In the history of high school basketball in Kansas, one of the more interesting tournaments to have ever been played occurred at the end of the 1975 season. It was the first Grand State Basketball Tournament.
The concept was to have each of the girls’ state champions play against each another to determine the top girls’ team in the state. Champions from Protection (1A), Centralia (2A), Goodland (3A) and Wichita North (4-5A) comprised the field.
Wichita North, led by sophomore star Lynette Woodard, eventually defeated Centralia for the title. Woodard went on to a stellar career in high school and in college was a four-time first team All-American at the University of Kansas. She also was a two-time U.S. Olympian.
In 1976, the tournament returned and included the boys’ and girls’ champions. With the addition of the boys, the number of tournament detractors grew. Much of the opposition came from the larger schools, which had little to gain from the event but plenty of prestige to lose.
In addition, many school administrators felt the smaller schools had little or no chance to compete against the larger classifications. In 1976, after the first round of boys’ play, the criticism seemed justified. Madison, the 1A champion, was smothered by 5A titlist Highland Park, 66-36, and the score easily could have been much worse.
“I hope this is the last one of these,” Madison coach John McDougall said after the game. Highland Park coach Randy Springs agreed: “I think this will be the first and last event unless they change the format in some way.” Highland Park eventually went on to claim the boys’ title.
The girls’ play, however, was much more competitive. In the first round, the Buhler Crusaders (3A) defeated Hutchinson (5A). In the second round, Buhler lost to Jackson Heights, who was the undefeated 1A title winner. In the other second round game, Hill City (2A) defeated Liberal (4A).
Jackson Heights completed its undefeated season in grand style by edging Hill City, 45-42, in the Grand State championship game to finish 26-0. Of the 387 high schools in the state at that time, the Jackson Heights girls was the only team (boys or girls) to end the year undefeated.
The team would later achieve even greater notoriety. In 1988, it was formally inducted into the Kansas Basketball Coaches Association Hall of Fame. It is an appropriate place for those “Grand Ladies from Jackson Heights.”
As for the tournament itself, the “grand experiment” was discontinued April 3, 1976. Although the coaches around the state were nearly evenly split on continuing the tourney, principals, superintendents and school board presidents were not. They overwhelmingly voted to end the tournament and it has not been held since.
Grand State: Just another remarkable story from the basketball courts of Kansas Hoopla.
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