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Feature Story

Iowa high school sports dynasties

9/2/2020

Which Iowa high school sports powerhouse can lay claim to being called the most dominant dynasty of all time? What is the most feared program in Hawkeye-state history? Which team was the best, flat-out, of any sport when measured against every generation?

Objective stats have a way of taking on subjective value, and, even after seemingly endless research and an untold number of heated
conversations, try as we might, CITYVIEW can’t definitively end this argument. This age-old riddle may not be solvable to everyone’s satisfaction, but it sure is fun sifting through some of the evidence.

Sustaining the type of dominance that is needed to earn the distinction of being called a “dynasty” doesn’t happen easily. A dynasty means
more than a single championship, and it definitely means more than having one good year or three or even five. A dynasty implies ongoing excellence that endures and outlasts one great player or a single superb season.

Dynasties rule their community and create an atmosphere where newborns in a given area have moms, dads or uncles who look at each baby and daydream of how that new little life might somehow contribute to said dynasty. But there is no objective measure for this.

Instead of pretending to prove there is an unquestioned top dog, CITYVIEW prefers to humbly submit a few potential contenders — mostly from the fall and winter sports seasons, since those are approaching. We freely admit to giving some preference to the powerhouse
programs most relevant to our central Iowa readership. Feel free to be offended by these choices if that sort of thing is fun for you, but no
harm is intended. This one is just for fun. Without further delay, let’s dig into a handful of dominating and historic Iowa high school sports dynasties.

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Just under 18,000 athletes participate in Iowa high school football, more than in any other IHSAA sport. Photo by Drue Wolfe

“WE ARE DOWLING!”

The football team for Dowling Catholic High School (DCHS) hasn’t missed the playoffs since the Bush administration (2007), and the Maroons squads have earned 10 Class 4-A state championships in the last 20 years, including the last seven. You read that right…seven… straight… and still counting.

The first-place trophies began under Matt Dillon. The former head coach (1996-2005) has moved on, but his teams started the ball rolling with back-to-back titles in 2000 and 2001. The team won again in 2010 — this time with current Head Coach Tom Wilson leading the charge. He took the helm in 2005. In 2013, Wilson’s program began its current reign of terror. Now Dowling Football has its sights set on eight straight, but you won’t hear much about it from Wilson.

“Honestly, it’s not something we talk about,” he says. “We have a lot of work to do to even make that a realistic possibility.”

The 2020 Maroons will field new starters at all five offensive line positions as well as at quarterback, and the team’s two leading rushers and tacklers from 2019 have also moved on, according to the coach.

Other notes pertaining to Dowling’s gridiron greatness:

Dowling has earned the most postseason appearances of any Iowa high school since 1972, making the playoffs 42 times and compiling a
postseason record of 82-32.

The program has gone undefeated twice during its seven-season run — in both 2013 and 2015 — while compiling an 87-6 overall record and posting 30 straight playoff victories. Only Iowa City Regina has won more consecutive postseason games with 33 straight (2010-2016) while winning six straight championships (2010-2015). If Dowling makes another postseason run in 2020, it could break Regina’s record.

Ryan Boyle, Dowling’s star quarterback at the beginning of its current state title streak, won the Iowa Gatorade State Player of the Year in 2013 and 2014. Since the award’s inception in 1985, no other player has won the award back to back. Another Maroons quarterback, Connor Bravard, won the award in 2010.

*Source: www.iahsaa.org/wp-content/uploads/2020/06/2020-RB-Football-6.9.20.pdf

The volleyball program at Dubuque Wahlert has won 20 state titles, including a three-peat, a six-peat and another three-peat. The 2017 state champions are pictured here. Photo by Sandra Gaul

VOLLEYBALL: DUBUQUE WAHLERT

Dubuque Wahlert Volleyball has earned 20 state championships, the most out of any volleyball program in Iowa. Wahlert’s teams of the early 1990s ripped through the competition, three-peating through the years of 1990, 1991 and 1992. Then Wahlert ripped six straight titles, spanning the 2000-2005 seasons, and, more recently, the program won another three straight, winning titles in 2016, 2017 and 2018. Thus the program’s resume includes a three-peat, a six-peat, another three-peat and 20 titles overall. Wow.

NOTE: Wahlert will be led by Paige Griffith in 2020. The new head coach takes over for Lindsey Beaves, who stepped aside after seven seasons.

