Chris Street’s status as an American sports icon has been fixed in lore for over 25 years. His tale has been told not only throughout Iowa but across the country. It made Jordan Bohannon missing a free throw a national event. However, the fact Chris was a native of Wayne County is largely forgotten.
Chris grew up in Humeston and attended Mormon Trail Community High School until his freshman year. It was only his exceptional athletic ability that pulled him away from southern Iowa.
In football, as a quarterback, Chris could throw 70 yards downfield. Tennessee showed interest in recruiting him for that sport. As a tall pitcher, on a good day his freshman year in high school, he might hit 90 miles per hour on the radar gun. He gave up baseball as a teenager to focus on basketball, where NBA scout Marty Blake projected him as a lottery draft pick.
Chris was not the first man from Wayne County to play basketball for the University of Iowa. While George Saling was donning a Hawkeye uniform in the 1920s, Iowa’s track coach pulled him off the court and over a hurdle. Saling left basketball to win a Gold Medal and set a world record at the 1932 Los Angeles Olympic Games.
More recently, Chris watched Wayne County’s Tork Hook get recruited by Jack and John Elway as a wide receiver at Stanford, before the free safety chose to set records for the Iowa football team.
“When Tork went to Iowa, that was a big deal for everybody,” said Chris’ father, Mike Street. “That helped Christopher think maybe there was a way.”
Tork’s father, Dave Hook, and Chris’ uncle, Jim Street, roomed together during junior college in Centerville. They were both athletes. Dave played on the basketball team and Jim played football.
Tork was a few years before Chris. His final game was the 1988 Peach Bowl when he tied a Hawkeye bowl record with two interceptions. Chris graduated from Indianola High School in 1990. Though Tork had national attention as a football recruit, he stayed loyal to the State of Iowa.
Chris had grown up a fan of the Hawkeyes. Watching Tork return punts and play defense helped Chris understand what was possible. A kid from Wayne County, in monetary terms one of the poorest areas of Iowa, could play in the NBA. On draft day in 1994, post-farm crisis, Chris would have been a millionaire before he even played a game.
Chris’ parents, Mike and Patty, live in a farmhouse between Liberty Center and Milo. From Highway 65, the gravel road follows pastures and hills covered in stands of oak and cottonwood. Their front deck overlooks a fishing pond. Next to a garage, a hound dog rests in the shade of his kennel.
Mike was busy that humid morning with chores, and their oldest grandson ended up asleep on a recliner. On the wall is a senior photograph of Chris in his Indianola football uniform.
“We’re thrilled when we get time with any of the grandchildren,” Patty said.
Chris has two younger sisters, Sarah and Betsy.
Sarah, a teacher, is married to former Seymour instructor Willie Stone, who is now superintendent at Southwest Valley in Villisca.
Betsy is Community Services Director for Warren County General Assistance.
Their Grandfather Cervern, on Patty’s side, was a World War II veteran who lived to be 92 years old. The farm was located on the edge of Clarke County, but Patty graduated with Mike in 1971 from Mormon Trail. They got married the same year, after first meeting each other in fourth grade.
“Christopher helped on the farm with my folks,” Patty said. “He mowed pasture with the sickle bar—he didn’t even know where the holes were—farming is dangerous. It’s hard work. As a kid, we put up square bales in the hay mount, 120 degrees, the chaff flying. Now, it’s all air-conditioned cabs, and very few farmers have livestock. It’s just row crop.”
The farm crisis swept through Iowa in the mid-1980s. Some, who felt the government sat back and watched it happen, planted crosses on the Wayne County Courthouse lawn, one each to represent a farm or business foreclosed. Only the big guys in largescale food production survived.
“The Streets have been from Wayne County forever,” Mike said. “I lived in the town of Humeston all my life. My dad was a Standard Oil agent—he sold Amoco products to farmers. Then he got in the sprayer business. We had the first highboy sprayer in the county, I believe, maybe in southern Iowa. When I graduated from high school, my brother and I each drove one.”
While both his parents were standout athletes, Chris was still a statistical anomaly.
“We all had to come from somewhere,” Mike said. “Genetics are funny. I’ve got all black cows out here, then, all of a sudden, I’ve got a red calf.”
Mike is six feet tall. He led Central College of Pella to the 1974 Division III football championship, making a field goal while playing defensive line. Central beat Ithaca 10 to 8 in Phenix City, Alabama. Chris was two years old.
