherished the chance to play at the University of Iowa, but that ended with the sledding accident my senior year and I also had a scholarship to John F. Kennedy College, but that fell through, too.’’
The JFK opportunity dissolved when the tiny school in Wahoo, Nebraka, closed its doors in 1975 after less than 10 years of operation.
Ironically, JFK was also an AIAW national power in softball in addition to basketball and the school won the first three AIAW national college softball tournaments, the forerunner of the current College Women’s World Series.
Schrad was to emerge as an outstanding softball player at Briar Cliff, too.
In those days there was no NCAA athletics for women and the truth was JFK basketball was likely stronger than the Iowa program.
Fact is, the JFK coach, Bob Spencer, later guided William Penn College to an AIAW national championship and his program there had winning records against both Iowa and Iowa State in that era.
And, Spencer, who went on to coach Fresno State, is also a member of the College Women’s Basketball Hall of Fame like Schrad.
Schrad played the first of the two seasons the Iowa Cornets played in the trailblazing WBL, the forerunner of the current WNBA.
Then, she signed with two pro teams in Europe and visited 17 countries while playing for teams in Vienna, Austria, and Munich, Germany for three years.
“It was wonderful life experience, playing in Europe and one of my teams reached the Euro Cup in London one season,’’ said Schrad, who now lives in Florida.
“I never paid much attention to playing for pay and salary,’’ maintains Schrad. “We didn’t worry about making history. It was playing. Just give us the ball and let’s go.
“In Europe one of my teams in Austria was going to give me a big raise, but I had to become an Austrian citizen and marry an Austrian guy.
“I remember his first name was Rupert, but I declined and returned home. Later on, I had a nice cat one time and named him ‘Rupert.’ Nice gesture, right.’’
Always a fitness and wellness buff, she is co-owner of a successful team-building franchise called Coaching with COLORS: TEAM Inte-Great and also owned a chain of fitness centers called “Contours Express’’ geared primarily to women of all ages and based in Greeley, Colorado
She speaks at clinics around the country following a leadership model revolving around a four-stage concept of Forming-Storming-Norming-Performing.
Schrad is believed to be the first Sioux City high school female athlete to be inducted into a professional national or international Hall of Fame.
Judy Kimball Simon, an East High grad and winner of the LGPA U.S. Women’s Open in 1962, was also in local forerunner in women’s athletics and is a member of the Iowa Women’s Golf Hall of Fame and the Iowa Sports Hall of Fame.