By David Sharp
Members of the 1976 Knox County Lady Eagle Class AA State Championship basketball team gathered on January 15, 2016 for their 40 year reunion. The Lady Eagles are the only group to win a state championship in a team sport in Knox County R-I history to date.
Team members and coaches met in Edina before attending the Knox County vs. Schuyler County Tri-Rivers Conference game. Team members were invited to meet with current Lady Eagle players and coaches before, and speak to the team after the contest.
Knox County (11-4) rallied from an early nine point deficit for a 58-51 win over a very good Lady Ram ball club. State championship team members, including Augustana University National Championship Women’s Basketball Coach Kathy Stevenson-Turpin were invited to join the Lady Eagles after the game in the KCHS locker room.
“It was awesome,” Knox County girl’s head basketball coach Keith Gudehus said of having state championship players in his dressing room. “We had ten or 12 of them in there, which is fantastic.”
“I’m really happy we were able to give them a win,” Coach Gudehus said. “It’s the only state championship team that we have in our school history. Imagine the size of schools that they had to go through to get that state championship.”
The 1975-76 Knox County varsity girl’s basketball team (27-3) won the Class AA state championship at the Pershing Building, on the campus of what is now Truman State University.
This reporter was one of a throng of Knox County residents and supporters that were able to attend the state championship game. The building was packed to the rafters.
Knox County based teams have played girl’s basketball for many years. My Grandmother, Georgia Cunningham Sharp played basketball for Edina High School in 1918.
Baring High School had a great girl’s basketball run in 1961. The Knox County R-I school district was formed from a consolidation of county high schools in 1963. Knox County was the first consolidated high school district in Missouri.
The Missouri State High School Activities Association began their Girls Basketball Championship series in 1973.
Knox County’s girls were the fourth school in Missouri history to make it to the championship game. There were only two classes of girl’s basketball in 1976. Knox County was in the largest class.
Knox County had a lot of athleticism. “They were a team that worked very hard,” all stater Kathy Stevenson-Turpin said. “Hustle is not a talent. It is not a skill. It just takes a lot of heart. Our team in 1976 was a team that was willing to out work people.”
“(Coach) Carol Gross was a reason for that. She said we were going to work harder than everyone else,” Kathy Turpin said. “When we got on the court. Losing wasn’t an option. We had too much fun. We enjoyed it. People believed in us, so we believed in ourselves.”
The Lady Eagles went through St. Louis McCluer North High School, with an enrollment of over 1500 students during their championship run. Knox County had between 300 and 400 students enrolled in the mid 1970’s.
The Lady Eagles defeated Springfield Kickapoo High School, currently a Class 5 basketball school in the state semi finals. The Lady Eagles beat St. Mary’s of Independence by a 51-38 final score to win their state title.
The 1975-76 Lady Eagles were coached by Knox County alum Carol Gross. Coach Gross served the Knox County R-I School District from 1975 to 2005 when she retired from teaching.
Carol Gross began her teaching and coaching career at Meadville High School, where she taught one year before moving to Knox County for the remainder of her career.
One of the key members of Knox County’s only state championship team was Kathy Stevenson-Turpin. A case can be made that Coach Turpin is the most accomplished living person that has walked the halls of the Knox County R-I school district, and one of the top two of all time.
Terry Joyce is in at least two Halls Of Fame, including the Knox County Baseball Hall of Fame. Terry played football in the NFL and rose to the top of St. Louis business management circles. His football number ten is the only athletic number currently retired by Knox County High School.
Kathy Stevenson was a four year starter at Knox County. Stevenson was an all state basketball player and a standout athlete in every sport Knox County offered at the time.
Kathy Stevenson was a four year starter for the University of Missouri at Columbia Tiger women’s basketball team. The WNBA professional league was founded in 1996.
Kathy Turpin went on to coach Women’s Basketball at Culver-Stockton College until 1994. The Lady Wildcats made it to the NAIA National Women’s Basketball Tournament quarterfinals in 1993. Kathy Turpin was inducted into the Culver-Stockton College Hall Of Fame in 1994.
She coached at Augustana University and Barry University in Miami, Florida. Dr. Kathy Turpin earned a Ph D. She was an administrator at Truman State University. She also worked for the NCAA as a compliance officer. She currently serves as a Vice President at the Drug Free Sport Company in Kansas City.
