David Adam

Sunday Conversation with Nancy Huerd

By Herald-Whig
Posted: Jun. 24, 2018 12:10 am Updated: Jun. 24, 2018 12:33 am

Talk about being part of basketball's history.

Nancy (Rutter) Huerd helped lead South Shelby to a second-place finish in the first Missouri State High School Athletic Association girls basketball state tournament in 1973, then led the Lady Birds to an undefeated season and a state championship in 1974.

She went on to be a member of what is recognized as the first women's basketball team at the University of Missouri, and she finished with 1,641 career points, ranking fifth in school history. After graduating in 1978, she signed with the Iowa Cornets of the Women's Pro Basketball League, which folded in 1981.

She taught home economics and coached basketball, volleyball and track at Fort Zumwalt High School in O'Fallon, Mo., for seven years. Huerd, 62, has been married to her husband, Steve, for 28 years, and they have two adult sons. They lived for 21 years in Shoreview, Minn., but now live in Kissimmee, Fla., and work for Cru, an interdenominational Christian parachurch organization for college and university students headquartered in Orlando.

When was the last time you made it back to Shelbina?

I was just there in February, actually. My brother and sister still live there. I was there because Mizzou had a reunion of our team when I was a senior when we won the Big 8 championship in 1978. They gave us the red carpet treatment. We went to the Tennessee game at Mizzou Arena, and it was a great game. We all said we wish it was like that when we played. It was so exciting, such an exciting game. We had front row seats and all that. I try to get back fairly often because of my mom. She's in an assisted living center there.

What was it like to play basketball growing up?

I graduated in 1974 and played for four years. You started back in those days in seventh grade. Nothing happened before that. No youth leagues. I got to live girls and women's basketball history, but I didn't realize it at the time. My first year, we played six on six. In eighth grade, we played four on four. Two people on each team went back and forth, and two stayed on each half of the court. My freshman year was the first year they did five on five. My sophomore year, I played on the varsity. My junior year was the first year they had the state tournament. We were 23-3, and after our first four games, we were 2-2. We lost the championship to Northeast Nodaway. That was pretty exciting, to play in the first championship game. It was just one class. We were 30-0 my senior year.

Was the state tournament as big of a production back then like it is now?

It was exciting. For us, it was like it is today. It was the thing. It was packed. It wasn't in as big of a gym as they play in now, but it was packed. We had great fans. They followed us so loyally. We had these guys, they called themselves the Hard Hats. They created a lot of atmosphere. It was kind of like Hoosiers, with all of the cars following the bus to the venues. It was exciting. It was the biggest place we'd ever played in. Coming from South Shelby, it was very nerve wracking. It was a close game. We won by two points. We were winning, and for some reason, Teresa Nevins decided to call a timeout with a few seconds left. The coach could have almost killed her. It was so loud, we weren't thinking straight.

How much different do you think the game is now than when you played in high school?

There's no comparison. We were just the beginning. Now they start much younger. The programs are better. The training is better. It's just like men's sports have improved. I saw that at the Mizzou game. They would have creamed us. They played quicker. We were very deliberate in college, and we didn't have the 3-point shot. The players are as talented, but they are developed more. They have more opportunities. They have higher expectations every year.

Missouri had only one class at the time. How did a small school like South Shelby do so well against bigger schools?

Girls basketball in Missouri was still developing. The northern part of Missouri had teams forever. My mom played. But some of the larger schools in the southern part didn't have programs yet. We had to play a couple of St. Louis teams. We didn't have any idea what they would be like. Lindbergh was like 10 times our enrollment. We were just a little school. We had 89 people in our graduating class.

Why did you go to Missouri?

I had a brother going there. My dad and my uncle played football at Mizzou. My grandparents met at Mizzou. I also checked out Columbia College, but I knew I wanted to be part of something a little bigger. The program at Mizzou wasn't much yet. My freshman year, we didn't know it at the time, but we were considered the official first team. At least they declared us the first team. I didn't realize it until I came back, and there was a banner declaring us the first team. Women played before us, but they played just local teams.

What was the first team like?

In some ways, my freshman year was a step back from high school. It was a little disorganized. We played our first game at the Hearnes Center, but we had no locker room. We had to dress in the public bathroom. I'd forgotten this part, but our warmups, we traded with the volleyball and track teams. We shared uniforms between different teams. My sophomore year, Coach (Joann) Rutherford came there. She promised us we'd go to the national tournament in two years, and we went to the national tournament in one year. It was the first year they had scholarships. There were six, and my sister Mindy and I both got one. You know what? We were going through my dad's stuff, and when (Missouri) awarded the first athletic scholarships, he was one of the first ones to get one. He got it on Feb. 1, 1950.