 

 

Ankeny Women’s Basketball Coach Scott DeJong at the 2019 State Tournament with Centennial. DeJong led the Hawkettes to six state titles, including a record four consecutive crowns in 2002-2005. DeJong moved to Ankeny Centennial in 2013, and he guided the Jaguars to their first state title in 2016. Photo by Drue Wolfe

GIRLS BASKETBALL: ANKENY

The Ankeny girls basketball program boasts more state titles than any other girls basketball program in Iowa, and it’s not even close. The Hawkettes have taken the title nine times, and that number includes a streak of four straight championships from 2002-2005. This tally is doubly impressive if you consider that the next highest total by an Iowa girls basketball program is five — a mark achieved by both Audubon and Dowling.

IOWA HALL OF PRIDE

Do you want to learn more about Iowa’s all-time greats? The Iowa Hall of Pride strives to amaze, entertain and educate the entire family. The museum celebrates the athletic achievements of Iowans from across the state.
330 Park St., Des Moines
515-280-8969; www.iowahallofpride.com
Hours: Monday-Friday, 9 a.m. – 4 p.m.; Saturday, by appointment; Sunday, closed

FACT: Iowa Girls High School Athletic Union (IGHSAU) is the only state activity association in the nation solely devoted to promoting, directing and regulating interscholastic athletics for junior high and high school girls. The IGHSAU sanctions 10 sports for Iowa girls. Iowa high school boys sports are organized by the Iowa High School Athletic Association (IHSAA). The organization sanctions 11 sports: baseball, basketball, bowling, cross country, football, golf, soccer, swimming, tennis, track and field and wrestling.

BOYS BASKETBALL: AMES BOYS ROSTER BOASTS UNPARALLELED HOME-GROWN TALENT

The 2008-2009 and 2009-2010 Ames High basketball teams boasted a roster that was loaded with a pair of future NBA first-round draft picks. Harrison Barnes was drafted seventh overall in the NBA’s 2012 draft; Doug McDermott was the 11th pick overall in 2014. That kind of talent is not often seen in a state with only 3 million people. Thus it comes as no surprise that the team regularly demolished opponents and went undefeated for two straight seasons on their way to back-to-back state championships.

FACT: Ames won each playoff game during its twin-title run by 10 points or more.

HIGH SCHOOL FOOTBALL IN IOWA

FACT: More than 24,000 Iowa high school students participated in IHSAA football during the 1982-83 season. That number has gradually dwindled to fewer than 18,000, but more boys participate in football than in any other single high school sport.

IHSAA member schools have been kicking off the pigskin since 1909, but it took awhile for the sport to build itself into what it is today. According to the IHSAA’s Football Record Book, helmets weren’t required until 1935, and the first IHSAA playoffs didn’t take place until 1972.

Source: www.iahsaa.org/wp-content/uploads/2020/06/2020-RB-Football-6.9.20.pdf

Wrestling coach Bob Darrah compiled an astounding 296-12-1 dual meet record during his two-decade run at Dowling. This picture of the legendary leader hangs in one of the school’s trophy cases. Photo by Jeff Pitts

DOWLING VS. DOWLING?

Dowling football’s detractors don’t have to look far for ammunition to argue against the program being the best in Iowa high school history. That’s because it might not even be the most dominant program in Dowling’s own history.

The school’s wrestling squads of the 1970s, 1980s and early 1990s can conceivably lay claim to that distinction. From 1987-1992, Dowling grapplers won six consecutive state dual team titles, that is the most of any team in state high school wrestling history — tied with Don Bosco Catholic High School in Gilbertville (2005-2010). Six straight is surely impressive, but get this: Iowa didn’t add a state team dual tournament until 1987, and DCHS’s wrestling dominance substantially predated that inception. Dowling won the first six team dual championships, and if these competitions had begun sooner, it is more than likely that the Maroons would have extended that streak by who knows how many.

“We only had one dual meet loss during the decade of the 1980s,” said Ron Gray, a former Dowling wrestling coach, during an interview with CITYVIEW in 2016. Gray first served under Dowling’s legendary Bob Darrah before eventually taking over the helm himself in 1989. “We won 82 in a row. Valley beat us (in 1986), and then we won another 136 in a row (from Jan. 25, 1986, to Jan. 4, 1992).”

FACT: Dowling’s historic winning streak is 44 dual meets longer than the next longest streak of 92, which arguably makes it the most unbreakable record in Iowa high school sports history. In Darrah’s 20 years as Dowling’s head coach, the legend posted a dual meet record of 269-12-1. His overall Iowa high school coaching record was an amazing 340-17-2. Darrah passed away in November of 2018.

