Members of the 1990 Montezuma Braves Class 1A State Championship Team are, from left, front row: T.J. Holveck, Matt Cheney, Nathan Urfer, Brad Helm. Middle row: Eric Bryan, Jeff Spain, Rich Grife, Head Coach Al Rabenold, Jamie Arendt, Chad Stanford, Michael McKeag. Back row: Manager Curt Anderson, Assistant Coach Dennis Phelps, Steve Erickson, David Gretz, Matt James, Mark Hasley, Jamey Gibson, Scott Rabenold, Principal Darrell Brand, Manager Rob Rindels.
Photo by Roger Allen
by J.O. and Debbie Parker
Basketball is a tradition in Montezuma.
And there is nothing like a small town celebrating the excitement of their basketball team bringing home the trophy.
Montezuma got to celebrate this year with their 2021 Braves who won the Class 1A State Basketball Championship. And all of this celebrating brought back memories of when players from the Braves 1990 team also brought home the trophy.
Al Rabenold, whose granddaughters Elise and Mia helped lead the Montezuma girls’ basketball team to their fourth straight trip to state this season, was the head coach of the 1990 team. His son, Scott, who was a freshman that year, was also on the team.
When asked for some memories from that season, Coach Rabenold said, “Just before the 1989-90 basketball season was to begin, I read the book, “Season on the Brink” by John Feinstein detailing the 1985-86 Indiana University Basketball season, team and coach Bobby Knight. I put the book down and decided I would be just the opposite of what Coach Knight was that season. I would stay on even keel as a coach just like UCLA great Johnny Wooden always suggested. I kept my cool, was positive, and I think this approach helped mold this team into a true team. Those kids loved each other.”
The players also loved their coach.
“Playing for Coach Rabenold was one of the greatest experiences I had playing athletics,” said Braves starter, Jamey Gibson, who was a junior. “Coach Rabenold always pushed us to be great but also was a great mentor and friend. Basketball practices were not easy, but he made it fun and never let us forget the goals we set out to achieve. He made sure we stayed focused when it was time to work and also allowed us to be the young men we were. I still text coach often to see how he is doing and talk about whatever is going on at the time. I couldn't have asked for a better mentor and coach then Al. In the coaching community, Al is well respected by many other coaches and players. I am proud to have played under him.”
Starter senior Rich Grife added, “Playing for Coach was amazing. Never was there a second of any day that he didn't have us prepared. The structure and fundamentals were second to no one. He lives and breathes Montezuma Blue. I’m very proud to have played for Coach Rabenold.”
“He was the consummate CEO - organized, a visionary and truly believes it "takes a village" and you must dream it to achieve it,” said senior Michael McKeag, who was also a starter. “He, along with so many other teachers and coaches, were 110 percent totally committed to the young people. And that simply is what it takes.”
Everyone from community members to school administration, teachers, coaches, as well as players, cheerleaders and students knew and embraced the basketball tradition.
Sophomore Steve Erickson, whose father, Tom, was the junior high principal, said, “I
remember in grade school going to the games and how the community supported basketball. Montezuma was always on top of the wooden ‘conference’ board that hung in the gym.”
“Montezuma has been fortunate for quite a long time to have great athletes,” said Scott
Rabenold, who was a freshman in 1990. “I remember watching Randy Klein and Curt Gauley play when I was really young – and then guys like Marty James and Brad Arendt – and now guys like Cole Watts and Trey Shearer have continued the tradition. The community has been really blessed and not just on the boys’ side. I remember watching the James’ girls - Melanie, Monica and Melissa, Janel (Grimm) Burgess, and others.”
“If you’ve worn the blue and white, then you absolutely bleed blue and white and fully understand what that truly means,” said McKeag. “The one thing it has given me spiritually is that you must always look backwards respectively in order to be able to look forward with confidence.”
Gibson said, “I recall back in the days when I lived in Montezuma the sign on the way into town said, ‘Basketball Capital of Iowa.’ I really believed that as the teams I played for, and the girls 6 on 6 teams that played at the time, were always really good. In my four years in high school, I believe we only lost about five games total. When we played, there was never an empty seat in the gym and some people had to stand in the doorway. The support from the community was unreal and everyone rallied around the Braves. If you lost a game, it was a major problem and that included football and baseball. Montezuma did not want to lose at all, ever.”
