Each March during the state high school basketball championships, revelry and competition pause for more somber moments as the Spirit of Six and Spirit of Su awards are bestowed. The Spirit of Su is given to an outstanding athlete who exemplifies the achievements of SueAnne Big Crow, (Oglala Sioux) a three-time Class A all-stater for the Pine Ridge Lady Thorpes who died in a car accident en route to the Miss Basketball awards.
The Spirit of Six honors six Rapid City High School cheerleaders who died in a plane crash March 17, 1968, at Rapid City Regional Airport as they returned from leading Cobbler fans at the state championships in Sioux Falls. Jan Glaze, Shirley Landstrom, Laureen “Kay” McNutt, Terry Blanton, Diana McCluskey and Gail Flohr died, along with pilot Ivan Landstrom, his wife, Mary (Shirley’s parents) and English teacher and cheer adviser Dorothy Lloyd. The South Dakota Peace Officers originated the award to memorialize the girls by recognizing an outstanding cheerleading squad that exemplifies the late leaders’ commitment and dynamism.
In conjunction with SDPB’s coverage of the state tournaments, Nate Wek and Brad Van Osdel trace the history and evolution of the Spirit of Six award, from its early beginnings as a presentation in hotel lobbies to the South Dakota High School Activities Association expanding the recognition to all classes at both tournaments during a half-time Saturday night award ceremony.
In a digital shorts to air during basketball coverage, SDPB visits the Spirit of Six memorials in Rapid City, including one by Crazy Horse Memorial sculptor Korczak Ziolkowski. We talk with Paul Jensen, a Rapid City High 1968 graduate, who was close with Laureen “Kay” McNutt and Jan Glaze, who has found the memorials helpful in dealing with the loss of friends in his youth. “Because we really weren’t allowed to cry,” says Jensen. “We really didn’t have any counseling or support, so we just took it as it was. Stiff upper lip stuff back then, because all our parents were World War II. They’d been through some really tough things and that’s the way you did it back then. There were a lot of people who didn’t get proper closure. I remember playing Glenn Yarborough records for three days straight and not sleeping.”