Kathy Turpin also serves as a consultant to the NCAA compliance division today. The Drug Free Sport Company coordinates drug testing for many sports teams on all levels across the nation.
“It was like no other,” Kathy Stevenson-Turpin told the Edina Sentinel. “ I have been fortunate in the last 40 years to experience a lot of really neat stuff and be around a lot of quality young women and men in this business.”
“There is no experience that equals it,” Kathy Turpin said. “This opportunity in a small community in which everyone was doing it together. It was treat to do it for each other.”
“The wonderful parent support that we had in a community that loved it. And then the community beyond the community,” Coach Turpin said. “People beyond Knox County certainly supported us.”
Team members were Seniors Barbara Hagerla, Susan Moore, Roberta Minden, Nancy McGlothlin, Brenda Ratliff and Kathy Stevenson. Juniors were the Late Dr. Irma Davin, Terri Gel Bach, Leann Gel Bach, Nancy Kiley and Sharon Smith.
Sophomore team members were Jan Cahalan, Galena Foreman, Lisa Foreman, Tina House, Laura McKay and Pam Plowman. Managers were Mari Mallett and Marsha Parrish.
Nancy Kiley-Kuhlmann shared some of her memories of Knox County’s championship run. “I remember our parents in the stands supporting us in every game,” Nancy Kuhlmann said.
“I remember the great friendships we made, and what a good job Carol Gross did as a coach,” Nancy Kiley-Kuhlmann said. “To come back here and see how well our school is doing is great for us as well.”
“At Kirksville that night, Knox County was a ghost town,” Kuhlmann said. “They were all there to support us. It has stuck with me my whole life. You just can’t replicate that.”
“All the players that I met along the way. Some of the players I played against at state,” Nancy Kuhlmann said. Nancy Kuhlmann currently teaches in the Kansas City, Independence area school district as a Middle School teacher.
“Melina Pace, who was the big girl from St. Mary’s currently teaches with me,” Nancy Kuhlmann said. “Look at the people up here. This is a wonderful community. That’s where I came from.”
“That all gives you strength,” Kathy Turpin said. “We went out there in every single game that we were representing something bigger than ourselves. I remember that we were bringing so much joy to our community.”
“It was a tremendous experience,” Kathy Turpin said. “Stories I can’t begin to tell you. I have a scrap book at home. I have many, many memorabilia that I will never give up.”
“I look at all the opportunities it provided for me,” Kathy Turpin said. “Playing for Coach Carol Gross was unlike no other coach I have ever played for. She was a motivator. She was a mentor. She was a friend.”
“She taught you life lessons. When I went on into coaching, I used a lot of that,” Turpin said. “I learned so much at a young age about what was important. I learned as an administrator how important it was to hire people that would be all that to other young women.”
“As I look back on that team, every girl brought something different to the team,” Kathy Stevenson-Turpin said. “I think that is what is important. Everybody has to bring their game.”
“We got on a roll. Every game was fun,” Turpin said. “We said let’s go get the next one. To a certain extent, no one expected us to do it. That made it even more fun.”
“We did it for our coach. We did it for our community,” Kathy Turpin said. “We enjoyed it for the ride it was. We impacted everybody’s life in so many ways including our own.”
“We just got such huge joy out of everything. I walked into the gym and it took my breath away,” Kathy Turpin said of the 40th State Championship Reunion at Knox County.
“I didn’t know how that would feel. I’m so proud of this school,” Kathy Turpin said. “So proud of everything that it meant to me. To see the young people and know that they are experiencing something similar is really amazing.”
“I got a lot of my experience here. I did everything that I could do,” Turpin said. “I loved basketball. It gave me the opportunity to keep playing in college. What I learned in both of those situations, and what I was able to take with me to a career, I’m just looking every day to pay forward.”
“It means a lot to be back. We told those young women in there what this experience is going to do for them the rest of their lives,” Kathy Stevenson-Turpin said.
“You love what that competition gave them. That tremendous come back win. You know that they don’t even realize what they have just learned in there. What they will have 40 years from now,” Kathy Turpin said.
“It’s going to impact their life. That’s what the experience of a high school championship is for me,” Kathy Turpin said. “I took it and I went into a career. I have been very fortunate. I have worked in sport my entire career.”
“That’s pretty cool,” Turpin said. “When you do something that you love and you get paid for it.”