The Lady Eagles of St. John Lutheran School are a team to remember. This is a basketball team with spark, spunk, tenacity and a incredible sense of fun and fair play.  These qualities, plus a lot of hard work, took them to the state tournaments last weekend.

Their coach is Anita Luetje, who encouraged, motivated, taught and blended 11 girls into a powerful championship team.

Anita Luetje, came to St. John in the fall of 1999, tapped to teach an overflow class for one year.

Tall and energetic, Luetje not only taught her class but leapt into coaching”seven and eight grade girl’s basketball and volleyball, fifth and sixth grade basketball, and track.

Her one-year job extended another year to teach seventh grade, and then she moved to first grade where she has been since, coaching all the while.

She got a lighter schedule her third year when a new principal took over the seventh and eight grade girls basketball team, but she was back on point for Fall 2004.

She was torn between a long season for herself and the team having an inexperienced coach, but only for about 10 seconds, she said.

She felt “that the girls deserved someone who knew them,” and also realized that “from watching the seventh graders, and knowing who I had on the sixth grade team, that this team would be an excellent combination with a lot of potential.”

The Lady Eagles

This year’s team is not a heritage team.

Of the 11, one had never played team sports, another was an eight grade transfer with a background in ballet, not sports, and yet another had played only one year.

Luetje says that “a lot of our success came from running a 3-2 rather than a 2-2 (three guards and two forwards, rather than two guards, one center, and two forwards). I had three excellent guards who could shoot.”

Luetje also has excellent forwards.

One is Mikaila, who transferred to St. John in sixth grade. She is 6 foot 1 inch and Luetje says she “knows what she is doing” on a basketball court. 

The other excellent forward is Chardonnay. She is the player with the ballet background, and is about 5 feet 10 inches tall in a game where height under the basket is a definite factor.

At St. John, basketball games are an all school affair.

Twice a week, the 11 take to the court, cheered on by their classmates, and supported by other faculty.

Late to the Game

Luetje grew up playing sports ” volleyball and softball ” but she decided early on to have nothing to do with basketball.

“I remember,” she said, “being in the kitchen when I was very young, and someone told me ‘You are going to have to play basketball because you are very tall.’ I had no idea what basketball was, but I was not going to have people tell me I what I had to do. So I made up my mind that I hated basketball and would have nothing to do with it.”

Luetje says she really learned basketball when she started coaching a fifth and sixth grade team in Wisconsin during her first year of teaching.

She believes that learning the game as an adult has given her more skills as a coach.

Luetje acknowledges that “for me to learn I had to break the skills down, and because I can break them down for beginners, it makes it easier for them to learn, and they have more success, which then they can build on.”

Reaping rewards

During Luetje’s first year at St. John, she was told by the team that “we don’t amount to anything.”

Luetje didn’t care for that attitude either on the team or in her classroom, and talked to her third grade about the importance of setting high goals for yourself, and the danger of letting other people set limits.

Now, five years later, those students are in eight grade, a number of those girls are on the team, and they all still remember those comments.

Luetje also plans for her teams to leave the season with more than a win-loss record.

They take away life lessons.

She says, “It’s not just about the game. It’s about enjoying what you are doing, and working together.” 

Her philosophy for this year acknowledged that winning was possible, but she didn’t want that to be the goal. She is proud that everyone on the team has scored at least one point.

Off to State

Luetje definitely enjoys winning, and says she will “do what I can to get us to a win, but I want us to learn and to have fun getting there.” 

She makes a point of playing every girl in every game, and membership on the team is open to anyone who walks in the door.

Going to state, more properly the “Tournament of Champions”, was “so cool,” says Luetje. 

The Lady Eagles won the right to go to state by winning a very close game.  

Unfortunately, St. John lost their first game by two points in a double overtime.  The tournament formula allowed them to play until they lost a second time, three games later, battling St. Paul Rochelle. 

During the season, Luetje kept a private tally of points scored. Going into the state contest, the team racked up 989 points,
and she thought it would be great to
break 1,000.

They did far better than that, scoring 150 points in their 4 games. 

The Lady Eagles were awarded a consolation championship trophy and one of their forwards, Mikaila Johnson was selected to play on the state all-tournament team for the Lutheran Sports Association.

While Luetje is happy about Mikaila’s spot on the state team, she praises the entire team. “It was all the girls on our team that got us to state,” she said. 

That team is”Ashley, Bernice, Chard-onnay, Chloe, Courtney, Deanna, Eme, Lauren, Mikaila, Rebekah, Stephanie.

As for the future, Luetje has been told by her sixth graders that they are going to state. That may or may not happen, but whatever happens, you can be sure that they will play seriously and have lots of fun. Luetje, a woman of merit, will see to that.