Female athletes from Iowa are special in many ways; here at the IGHSAU we work to recognize the “Iowa Girl” and share our enthusiasm for the good that she represents. There is something unique in every Iowa Girl, whether that be leadership, dedication or compassion. Each one has a story worth sharing.
Welcome to the Iowa Girl Project. Join fellow Iowa Girl Mia Laube as she shares the stories of Iowa Girls who are taking the skills they learned through their education and athletic career above and beyond. These women are making a positive impact on their communities, big and small. They inspire the next generation to compete in sports and conquer the challenges ahead.
Proud to be an Iowa Girl!
Iowa Girls BUILD COMMUNITY.
Coach Gail Hartigan can be found with a timer in hand at the top of the Drake Stadium bleachers each year. She can be found in the gym, whether that be the high school gyms of her past or the middle school gyms of her present. She’s even been found at various softball diamonds.
She can’t be found in the limelight.
That’s because the humble Hartigan, who built a 710-172 record while coaching women’s basketball, didn’t know that number herself.
She’s far more interested in helping athletes grow and compete.
“A lot of them say they can (still) hear me yelling at them,” Hartigan said with a laugh.
She began her sports career playing basketball and softball and running track and cross country at 1A Manilla (currently IKM-Manning), where she competed at state in all but softball.
Her competitive spirit drove her to play college basketball at John F. Kennedy College in Nebraska. At the time, women’s college basketball wasn’t well-established nationally, and Iowa and Iowa State didn’t have women’s teams.
“If you wanted to play the best women’s basketball,” Hartigan said, “you had to go through the AAU system.” Hartigan’s team went on to win two AAU National Championships.
One memory that stands out to her was when she played in communist China in lieu of the UCLA men after John Wooden refused to go. The U.S. was trying to initiate peace talks, and basketball was an international language.
“It was the worst three weeks of my dad’s life,” Hartigan said.
She continued on to coach basketball, track, cross country, softball, and volleyball at various places and currently coaches track at Treynor in western Iowa.
She’s helped countless athletes over the years participate in several sports, even when they occupied the same season like track and soccer.
To Hartigan, the variety of sports isn’t always about loving every sport but about supporting her community, and it saddens her to see athletes moving away from the multi-sport experience.
“I think that makes them tougher, better athletes,” she said.
Her children took on the same mentality. Her daughter, Lea, went to state in basketball three years, almost won state in volleyball and consistently ran at state track. Her sons, Blair and Kyle, golfed at state.
She coached them, too, with one rule: “We didn’t talk about athletics at home.” Hartigan wanted them to have the same student-athlete experience as other high schoolers.
Even though some sports were “just another way to get me (Hartigan) off the farm,” Iowa sports have given her a way to connect with her community and be a part of something bigger than herself.
“I don’t think as a student-athlete, you even realize what a special place you’re growing up in,” she said.