The Clinton Herald, Clinton, Iowa

July 14, 2013

Book research uncovers past century's vast athletic talent

Scott Levine
Associate Editor

---- — With the summer months fading away, we’re nearing the end of our research for our sports book to be published in August.

The book will cover athletes and teams from Clinton, Prince of Peace, Camanche and Fulton high schools, ranging from the days of Duke Slater to today. We’re profiling these athletes through decades, splitting them into groups – 1960s and before, 1970s, ‘80s, ‘90s and ‘00s.

Just joining this community five years ago, it felt like a daunting task to highlight the area’s athletic successes over the past 100 years. My first-hand knowledge went back to 2008, so I was only missing about 95 years worth of history.

But through research, I’ve found that titles and championships aren’t hard to find in this area, making the cut to make the book one of the biggest challenges of any athlete’s career. When measuring up against Kenny Ploen or Dan Knight, one title may not be good enough to make the cut for a profile.

However, we are acknowledging every state champion athlete and team in the book. But only about 50 athletes and a handful of teams will register a feature story.

With doing a book like this, I’m aware that there will be debate. A strong argument that has already taken place in our newsroom is judging how to grade a person’s performance. How do you measure one athlete that shined in multiple sports, against someone who specialized in one and possibly garnered a pair of titles?

Take for example a pair of athletes in the 2000s – Drew Sikkema, of Prince of Peace, and Tyler Swanson, of Clinton. Sikkema shined in multiple sports, including earning a cross country title, to go along with second-team All-Herald selection in basketball, and participating in the state golf meet.

Although Swanson played more than one sport, he was most noteworthy in golf, where he won a state title in 2001 by 11 strokes. His second round score of 65 outpaced the second-place finisher by nine strokes.

Swanson’s impact is best felt in one sport, but his achievements are worthy of being placed in the book.

It’s a fine line to walk, but we’ve tried to include both sets of athletes in the book, to show the great achievements of everyone at these four previously mentioned schools.

During my research, another item has become clear – not all decades are created equal. The powerful performances of the 1960s and before made making the list in the 1960s or before as competitive as any other decade.

In those years, we were comparing athletes that went on to Division I programs and even in the professional ranks for some, including Tom Hilgendorf and Slater.

For all the power of the 1960s and before, the 1970s didn’t register as many titles or Division I scholar athletes. Sure, there was the 1976 Steamers that went on to win a state title with Jim Snyder powering through the line as the school’s all-time leading rusher, and the St. Mary’s basketball teams of 1975 and ‘77, but the 1970s has been the most difficult decade as of yet to find the all-time greats. But our research isn’t finished yet, so who knows what we’ll uncover in the coming weeks.

Although there were still many quality athletes in the 1970s, the team and athletic titles picked up to a whole new level in the 1980s. Clinton’s gymnastics, cross country, golf and wrestling teams all won championships in the decade, while Camanche saw titles in girls track, baseball and tennis. Mater Dei dominated volleyball in the early part of the decade, to go along with appearances in the state girls basketball tournament.

Almost every year included a championship of some kind for one of the area teams, something that may not be duplicated for years to come. And with strong teams come great athletes, making the 1980s — with athletes like Knight, Maureen Roshar and Clay Sander — a decade that helped put the area on the state and national map.

While the 1992 Crew is probably the best known group from the 1990s, another pattern became clear during research – the emergence of the female athlete. That tradition continued in the 2000s.

With the research winding down, we’re putting some of the finishing touches on the athletes and teams of the past 100 years. Don’t miss out on this snapshot of time, coming out in late August.

Scott Levine is the Clinton Herald’s associate editor.