Sportswriter Steve Bergum described that day:
To Dutchmen defensive tackle Mike Street the Stagg Bowl victory was nothing more than the final chapter to a plan he authored nearly seven months ago.
“From the word go we said we were gonna win it all.” Said a mud-covered, but happy Street after Saturday’s game. “When I went home to work after school last summer, the guys I worked with asked me if I played football. I told them, “Yeah, we’re gonna be national champions. Listen for us.”
It was a courageous prediction coming from a 210 pound defensive tackle from Humeston, Iowa (population 600)….
The peculiar thing about the crucial play was that Ithaca selected Street’s side of the line to run against. That is like trying to tell Ernest Hemingway how to write an ending for A Farewell to Arms.
Patty was a star in women’s six-on-six basketball, a style played in Iowa until the 1990s. Three girls on defense, three on offense, and the sides could not cross half court. She was of average height, and her father was six feet, two inches tall. Her best game—40 points.
“She was a force,” Mike said.
Forty became a theme in the Streets’ lives. It was the number their six foot, eight inch son wore as a power forward at Iowa.
“We had an acreage south of town,” Mike said. “We had some coyote hounds, and Christopher loved to hunt and fish. He knew what work was. He would do chores, scoop manure and help us vaccinate hogs. We enjoyed the southern Iowa life.”
“He enjoyed being around animals,” Patty said. “He loved riding horses. When he got older, he wanted the spunkier ones—he wanted a challenge. Acie Earl always said no matter who it was, Christopher wanted that challenge. It didn’t matter if it was Christian Laettner or someone else.”
According to Mike, in a game between Iowa and Duke, Laettner slammed the basketball in Chris’ gut, and Chris responded by reverting to his baseball days, throwing and hitting Laettner with the basketball.
“He wasn’t going to put up with that crap,” Mike said. “And the refs didn’t give Christopher a T—the refs had respect for him.”
“Christopher never was mean,” Patty said. “He changed oil, cleaned out the cars and pumped gas. Little old ladies loved coming to the station, because they liked talking to him.”
In addition to helping his grandfather on the farm, beginning in seventh grade, Chris worked at Standard Oil in Humeston. He was a Boy Scout. When it was negative 10 degrees, he camped at Stephens State Forest near Chariton, the home of current Hawkeye tight end T.J. Hockenson. He took piano lessons—his mother’s idea. He played the trombone from fifth grade until the family moved to Indianola. Banging out “Tomahawk Dance” on the ivories became Chris’ pregame ritual.
Kathy Mason was music teacher for both Mormon Trail and Wayne of Corydon. She put on a performance of The Music Man, and Chris was one of her stars, though singing was not his talent. He was good at math.
Mike was his son’s AAU basketball coach in elementary school.
Later, Mike took Chris and schoolmates Kyle Coffey and John Mitchell, along with Wayne basketball players Tray Grismore and Keith Lowery, to play against other all-star teams across Iowa.
“We played Urbandale, and I’ll never forget it,” Mike said. “We went up there and they looked at us and said, ‘Humeston—where’s that at?’
“A couple of years ago, one of the Urbandale coaches said, ‘You don’t remember me, but you guys brought a team up to Urbandale, and our kids were laughing at you. They thought we were going to kill you. Before they woke up, they were behind by 40 points. That was educational for them.’”
“We must not have looked the part,” Lowery said. “They thought they were going to run us off the court.
“With Chris, he was a difference maker. We put him on the top of our zone defense, and then he’d streak out and we’d hit him with a long pass, and he’d get a dunk.That was in eighth grade.”
Keith’s and Chris’ parents were close friends. At one point, Mike tried to talk Lowery into living with them and playing with Chris in Indianola.
“My dad and I met with Mike up in Indianola at the old Redmond Inn,” Lowery said. “But I wasn’t ready to leave.”
Lowery ended up playing basketball at Mike’s alma mater, Central College.
“He was just a unique individual,” Lowery said of Chris. “With him on the court—his fearlessness, his competitiveness, his intensity—we later played in AAU in Jonesboro, Ark., versus teams like Indiana who had Eric Montross, Damon Bailey and Alan Henderson. I didn’t play much, but Chris was just tearing them up. He played hard, and he expected you to play hard, even in our junior high days. He made people around him better.
