"I went home from school that day with a very bad headache," Irene Silka Beebe?she married Russell King Beebe in 1934?recounted to her daughter Beth in recent years. "During the game Coach Hileman pulled me out for over four minutes to rest, since he knew I'd been feeling bad." (That would be Clark D. Hileman, also the Maynard High principal at the time.)
"Basically," Beth Beebe notes, speaking over the phone from West Palm Beach, FL, "my mother has a record that will never be broken," because, she reasons, the three-court system was put out of its misery in 1938, with her mom's 110-point total still unsurpassed. (In 1952 Norma Schoulte scored 111 points in an Iowa tournament game under a two-court arrangement, three guards versus three forwards.)
At 5 feet, 9 inches tall, 120 pounds, with dark, wavy hair and exotic good looks, Irene Silka cut an impressive figure on the basketball courts of northeastern Iowa gymnasiums?even dressed in her prim Yellow Jackets uniform of silk gold "middy" (a loose-fitting blouse?she wore number 4), long black pleated bloomers and black baseball socks. "They were completely covered," deadpans Beth.
In three seasons at Maynard, Silka dominated the action, scoring 1707 of the Yellow Jackets' 2182 points, an average of 33 per game (52 in her senior year). Led by sophomore forward Silka, Maynard sauntered to victory in the 1924 Northeast Iowa tournament in Fayette, beating Oelwein 30 to 15 in the finals. "The ball was continually being directed toward Silka's hands," reported the Oelwein Gazette. "Her keen optics enabled her to net many points from various distances from the board."
From Fayette the Yellow Jackets were invited to another tournament, this one in Vinton. Once again Silka pumped in shot after shot, 119 points in four games, as Maynard went undefeated. Next, the state finals in Iowa Falls, where, as the Iowa Girls Basketball Yearbook of 1948 recalled, "Disaster overcame the fine Maynard aggregation. The night before the tournament opened the entire team and Coach Hileman ate some bad food for dinner, which made them all sick. Their chaperon ate a different meal and was unaffected. Next morning the weakened Maynard girls fell easy victim to the enterprising Hull team, and that ended tournament days for Irene Silka."
The youngest of 10 children, Irene Silka was born on a farm in Hazleton, IA, south of Maynard, on January 16, 1910. After graduating from high school, she attended Coe College in Cedar Rapids, a school without girls basketball, earning a degree in English in 1930. Then for three years she taught English, speech and Latin at Hazleton High, while also coaching the girls basketball team. With her marriage to icehouse owner/auctioneer/basketball referee R.K. Beebe, the couple settled in Sumner, where they lived from 1936 to 1956, and started raising four kids, including son Verl, who, not surprisingly, given his DNA, excelled at basketball.
In 1956 the Beebes loaded up the truck and moved to West Palm Beach. R.K. expanded his auctioneering business to include appraisals, with Irene helping out and, on occasion, working as a substitute teacher. And yet except for some rare recreational hoops play with Verl, she seldom touched a basketball. Not that she forgot about the sport. "Some of the happiest moments of my life were spent on the basketball floor," she told the Iowa Girls Basketball Yearbook in 1948. And in 1949, when quizzed by the Des Moines Register about the "modern" game versus the three-court system, she observed, "Why now the ball is just handed to you. In the old days about the only way to get the ball was on the center jump. If you didn't have a good center, you were lost."
Mostly, though, says Verl, speaking from his home in Deland, FL, she remained reticent about her achievements, even after she was named one of the first 40 inductees to the Iowa Girls Basketball Hall of Fame in 1965. Such was the case until her death on Dec. 4 at age 89 in a Florida hospice, the result of complications related to surgery for a perforated stomach. Still, she spoke up when prompted. Verl recalls how this past spring, after his mother was admitted to a Deland hospital with stroke-like symptoms, she was questioned by a staff shrink:
"He asks her, 'What are your hobbies?' And she says, 'Well, I like basketball. I like to watch the Heat, I like to watch the Bulls and what have you.' Then he wants to know, 'Did you ever play sports or anything like that?' So she tells him all about being in the Hall of Fame and scoring 110 points. And so he says, 'Oh, you think you're a real Michael Jordan?' And she says, 'Well, I came before he did.' So he writes in his notes something like, 'Has visions of grandeur.'"
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