For many years, the state of Iowa played a unique form of girls high school basketball called “six-player basketball.”
In an oversimplified nutshell, each team had three guards and three forwards. The guards were restricted to the backcourt and their primary responsibilities were to advance to ball to the forwards in the frontcourt and to play defense. The primary job of the forwards, who similarly couldn’t leave the confines of the frontcourt, was to play offense.
Due to its unique nature, the game became immensely popular in the Hawkeye State. It was not unusual that the girls basketball team at a particular high school might draw more fans than the boys team. Needless to say, state tournaments became the subject of legendary folklore. To the chagrin of its many fans, Iowa abandoned the game in 1993.
Not surprisingly, there were many talented six-player basketball players in Iowa. Three such players from three different decades ‑ Denise Long of Union-Whitten Community High School, Lynne Lorenzen of Ventura High School and Lisa Brinkmeyer of Hubbard-Radcliffe High School ‑ distinguished themselves among the very best.
From a pure scoring standpoint, few players stood taller than Lorenzen and Long.
Lorenzen, who played from 1984 to 1987, is the nation’s six-player career scoring leader with 6,736 points.
Not terribly far behind her is Long with 6,250 career points. Her playing career spanned the years 1966 to 1969, and she held the national scoring record until Lorenzen eclipsed it 18 years later.
Among her many accomplishments, Brinkmeyer distinguished herself by scoring her team’s first 62 points in a state tournament game played during the final year of six-player basketball, and today carries on that great tradition as a member of the Iowa Girls’ High School Athletic Union (IGHSAU) administrative staff.
A cursory glance at the scoring categories in the National Federation of State High School Associations’ National High School Sports Record Book reveals that Long’s and Lorenzen’s names pepper those lists several times.
On the single-season list, Long holds the top two spots, while Lorenzen owns the third, fourth and sixth positions. In the single-game category, Long ranks fifth, sixth and 18th with outbursts of 116, 111 and 101 points, while Lorenzen once tossed in an even 100. Long holds the first and sixth spots on the single-season scoring list, while Lorenzen ranks No. 3.
Both players were forwards, with Long standing 5-foot-11 and Lorenzen 6-2. When Lorenzen broke Long’s career scoring record in 1987, Long was in the standing room-only crowd to witness her career scoring baton being passed. Lorenzen was a scholarship player at Iowa State University, where she led the Cyclones in scoring her senior year. In 1969, Long became the first woman to be drafted in the National Basketball Association player draft, when the San Francisco Warriors selected her.
Brinkmeyer, who was a 5-10 forward and is a member of the IGHSAU Basketball Hall of Fame, went on to collegiate success at Drake (Iowa) University. She is in the unique position of being able to examine the game both as a high school player and as a state high school athletic association administrator.
“The rich tradition and history associated with six-on-six made it impossible not to feel honored to be playing it,” Brinkmeyer said. “The generations that shared the bond of playing six-on-six is what made the sport so special. Our high school coach, Les Hueser, coached several mothers of players on my team. Believe it or not, we even ran some of the same plays.”
When the decision was made to discontinue the game following the 1992-93 season, it was understandably met with some opposition.
“There were people picketing outside [Des Moines’] Veterans Memorial Auditorium during the state tournament trying to keep six-on-six,” Brinkmeyer said. “We felt great pride just to reach the tournament that year. We wanted to win it not only for our team and school, but also for all those in our community and the state who had played and loved six-on-six. The importance of that final game has set in as we've grown older. I believe we all appreciate it even more now when we reflect on it. It was sad for that portion of history to be over; however, I also understand why the switch to five-on-five was implemented.”
As an IGHSAU administrator, Brinkmeyer now sees the high school state tournament experience from a different perspective.
“It is a special feeling to be on the organizational side of the state tournaments,” Brinkmeyer said. “Of course, I'd still rather be playing in the games, but I thoroughly enjoy watching the excitement of high school girls athletics. I love that everyone cries at the state tournament ... they cry happy tears if they win and sad tears if they lose. There has not been a state tournament yet that I have not teared up as well. The memories are so abundant when you are back in the state tournament setting that I think anyone who competed in high school athletics would be hard-pressed not to do the same.”
Interestingly, Long’s aspirations had to do more with team goals and making it to the state tournament than setting career scoring records.
“My only ambition was to make it to the state tournament and not necessarily to win it,” Long said. “My older sister Dana was a senior basketball player when I was in eighth grade, and her teams lost in the district finals three years in a row. It broke my heart. When I got to the varsity level, I wanted to make sure the community got to the state tournament come hell or high water.
“To prepare me, my coach (Paul Eckerman) told me to practice and hour or two each day during the offseason. I went way beyond that and practiced four or five hours a day. I once played on the outside court in our park when it was 11 below zero.”
One of Long’s greatest games ‑ and one of the greatest in Iowa history ‑ was in the 1968 state finals, when her Union-Whitten High School team defeated Everly High School, 113-107, for the state title. The game was touted as a showdown between Long and Everly’s star player Jeannette Olson.
“Olson was probably the best high school player I’ve seen ‑ very quick and mobile,” Long recalled. “She could do corkscrew turns and shoot jumpers off picks ‑ she was very, very good. In that state title game, she outscored me 76 to 64, but we won the game.”
When Long was drafted by the Warriors, she wasn’t quite sure exactly what that entailed.
“I first heard about it when I was at the superintendents building getting some construction paper,” Long said. “A boy with whom I often played basketball told me that I had been drafted. I didn’t really follow professional basketball closely at that time, so I thought it was like a military draft. Naturally, I didn’t want to do that.”
Eighteen years after graduating, Long was in the crowd when Lorenzen broke her career scoring record.
“I followed her career and knew she was going to break my record, so I wanted to be there for it,” Long said. “I was happy for her ‑ it’s always fun for someone to break a record. She’s a very nice girl and I met her at that game.”
According to her former high school basketball coach, Chuck Bredlow (who now is principal at Pleasant Hill [Iowa] Southeast Polk High School), Lorenzen was much more than just a great high school basketball player.
“Lynne did an unbelievable job of handling the enormous amount of scrutiny she was under,” Bredlow said. “The scoring title was never talked about during her four years, but the media attention was very overwhelming for all of us. In a way, Lynne never got to be a teenager because of all the demands outside forces asked for. During her senior year, she could not even go to McDonald’s without signing autographs.
“With all of this, behind closed doors Lynne was a great teammate and was always cared more about her teammates and just playing the game she loved. No one has ever been more committed to the goal of winning a state title than Lynne. Her work ethic was second to none and this commitment drove her teammates to be the best. They were close, they were friends, and they believed in each other.
“Lynne hated all the media attention and many times asked me to handle it for her. She just wanted to play ball with her friends. I remember when she was in eighth grade and telling me we were going to win a state title, I laughed and said that would be great. I did not realize until four years later how special the run we made was going to be.”