The Mayor's Mom

Like many of you, I grew up in an extremely sports-minded family. We had six boys, two girls, a basketball court on our driveway and one of the finest whiffle-ball fields (even the foul lines were mowed) in America. That field also doubled as a football field for games of "Nerf" football with the neighborhood kids.

I'm sure that my dad got plenty of credit for our interest in athletics and any minor successes we had along the way. After all, he was the "Sports Dad" and most people think of the Sports Dad as the guy who teaches the kids about shooting free throws, laying down a bunt or throwing a football.

In my case, one of the things I learned from my dad was how to execute a backwards somersault—while swearing—in our living room, after seeing one of our favorite players miss an open-court layup during a televised game in the early 1980s. But, that's a column for another day. (In perhaps a related note, Dad had hip surgery this year.)

But, I have found that the most under-rated person in most Sports Families is the "Sports Mom." Somehow, people seem to take her for granted. Even though she's the person who usually sits through all the little league and junior high games, washes all the uniforms, coordinates everybody's schedules so that nobody misses a bus or a practice and at the end of the day plays the role of sports psychologist, as she keeps everyone feeling good about what they're doing…even if her child made the error to allow the winning run to score.

I know that my mother once attended 4,384 tee-ball, little league, freshmen, JV and varsity baseball games one summer…or something like that. And she was in that routine from 1972 through 1994. When it came to showing up to the ballpark every day—regardless of injury ("bleacher butt" for example)—Cal Ripken Jr. had NOTHING on my mom.

And I'll bet your mom was the same way.

So, as a tribute to all of the Sports Moms and Iowa State fans on this Mother's Day weekend, I happened to catch up with one of the all-time great Cyclone's mothers—Karen Hoiberg—for a "Q & A" column that I'm sure you'll enjoy. Karen was willing to answer some questions about her son Fred and share a few stories along the way.

To give you a little background, Karen and her husband Eric Hoiberg moved from Lincoln, Nebraska to Ames in 1974. They are both retiring this year, Karen from teaching in the Ames school district and Eric from Iowa State, where he's the Associate Dean in the College of Agriculture. The couple has three sons: Steve (35), Fred (31) and Andrew (25 next week).

Steve and his wife Kerry live in Omaha with their two daughters, Anna and Emma. Both Steve and Kerry graduated from ISU. Fred and his wife Carol live in Chaska, Minnesota with their four children: Paige, Jack and twins Sam and Charlie. Andrew lives in Denver, where he is a turf technician with the Broncos, and is also a banjo player and part of a bluegrass band.

Each of the Hoiberg boys participated in several sports at Ames High School and they each had a "specialty"… Steve's was baseball, Fred's was basketball and Andrew's was football.

The following are Karen Hoiberg's answers to my questions…

Marty: At what point did you KNOW that Fred had such tremendous athletic ability?

Karen: This is hard to answer… Fred always loved any type of sports and kept at it because he was successful. When he was very young, I'd do patty cake with him. When it was time for "roll it and roll it…" he'd flex his muscles, so that I couldn't turn his arms! He was so strong.

Once the parks/rec department in Lincoln had a baby crawling contest—Fred was about 11 months. I knew he would win—but he woke up sick that day! So who knows? You might be interested to know that he was sick quite often as a little guy.

When Steve began little league, Fred was about 5. Fred sat on the bench with the team and was so aware of what was going on.

Marty: Did you and Eric participate in sports growing up?

Karen: My husband tells the story that when it was his turn to come into the game, the coaches had left! There were no girls sports in my day in Lincoln, which means I can only imagine how good I would have been! I did do swimming/diving, six-girl basketball through 9th grade, track, etc. Fred has said, "My mom would have been really good—just ask her!"

My dad (Jerry Bush) played basketball at St. John's—his coach was the legendary Joe Lapchick—and with the Ft. Wayne Zollner Pistons. He was too early for the NBA. He was on the World Championship team in 1941! He was a basketball coach…that's how we got to Lincoln. He coached at NU and beat Wilt Chamberlain's team!

Last year, we went with Fred, Carol, Paige and Jack to the NBA meetings in Las Vegas. I saw a table of older men and went over…I told them I could not pass up the chance to ask if any of them knew my dad. Several did and one said, "Your dad was my hero!" Of course, I loved that! They had been in high school together. In fact, he sent me a picture of the two of them.

Marty: Fred is extremely popular, in part because he is such a class act and a great role model for Iowa's student-athletes. Everyone thinks of him as focused, talented, hard-working and determined. But, as a young boy growing up, did Fred do anything that drove you crazy?

Karen: No, Fred was always so focused and well-behaved…an adult-pleasing person…us, teachers, coaches, other parents, etc. I'm sure there are stories I don't know, but that's OK with me.