Rutherford went on to have a great career. What was it like playing for her?

Things just started building up fast. She really changed the program. We were nationally ranked. We played 40 games and went 28-12. We set a lot of records because we played so many games. The next year, we were 26-6, and we also were nationally ranked. We also went to the national tournament as a junior, and my senior year, we won the Big 8.

You said the program was "a little disorganized" in the beginning. Can you describe how?

I don't know how to say this kindly, but our coach probably didn't know as much as he could have. We didn't play outside of Missouri too much. Our uniform situation was kind of bad. Sometimes we had to travel by station wagons. We didn't get vans until later. It was just developing. If you go back to South Shelby, our program had been in place forever. We had the foundation already in place when the state tournament came along. Missouri was just new. A lot of support wasn't there yet, but it came quickly.

What about the level of play?

I knew the quality of play wasn't as good. I knew what good competition was. I had gone to camps. I had compared. I knew we could do better, but back then, you just got who came out. We didn't know any better. We just loved to play basketball. Of course, we hoped it would all come together, and I think Missouri did, too. Rutherford had played internationally. She played in the Pan-Am games. She wasn't that much older than us. She was a game changer. She helped things get rolling. Changes were being made. Gosh, I've been to that Mizzou Arena for a couple of games. Oh, we'd have loved to have had all of that stuff. At least we did get a locker room my sophomore year.

How would you summarize your career at Missouri?

I was the co-captain for three years. I still have quite a few records in the books. I was All-Big 8 my senior year, and I was a Wade Trophy finalist (in 1978). It was the first year they had it. Carol Blazejowski (of Montclair State) was the first winner. Some website called it like the Heisman Trophy of women's basketball. Some people say I was an All-American. I wasn't that good, but I got a certificate that I have in a frame. I was invited to go to New York to get my award.

When you graduated from Missouri, did you think professional basketball was an option?

It was never on our radar. There wasn't such a thing. I felt like I got to live all the new things in women's basketball history. They happened right along with me. The first women's professional league happened after my senior year, so I thought, "Sure, let's try it out."

What do you remember about that first year?

We had eight teams that first year. Then they expanded and added some others. Chicago had a good team. Houston ended up winning it. I got to play in the first championship. Iowa played Houston for the title. They added teams the next year in Dallas, New Orleans, San Francisco and St. Louis, and I got traded to Dallas the second year. They weren't winning, and I didn't get to play much. Then I got cut. After that, I thought, "That's enough of this." I didn't like it as much. It was a different style. In college, they cared more about you. It wasn't as personal. My college teammate was my roommate, and she got a phone call. She found out she got traded to New York. I had to put her on a plane to New York. That was no fun. You had to travel a lot. A lot of times, I would think, "Where am I?" But it was fun. We were a part of history.

So was playing professionally a good experience?

I gave it a whirl. I got to say I did it. It was different from college. It's not something that everyone can say they did. I got to travel all over. Some of the venues were too big. They tried to expand too quick. Chicago had their home games at DePaul. You didn't want to play there. Their fans were quite rowdy. They had quite a home court advantage. We had some good fans, but they were lost in the big arena (Veterans Memorial Auditorium in Des Moines). George Nissen, the inventor of the trampoline, was the owner of the team. He wanted to take our team to all of Iowa. We were based out of Iowa, but we played in some of the larger cities in Iowa.

Were you ready for life after basketball?

I was. I was a secondary education major, and my emphasis was home economics. I came back in the middle of the school year and immediately stated interviewing, and I got a job at Fort Zumwalt. The principal was excited that I played basketball, because he thought I would help the faculty in the faculty-student game. I coached basketball and volleyball and track from 1980 to 1987. When I was in college, I was involved in Campus Crusade at Mizzou. When I went to St. Louis, some people I knew were working with high school students in a ministry, and I got involved as a volunteer and did some Bible study. I started doing it full time with Cru in the summer of 1987. I still volunteer to coach, and I will do motivational talks and get to know teams. My athletic background helped a lot.

Describe what you do for Cru.

Before we moved (to Florida), we were in the field working directly with students, meeting with students, doing conferences, outreaches, stuff in people's homes. Now we've taken national roles. We work in the HR section. Some of my background, being in the field, has helped me here. I understand the people who are working directly with students, HR and leadership development. My job title says I'm a project manager. That sounds really fancy, and I do administer a lot of projects. I'm talking to people all over the United States. I do placement for all of our staff. We have staff all over the world. We're well known for our collegiate ministry. Just about every major college has a Cru organization.