Former Briar Cliff standout Mary Schrad will be inducted into the Women’s Basketball Hall of Fame this Saturday as part of its 2018 Induction Ceremony in Knoxville, Tennessee. ESPN 2 will be covering the event on Saturday evening with coverage beginning at 7 p.m. eastern time.
Schrad will be part of the induction for the “Trailblazers” with the Women’s Basketball League (WBL) being recognized for pioneering the way for the WNBA. As part of the 25th Anniversary of the WNBA, the WBL was honored by the WNBA for setting the path for them to be successful. The WBL was the first women’s professional basketball league and Schrad played for the Iowa Cornets for one season. The Cornets were based out of Des Moines, Iowa, but Schrad said they didn’t really have a homecourt.
“Our owner George Nissen (inventor of the trampoline) was a marketing genius and thought that having us play all over the state of Iowa would help grow the league. Our home games were a tour of Iowa that he used as an advantage to showcase the league and drum up excitement for professional women’s basketball. We would practice in Des Moines a few days and then load up on that beautiful Iowa Cornets bus and go venue-to-venue to compete. It was great promotion throughout the state so crowds were pretty good because it was something new and exciting for fans to get into.”
Following her stint with the Cornets, Schrad then moved on to play in the European Professional League for three seasons. Schrad said a big reason for the move to Europe was the constant rumors as to whether or not the WBL would be around for another season. The WBL was first made up of eight teams before expanding to 12. The league operated for three seasons from 1978-1981.
Prior to all of her professional success, Schrad was a star on the basketball court for the Chargers. She was a three-time All-Io-Kota Conference basketball selection when she played for Head Coach Sister Annette George. Schrad was named the Lady Chargers’ best offensive player and most valuable player following her junior and senior seasons. She also served as team captain both years. Schrad led the Lady Chargers in both scoring and rebounding as a junior (15.7 ppg, 12.4 rpg) and senior (16.7 ppg, 11.1 rpg). She finished her career as the school’s all-time leading scorer (1,119) and rebounder (707). Schrad was also a three-time All-Io-Kota Conference pick and two-time most valuable player for Coach Marian Pesky’s softball program. She earned best defensive player honors as a senior and served as team captain during her junior and senior seasons. All of her accolades led to her being drafted into the WBL and she was the first player in Briar Cliff history in any sport to be drafted by a professional league.
Schrad called Sioux City home for a few years before even suiting up in the Blue & Gold. A native of Carroll, Iowa, Schrad was pulled from her home as a ninth grader and brought to Sioux City where she lived at Villa Maria under the guidance of Catholic Charities and the nuns who ran it. She lived in a house with 8-10 other girls and attended Bishop Heelan High School. The Crusaders had just added basketball and even though the season was already under way when Schrad moved to Sioux City in January, she instantly found success on the hardwood.
“I had played basketball before as it was a sanctuary away from my home life in Carroll,” stated Schrad. “I turned to that instead of drugs or alcohol and used that as my out for a better life.”
She was well on her way to a highly successful career as Heelan was undefeated her senior season and there was a scholarship offer on the table from Iowa. However, following a big win on December 17, Schrad’s career looked to be completely derailed thanks to a sledding accident, after she broke her back so severely that doctors said she would never walk again, let alone play basketball.
“It was heartbreaking. I had always wanted to be a Hawkeye and to have that scholarship pulled from Iowa after it looked like I was never going to play again was devastating,” commented Schrad. “After vigorous rehab and proving I could walk and play again, I was led to Briar Cliff. Lila Frommelt welcomed me in and after meeting her there was no looking back. Briar Cliff really shaped my life and developed me into the person I am today.”
Schrad still feels a strong connection to Briar Cliff today and two of her favorite memories from Briar Cliff stem from her 25 year coaching career when she was coaching against the Chargers. Schrad coached at Dakota Wesleyan and after a win over Briar Cliff a Charger approached Schrad and thanked her for everything she had done.
“She thanked me and gave me a hug and then said she just wanted me to know that she had broken my rebounding record at BC that night with me on the opposing bench.”
Another one of Schrad’s fondest memories again had her coaching the Tigers but this time the game was held at the Newman Flanagan Center. It was the 1991 season and Briar Cliff had its inaugural Hall of Fame induction ceremony. The celebration was to be at halftime of Saturday’s game and Schrad was going to be a part of the very first class of BC Hall of Famers. The problem was Dakota Wesleyan was playing at BC on Friday night and had another road game on Saturday.
“Whoever was in charge of making the decision about the hall of fame decided that they would honor me at halftime of our game on Friday night so that I could be a part of the ceremony,” said Schrad. “To be able to have my team there and celebrate that honor with me while also being somewhere that is very near and dear to my heart meant a lot. You can bet it was a little added incentive for my players that they wanted to win that game for me and we came out on top 72-70.”
Schrad had a 25 year coaching career and was an eight-time Conference Coach of the Year and was the national runner-up for Coach of the Year, once.
“Everything that I accomplished in my playing career, coaching career and life in general all stems back to the Cliff. The relationships that I built there and the lessons that I learned guided me in everything I did and I will never forget those days.”
In addition to Schrad and the WBL being inducted into the Women’s Basketball Hall of Fame this weekend, other members of the class include Ceal Barry (coach), Dr. Rose Marie Battaglia (veteran, contributor), Chris Dailey (contributor – assistant coach), Mickie DeMoss (contributor – assistant coach), Chamique Holdsclaw (player), Katie Smith (player), and Tina Thompson (player).
“It is such an honor to be inducted into the Women’s Basketball Hall of Fame and to go in as a trailblazer knowing we paved the way for women and minorities to not only succeed in professional sports but also to get scholarships and other benefits in college sports,” said Schrad. “I am so proud to be a part of it because as a group of players in the WBL we just had a pureness and love for the game that branched out to others for their opportunities. The WNBA really viewed us as what led them to being able to be such a successful league as they were able to learn from the good and the bad things of the WBL. We helped push through the culture of learning that women can be just as competitive as men.”
Schrad, who resides in Florida, now runs teamintegreat.com which is a website focused on building a team through synergy and she is also highly involved in basketball clinics.