Nearly 50 years ago, then Storm Lake High School boys basketball coach Barry Holtgrewe sat at Raymond and Helen Struck's kitchen table in the "lower east side of town" in Storm Lake trying his damnedest to recruit my younger brother Giles to come to Storm Lake High "and take the Tornadoes to the State Tournament."
At that time, Giles was a skinny 5-10 freshman guard at Storm Lake St. Mary's and had tongues wagging all over about his unbelievable ball-handling and passing skills, and incomparable ability to score almost at will with shake-and-bake moves on the baseline and in the paint.
And this was at least 30 years before all the "Select Teams" and abundance of weekend "All-Star Tournaments" nationwide that dominate prep basketball today as we know it.
As the charismatic Holtgrewe was giving Mom and Dad the sales pitch about his need for Giles to join his program and be the guiding force to lead the Tornadoes to the Promised Land, he caught himself and looked across the table at me, an under-achieving - let's call it lazy - 6-3 sophomore forward who could flat-out shoot it, and said, "Paul, and you can come, too!"
Wow, I thought to myself. Barry, I'm all in.
That's when I first realized that sports recruiting had eclipsed the college level and had permeated into high school, with the always-promised grander stage paramount to athletes no matter who they were or where they came from.
Needless to say, the steeped Catholicism of Ray and Helen Struck, and the potential of the small-school St. Mary's Panthers, then featuring such capable players as Norm Wolf, Bob Haakinson, Freddie Schuler, and Paul and Giles Struck, made Holtgrewe's recruiting visit a bummer for the Tornadoes.
And, as many know, Giles later moved with his family to Cherokee and finished his prep career at Immaculate Conception, where he and tremendous players by the names of George, Mansfield, Dugan, etc. made winning history for the Irish.
But that Holtgrewe recruiting scenario happened.
And, today, it happens every day at every prep level.
You can see it in many area schools where players of all sports switch their allegiance back and forth, depending upon which team is "loaded" enough to possibly win a state championship. Today's Sioux City Heelan or East star could well be at North, South Sioux City, or Hull Western Christian tomorrow.
And it's all a bold, nefarious effort to stack the deck to win championships, regardless of the unfairness involved, or whom such transgressions might hurt.
And the perpetrators silently blink their eyes and smile like some catatonic fool who just ate a pan of Mary Jane brownies.
Worse, year by year, too many administrators and high school governing bodies check off on the illegal prep recruiting process under the foolhardy guise of "It is what it is," "everybody's doing it," and "we must honor open enrollment regulations" and let the ponies run.
I damn well know first-hand, almost 50 years ago, those ponies began running. And now they're run-aways in full gallop.
And I see nobody today in this era of free enterprise even willing to risk grabbing the reins.
Barry Holtgrewe, you were ahead of your time.