Here is Lyons High School Football Team of 1937, with Lenny Dose in the back row. The place is Root Park and, if you were at that spot today, you would see Lyons Middle School on the hill behind them. Lyons football is the stuff of legends! Their Hall of Fame Football Coach, John Crimmings, had a record of 63-13, with three of those losses to Savanna. It's odd how a champion team can have trouble with just one opponent.
I used to tease Lenny Dose that, "No wonder you beat St. Mary's 17 years in a row, you had 13 men on the field!" That year, Coach Mike Dardas had only 13 players, and they lost for the last time to St. Mary's team, which had Roy Glendenning as a star player. Roy later went to St. Ambrose and was a star there. It seems nearly all of those early athletes were fine men.
Dwayne Spooner wrote a book on the saga of Lyons football, but most stunning was his respect for opponents like St. Mary's…. "They had volunteer coaches like Glendenning, Mike Johansen, John Herrity, 'Chink' St. Clair, and many others. They had to run down to south-side park and they didn't have a home field, but they produced a lot of good players." He remembered them all, but specifically mentioned Gene and Nate Walton and Harold Judge. His respect for his opponents was amazing! Lyons always had two non-conference games, and they chose to play the toughest there were. Lyons would often beat Cedar Rapids’ McKinley, Roosevelt, and the two other high schools. The even beat Davenport once. Best of all, was the night they tied national power Loras, at Dubuque, in the early 1950's! Another little-known star was John Russell, a tremendous high school and college player from Anamosa, who taught at Lyons Jr. High and could punt the ball a mile!
Spooner's book goes back to the 1920's, when three boys from Clinton were All-Americans from one line at the University of Iowa: Duke Slater, Lester Belding, and Johnny Heldt at center from Lyons. Belding later coached at Clinton High and then went on to the University of Illinois. Other Clinton notables were John and Oakley Carlsen, and Russell Busk of Lyons, who played for the 1939 Iron Men. Burt Ingwersen coached Iowa, and later we'll talk about his brother, Horace. Both were good athletes around Clinton. Paul Zaehringer, from St. Mary's, played at Iowa during WWII. Harry Kamer coached football in the 1930's; and then, Dardas and McCarthy came before the legendary Coach Crimmings.
No player struck more fear into an opponent's heart than did Jim Young. He wasn't tall but, at 180 pounds, was a tiger who was hard to bring down. He averaged over 15 yards per run in one fantastic year, 1951. Years later, I met him and found him to be a tremendously gentle man. No one knows the ferocity deep within many athletes otherwise known as “nice boys”. Perhaps it was sports that pushed Teddy Roosevelt to be a "Roughrider." While he was President, however, he nearly banned football due to its many fatalities. It was then that the forward pass helped save the game by opening it up. I don't recall Lyons ever throwing many passes though, except that one heart-breaking throw of Gene Veit's at Coan Field in 1952. With St. Mary’s ahead, he threw a very long pass to Clarence McArdle at the goal line. Lyons went over on the next play to extend their streak. It was a heartbreaker for the Irish.
Some believe sports to be trivial, but many men are honed into strong fathers and leading citizens through them. The athlete in some guys never dies. Along the sidelines, you still see their "competitive edge" grinding away! It was a marvel to observe Lefty Ward, Jerry Cheramy, Leonard Jordan and Dusty Broderick running the chains at Clinton High's games for all their "137 years of combined service!"
There are far too many famous athletes to name them all. Clinton, Lyons, and St. Mary's had so many in football and basketball but, lest we forget, let's name a few from other sports: Gary Morris in swimming; Chuck Curtis and Carl Nelson, in track; Craig Ladehoff, in golf; the Knights, in wrestling. Speaking of wrestling, Coach Leonard Wilson was a fierce competitor, whether it was in that sport, bridge, or building houses! He was followed by an equally competitive athlete and coach, Bob Lueders.
In 2007, Yourd Gym turned 50 years old. It seems like yesterday that the fine gymnasium was built and then survived the fire in 1968. There have been so many great contests their because it is the best gym in the area and hosts so many State Tournament contests for the sectional and district championships.
Oh, the life lessons sports teach! And, today, our girls are benefiting from these experiences, also. Even more important than the games are the memories and friendships forged. Grantland Rice, the great author and founder of the All-American concept, famously said, “When the Great Scorer in the Sky comes to write behind your name, it’s not whether you won or lost, but how you played the game!” And, as I always told my son, "Have FUN!"