Long-time community member and retired newspaper reporter and photographer, Roger Allen, added “It was such an exciting time for the community and for me personally when our Montezuma teams have advanced to state. As a reporter/photographer you have quite a bit of interaction with the individual players during the season so you get to know them personally and you want to see them succeed but to be professional you try to not show your allegiance from the end zone or sidelines. And if you can handle sitting cross-legged on the floor we have some of the best, closest seats in the auditorium at state. Covering Montezuma state tournament teams was among my most memorable, treasured experiences during 40 years with The Montezuma Republican. I will always be proud that I was the photographer for the four state champion team pictures that are on the walls in what is now the Montezuma High School’s Central Gym.”
“I was a sophomore when we won the state championship,” said Brad Helm. “But I was able to play about 20 seconds in the championship game, which is my favorite memory. I’ve listened to several Montezuma games on the internet the last few years. My niece, Shelby Helm, and nephew, Shane Helm, were on successful teams. It's was awesome to see so many of my classmates’ kids now playing at Montezuma.”
Cheerleader Angie (Simpson) Lamberson added, “I cheered from 7th grade to my senior year and it meant everything to me because all my friends played sports and it was my way to share the experience with them. My favorite memory of going to state was the whole experience. Since the girls also went, it was two weeks of fun. I remember how awesome the Montezuma crowds were and how they cheered along with us and showed their school spirit all dressed in their blue and white. We won the Sportsmanship Award and that’s because of the awesome crowds. It was and is such an honor to have been part of it all. I’m proud to be from Montezuma.”
Michele (Talbert) Benson, whose son Colton was on the 2021 championship team, was a cheerleader for the 1990 team. She recalled, “I loved being a cheerleader. It was fun and exciting and what I miss the most about high school. Some memories of state were the atmosphere as it was loud and there was so much excitement! It was such an honor to win the Sportsmanship Award. I still get so excited talking about it now as it is one of my best and favorite memories.”
“When the tournament started, Al (Rabenold) asked me if I would set on the bench and scout the teams,” recalled Darrell Brand, Montezuma Principal and athletic director at the time, who also coached Al in high school from 1965-1969. “I remember sitting in the motel room the night before the championship game trying to figure out how we would defend their (West Marshall) players.”
“It’s like the kids that won this year’s state championship,” added Brand. “They’ve been after it for a long time. They earned and deserve it. We have been very fortunate to accomplish what we have (at Montezuma). We have had our share of good players.”
“Those are some fond memories,” said Montezuma Assistant Coach Dennis “Digger” Phelps, who grew up and went to school with Rabenold. “I not only got to share the experience with one of my very best friends, Al, my two oldest sons got to be water boys on the bench throughout the tournament. It was a team that played to their potential. They knew their roles and where a lot of fun to be around.”
“Having my best high school friend, Digger, and my high school basketball coach, Darrell Brand, assist me at the state tournament was so special for me,” said Coach Rabenold. “And as the game was winding down, I looked across the floor at my wife, Denise, and it hit me how much she was responsible for our success that year. It wasn't planned by any means, but I just ran across the floor and told her ‘I love you.’ It was a fairy tale ending for a proud MHS boy from the class of '69 who looked up to all of his junior high and high school coaches. To this day, I still think of Coaches Creswell, Stripling, Schuilte, Willrich, Slykhuis, Denny Brand and, of course, Darrell Brand. Those were golden years at MHS with Mr. Lew Lundy and Mr. Tom Erickson as top flight administrators.”
These six Montezuma cheerleaders kept the team and crowd pumped up during the season and state championship run in 1990. They are, from left, front row: Brenda (Watson) Burrough and Traci (Cheney) Gregory. Back row: Carole (Criswell) Wallace, Angie (Simpson) Lamberson, Jodi (Pickles) Hofer and Michele (Talbert) Benson. Submitted photo.
Photo by Roger Allen