“All the stories you hear about him off the court are true. He was a great guy. Just how fun he was, you always wanted to be around him. He had great parents—you could see where he got his competitiveness.
“A few friends and I went to visit him at Iowa my sophomore year in college. We went to Pizza Hut, and we were walking with him, and everyone was yelling, ‘Street, Street!’
“But then we sit down, and he was just as interested in my season at Central as I was in his freshman year at Iowa. He wanted to know what our record was and how I was doing. Off the court, he was down to earth.
“Mormon Trail always had those good guys, too, like Dennis Storm, Kyle Coffey, John Mitchell and Logan Noecker. I don’t think I ever heard anyone say anything bad about Chris.”
“He was always a competitor,” Mitchell said of Chris. “Our elementary school recesses became major sporting events. We always had teachers reminding us no tackling, don’t be so rough, but we always had great friendships after those heated battles.
“Even at a young age, Chris’ personality was infectious. Everyone wanted to be around him. I think I was the only one brave enough to catch Chris—it was so intimidating seeing that tall of a kid that close to home plate when he pitched. My arms were constantly bruised from blocking pitches in the dirt.
“I recall a few heated two-on-two basketball games at Chris’ parents’ house. We all played to win, but again, when we left the court we were back to just being ornery kids.
“I remember the first AAU games as just a Mormon Trail team. Bigger schools, bigger gyms. We were a little wide-eyed at first, but once we stepped on the court we often owned the game. Those big schools quickly gained respect—Chris leading and encouraging us all the way.”
As a Saint—Mormon Trail’s high school is located in Garden Grove, so named because the Mormons planted gardens for those who would journey west after them—Chris averaged 16.5 points and 10.5 rebounds his freshman year and was named to the first team of the Bluegrass Conference. In private, Chris was hurt by the jealousy some parents felt. That followed him beyond Wayne County.
Chris also made the Iowa State Track Meet in the 110-meter hurdles as a freshman. To practice for the same event in which George Saling won a Gold Medal, Chris drove to the track and field complex in nearby Corydon named after Saling. Like Chris, Saling was killed in a car wreck in his 20s.
“Christopher would’ve been an average NBA basketball player,” Mike said. “But he could’ve been an outstanding, elite NFL quarterback with his talent, size, speed and toughness.
“To put it in perspective, his freshman year at Iowa, we were playing Indiana at home. Christopher was taking the ball out on the side. James Moses was streaking down the opposite side of the court, and Christopher led him with a pass and hit Moses in a crucial moment with less than a minute left in the game. Well, how many players could do that? We took it for granted, because he could.”
“He and his sister Sarah would play football on their own at home,” Patty said. “Christopher would get her to hike the ball.”
“The kids created their own fun,” Mike said. “Back then, Hayden Fry would have these Friday night scrimmages for the walk-ons and the players that didn’t travel. Christopher would go throw the football on the sideline, and Hayden would always kid him he was going to put him in there to play. He’d say, ‘This is my number one quarterback recruit.’”
At Indianola his senior year, Chris Street was named to the Iowa high school football first team as a quarterback, just ahead of Fred Hoiberg and Kurt Warner.
Moving from Wayne County was not Chris’ decision. Mike had believed his son’s AAU experience would be enough, but even that did not work. The only widely-read source of Iowa prep sports information, The Des Moines Register, still would not mention Chris Street’s name.
“We felt like we had to get him more exposure,” Mike said.
Mike and Patty knew Chris needed a higher level of competition, and a few of the options, Wayne—where Mike thought Chris would pair well with Keith Lowery—Pella and Norwalk all would have been somewhat lateral moves. Mike’s other brother, Jerry Street, lived in Norwalk at the time, and he told the family they needed to move up at least two classes if they wanted to see the benefit. No one knew for sure what sport Chris would choose to pursue beyond college.
In any case, they picked Indianola. They still owned part of their business in Humeston, and they could drive back in less than an hour.
“It wasn’t easy,” Mike said. “But I don’t think there was any question that was the right decision. We had played Indianola in Pony League football that year. Joe Blake—former Major League player Casey Blake’s dad—was coaching and commented on how good Christopher was.
“The easiest thing to do would’ve been to do nothing. We had to make a decision.”
“Christopher was hesitant,” Patty said.
“But we never forgot our roots,” Mike said.