A SINGLE CASE OF SINGULAR EXCELLENCE: RANDY DUNCAN, QB, ROOSEVELT ROUGHRIDERS

Only one Iowa high school football player went on to become an NCAA Division I football consensus first-team All-American selection during the years 1951-1980: Randy Duncan, a quarterback for Des Moines Roosevelt. This 30-year period is the sparsest stretch for Iowa high school football talent in history, but Duncan’s stellar play almost made up for it all on its own. At the University of Iowa, according to his obituary, Duncan played quarterback on teams that won two Rose Bowls and a share of the national championship in 1958. After his senior year, Duncan was named the Big Ten’s most valuable player by the Chicago Tribune, and the former Roughrider was also the Heisman Trophy runner-up. The Green Bay Packers selected Duncan with the first overall pick in the 1959 NFL draft, but he chose to play in the Canadian Football League before eventually playing one year for the Dallas Texans (now the Kansas City Chiefs) in the American Football League. After retiring from football, Duncan went on to a distinguished career as a lawyer.

When Superman goes into a phonebooth, he comes out dressed as Dan Gable. Gable lost zero matches during his Iowa high school wrestling career. His exploits are on display at the Iowa Hall of Pride. Photo by Jeff Pitts

WRESTLING: TWO MORE DESERVING DYNASTIES

Southeast Polk Wrestling: Southeast Polk has taken the state dual title in 2013, 2015, 2017, 2019 and 2020. In 2013 and 2015, its wrestling team qualified wrestlers in 13 of 14 weight classes for the state meet, a feat that is relatively rare to accomplish once let alone twice in three years. The Rams also won traditional team titles in 2013, 2015, 2016, 2017.

Waterloo West Wrestling: Bob Sidden’s dual meet record at Waterloo West was 327-26-3 (1950-1977). Plus, Dan Gable wrestled for this program, and when Superman is on your list of alumni, you deserve to be on any list.

A TRIO OF ALL-TIME GREATS CURRENTLY COACHING IN CENTRAL IOWA

FACT: Valley Head Football Coach Gary Swenson was named Class 4A coach of the year in 2019 by the Iowa Football Coaches Association after his Tigers posted a 12-1 record, losing only to the team’s respected crosstown rival, Dowling, in the 4A state championship game, 21-16. Swenson was also named coach of the year in 2002, 2007 and 2009, and he has won six state championships in his career — five at Valley and one at Spencer.

FACT: Ankeny Centennial’s Jerry Pezzetti has been coaching high school football for 59 years, and the gridiron sage and guru boasts a 429-160-1 record, which is the second most wins in Iowa history. More than likely, this will be the year Pezzetti gets the four Ws he needs to pass Dick Tighe’s record of 432 and move into the top spot.

FACT: Dowling Catholic’s Tom Wilson has won eight IHSAA State Football Championships. This is the second highest total of all time. Only Curt Bladt of Harlan has amassed more hardware with 11.

Source: www.iahsaa.org/wp-content/uploads/2020/06/2020-RB-Football-6.9.20.pdf

Get your popcorn ready. Valley vs. Dowling gridiron action resumes on Friday, Sept. 4 at Valley Stadium. The kickoff is at 7 p.m. Photo by Tony Topping

FOOTBALL: VALLEY VS. DOWLING

FACT: Dowling may own the longest current string of consecutive state titles, but West Des Moines Valley has qualified for the playoffs for 28 straight consecutive seasons, the most in Iowa history (1992-2019). In the past two decades, Valley has won five state titles, and ordinarily that would be good enough to launch it into the argument as being one of the most dominant stretches in state history, but since Dowling has doubled that total within the same span… checkmate.

The two storied rivals annually tangle in an early regular season matchup. The hype leading into each contest is enormous, and Dowling’s Coach Wilson admits that he and everyone else want to win, but he also warns that the game isn’t do or die. Valley and Dowling frequently end up facing one another in the playoffs — as they did last season in the state championship — and winning in the postseason is ultimately what matters.

The Valley vs. Dowling football rivalry can be heated, especially among passionate fan bases, but Wilson insists there is more to it.

“Sometimes people lose sight of the amount of respect there is between the coaching staff and the two programs,” he says. “There is a lot of mutual respect.”

The saga that is Valley vs. Dowling resumes on Friday, Sept. 4 at Valley Stadium. The kickoff is at 7 p.m.

Get your popcorn ready. ♦

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