The circle of life: Van Deest inducted into IGHSAU Hall of Fame during Spartan state title game

At left, former Grundy Center basketball star Kim Van Deest is recognized as the captain of the all-tournament team during the 1988 state tournament, and at right, Iowa Farm Bureau President Craig Hill presents Van Deest with a plaque commemorating her induction into the Iowa Girls High School Athletic Union (IGHSAU) Hall of Fame. (Left photo courtesy of Kim Van Deest/Right photo by Jake Ryder—The Grundy Register) 

As Grundy Center set up an out of bounds play down two and in search of a game tying—or winning—shot against Cascade in the Class 2A state championship on Saturday evening, Kim Van Deest got so nervous that she had to turn away. The former Spartan six-on-six standout had been inducted into the Iowa Girls High School Athletic Union (IGHSAU) Hall of Fame at halftime, and she was ready to lace up the old sneakers. She wanted to take matters into her own hands.  


“I was pacing. I thought I was going to vomit. I wanted to play, and I wanted to coach—and I couldn’t do either one,” she said. “I felt so helpless.”


Anyone who knows Van Deest, however, knows that the previous statement isn’t a dig at current coach Matt Lindeman or any of the players on the court. It’s just the way she is, and it’s how the 1989 graduate became one of the greatest basketball players the state has ever seen.  


“She wants the ball, and she wants to be the person in that situation to handle it,” high school teammate Ann Rouse (now Lebo) said. “She wants that moment. She wants to be in there calling the shots, and that’s a talent. A lot of people don’t want to be that person.”


One of the boys

As an infant, Van Deest left the sunny confines of south Florida, where her father was stationed in the Air Force, and moved to Grundy Center. Larry Van Deest, a Wellsburg native, ran the locker for four decades here and now spends a day a week at Triple T Meats in Ackley.


But despite the disciplinarian environment, Larry and Faye, her mother, made it clear from the beginning that they were never going to force their middle daughter to participate in anything, and they were never going to badger coaches about playing time.


“It can get out of hand, really. It’s kind of almost a sad thing to watch,” Larry said. “(But) when you have a good coach, you don’t have a problem, because they have control of the situation.”


The desire to be great had to come from within, and the recent honor, the all-time school scoring record (3,778) and her place as the 27th highest point scorer in state six-on-six history indicate that it most certainly did.


“I never felt any pressure from (my parents). It all came from myself. I put a lot of pressure on myself,” she said. “I always made myself work out at the pool before I was allowed to have fun. That was just in me.”


From an early age, Van Deest, who idolized local six-on-six legends like Denise Long of Union-Whitten and Kay Riek of Grundy Center, spurned dolls and picked up on any sport she could: softball, tennis, golf, volleyball, and of course, basketball.


“Kim was always better than all the boys in our class. We would play kickball, and most of the time, all the guys wanted her on their team,” classmate and teammate Staci (Meester) Freese said. “She was just good at whatever she did.”


Van Deest is quick to note the oft-overlooked fact that she led the Spartans to one of their only conference titles in school history in softball—her first true love—and she always sought to blaze her own trail.


“When she was 10 or 12, she came home and told us that someone asked her if she was going to be another Kay Riek,” Faye said. “And her reply was no, I’m going to be a Kim Van Deest.” 


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