Marty: Were Fred, Steve and Andrew competitive on the driveway growing up? Did you have to settle many arguments?

Karen: You won't believe this, but we never owned a hoop! In fact, our driveway wasn't even paved! One of our neighbors, Jane and Bill Bliss, had a small court in their backyard. Several neighborhood kids would play there. Blisses would turn on the lights at night and Jane would often bring out cookies, etc. Dr. Bliss was an ISU athlete.

Steve and Fred played together all the time—and well. They rarely fought! Andrew is 6 ½ years younger, so they didn't really play together in the same way. My husband spent countless hours in the yard playing baseball with the boys.

We had neighbors with boys about the same ages as Steve and Fred…Larry and Frank. Frank and Fred were best of friends. The four of them played something athletic every single day—usually whiffle ball.

Fred was so competitive. He insisted on being on Larry's team (oldest) and would quit and come home if they were losing! But, he always came the long way. He was afraid of "two bees" hovering near the garage. Hilarious! It was actually two nails…as if two bees would be in the exact same place for a year!

They had great fun and were good competition for each other.

Fred is fiercely competitive. More than one board game flew across our family room. One of the things I've been most proud of is the way Fred handles that on the floor. He is still that competitive person inside, but doesn't show much emotion on the floor.

Marty: Fred was recruited by Tom Osborne to play football at Nebraska, when the Cornhuskers had perhaps the best program in the nation. As his mother, did you "encourage" Fred at all to choose basketball over football?

Karen: Well, Nebraska is our alma mater and we were huge Husker football fans. Plus, we had family in Lincoln and near Lincoln at the time. But, I wanted Fred to be happy, so I totally left it up to him.

Marty: What were your feelings the first game that Fred played at Hilton Coliseum?

Karen: I'll never forget it. I was involved in parent-teacher conferences at the time. I arranged to conduct them so that I would be there for tip-off. It was such a thrill. There's nothing like hometown support!

Marty: In addition to Fred, who are some of your favorite Cyclones (any sport)?

Karen: Gosh, I'll never name all of them. Julo Michalik was his roommate—such a great kid! We still hear from his parents every Christmas. Matt Blair, Arnie Gaarde, Larry "Big Daddy" Hunt, Jeff Hornacek, Jeff Grayer, Barry Stevens, Angie Welle, Erica Junod, Ronnie Virgil, Seneca Wallace, all of Fred's teammates…and Steve Hoiberg, first and foremost! He played one year of baseball!

Marty: Fred is widely known as "The Mayor" to Cyclone fans throughout the country. Did he have other nicknames at home when he was younger?

Karen: Derf. We had this family thing where we all did our names backwards. Plus, he used to write his name that way sometimes!

Marty: Have you ever made any suggestions to Fred after a game about what he's doing on the court?

Karen: Both my husband and I had tons of advice, however, Fred never listened! I did tell him once before playing Iowa to complain to the ref about the way the Hawks guarded the line on an in-bounds play. They were always going over the line! And it worked!

Marty: Are there any old Cyclone game tapes that you watch on occasion?

Karen: On occasion? I can talk along with the announcers on some of them. I love most of the KU home games! Our youngest son, Andrew, was a ball boy when Fred played, with a crew—they took turns. They won every time Andrew was "on duty."

I love an OU tournament game and the OSU game when Fred was a freshman. We were down by 20 points. Justus Thigpen hit seven threes and we beat them in OT. I think they had four guys on Justus at the end of the game…he dished it to Fred, he hit a basket and was fouled…made the FT to put us ahead. Then they missed two FTs! The floor was shaking. GREAT GAME!

Marty: How excited were you when Fred was picked up by the Timberwolves? Do you like their chances in the playoffs?

Karen: Fred was about ready to sign to go play in Italy! We are thrilled beyond belief! And it's only three hours. The Kings are so good—they know each other so well. I'm guessing each game will go down to the wire.

Marty: When you think of Fred's Iowa State career, what's the FIRST thought that comes to mind?

Karen: Pride. Grateful for the opportunity, education and friendships. We are so grateful for the wonderful guidance Fred has received on his journey—from teachers, coaches, other parents and so on.

His pediatrician once told him to never take his talents for granted—to always work hard.


Happy Mother's Day!

Thank you to Karen Hoiberg for taking the time to answer these questions during a busy week of teaching school and attending a pair of NBA playoff games in Minneapolis. Happy Mother's Day to Karen and all the Cyclone Moms out there!

I also want to wish a Happy Mother's Day to my mom (Anne) and my wife (Heather)! My mom was one of the all-time greatest Sports Moms when her eight children were growing up…and my wife is just entering that phase of her life as our 3-year old daughter and 1-year old son are starting to shoot hoops on the driveway and play whiffle-ball in the yard.

(Marty Gallagher founded the popular web site and now publishes E-mail him at

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