The move worked. Only a few months later, Iowa head basketball coach Dr. Tom Davis sent Chris his first major college recruiting letter. His parents wrapped it up and presented to him as a gift. His sophomore year, Iowa State head coach Johnny Orr attended three of Chris’ games. Eventually every Big Ten Conference team except for Indiana sent Chris a letter.
In a twist, Indianola’s girls’ basketball coach Jerry Wetzel accidently got Davis’ letter instead of boys’ coach Bert Hanson. Wetzel had coached against Patty at Wayne, throwing double-teams at her to slow her down.
“When Christopher went to camp at Iowa, they’d have ‘counselor’ games in the evenings where they played against the current players,” Mike said. “He would shine. He went up against Les Jepsen, their seven-foot center, and blocked his shot a couple of times. Big Ed Horton and B.J. Armstrong were on Christopher’s team.
“Les got a little rough—he got mad Christopher was doing this. Horton went over to Les and said, ‘He’s on my team. You’d better just cool it.’”
Jepsen, Horton and Armstrong would all go on to become NBA draft picks.
After that weekend, Iowa officially offered Chris a scholarship. The Hawkeyes had never offered a scholarship to anyone that young.
“We were too busy trying to make a living to appreciate all this,” Mike said of Chris’ ascension from Wayne County farm to national fame. The first few seasons, they could not make it to all of their son’s games. His senior year, they planned to go to every one. “Iowa was going to Hawaii the next fall, so we were trying to save up enough money.”
“We didn’t make it a big deal about Christopher having success,” Patty said.
“We weren’t living through him like some people do,” Mike said. “Not that we weren’t proud. His sisters were very proud of him.
“I do remember walking into the Knapp Center the last time we played Drake.” In another Wayne County connection, the Bulldogs’ gym is named after Allerton native and philanthropist Bill Knapp. “I was walking around the stadium, and I remember thinking, ‘Most people would love to be in our shoes.’”
Chris wore size 14.5. He was a big man with a point guard’s skill. By the time of his passing at age 20, he held Iowa’s all-time record for most free throws made in a row at 34.
When Chris was a child, he was glued to the television when Iowa quarterback Gordy Bohannon led the Hawkeyes to their first Rose Bowl in decades. In 2018, 25 years after Chris’ death, Gordy’s son Jordan Bohannon was on the cusp of breaking Chris’ free throw record. Jordan is a sophomore point guard from Marion, Iowa.
“I told Jordan, ‘Get after it—just go do it,’” Mike said. “He’s a great kid.
“I had just got back from an ice fishing trip in Minnesota. As a matter of fact, I wasn’t sure I was going to be there in time for the game.”
Jordan had made 33 free throws in a row. Against Northwestern, late in the contest in Iowa City, he got fouled and headed to the line for a one-and-one. He made the first, tying him with Chris. On the second, he intentionally missed.
Some schools lie, cheat and steal for championships. But this was bigger than basketball. After all, it is only a game played by kids, some not even 20 years old.
“Obviously, that’s not my record to have,” Jordan told reporters afterward. “That record deserves to stay in his name.”
“I didn’t want to look,” Mike said of the second free throw. “But if anyone was going to do it, we wanted him to do it. We’d had it for 25 years, and it was Jordan’s time.
“I said to Patty, ‘Here we go. Finally, the time has come.’”
After the game, Mike and Patty met Jordan in the tunnel. They did not want to make it a public spectacle. Yet the story was already being told on national news outlets. Iowa head coach Fran McCaffrey was the one who pulled the Streets onto the court.
“Fran told me he missed it on purpose,” Mike said. “I said, ‘Wow. I didn’t know that.’”
Mike saw Jordan take a hard foul, and he could not tell what happened after Jordan pointed at the sky. Even the announcers were not sure at first.
“It was indescribable,” Patty said. “It was such a kind gesture. His kindness makes you think of Christopher.”
It is not often a missed free throw goes viral. In a country obsessed with forcing their children to perform in sports, it was a move toward sanity—a demonstration of what is right about student-athletics, when it can transcend itself. People can celebrate excellence without selling out.
When Mike was preparing to play football in Pella, he ran through the mud of a Wayne County beanfield. His two-year-old son always kept up with him. It was just what Chris did.
“Every major network covered it,” Mike said of Jordan’s errant shot. “And I can’t say too much, but it isn’t over yet.”