Wednesday, May 18, 2005

John Raffensperger Writes That 'It's A Great Day To Be A Little Hawk!'

In the preface to his newly-published book, John Raffensperger writes, “There is truly something special about City High. There is a strong feeling of City High pride that goes beyond winning games.”

Then, in the next 168 pages, Raffensperger tells readers about those strong feelings in his well-written, photo-filled book.

Raffensperger, 64, who coached state championship track and field teams at City High School in Iowa City, is the author of “It’s A Great Day To Be A Little Hawk!—A History of City High Athletics.”

Raffensperger does an excellent job of covering nearly a century of City High athletics in a book that should be required reading for anyone who attended or taught at the school. It’s a treat for those who care about the exploits of such former Little Hawk athletes as Bill Reichardt, Tim Dwight, Jim Sangster, Joey Woody, Mona Schallau, Bob Oldis, Ed Watt, Carl Hargrave, Bill Fenton, Jay and Joel Hilgenberg, Gene Hettrick, Bob “Chug” Wilson, Don Fryauf and many others.

“When I became the head track coach at City High in 1970,” Raffensperger told me, “I did research to establish a top 10 list in every event. I’m a history teacher, so I began researching other sports, too. I never had any intention of writing a book until the last two years.”

Raffensperger’s boys’ track teams at City High won 10 state team titles, and the school has won another one since he retired.

“City High has won 55 state championships—43 since 1990,” he said.

No wonder the school’s athletic department was named the best in Iowa in this week’s issue of Sports Illustrated.

The name Raffensperger has been in bold-face type in and around the state of Iowa for many years.

There’s plenty of coaching and writing ability in John Raffensperger’s family.

His father, Leonard Raffensperger, was Iowa’s head football coach in 1950 and 1951 after a highly-successful career at East Waterloo High School.

Leonard even did some writing himself. In my 2003 book, “Tales from the Iowa Sidelines,” I detailed how he covered the Big Ten Conference football opener played by Nile Kinnick and Iowa’s 1939 Ironmen for the Waterloo Courier.

In a segment headlined, “Coach Covered Big Ten Opener,” I wrote:

“When Iowa played Indiana on October 7 to start its Big Ten schedule in 1939, the man who covered the game for the Waterloo (Ia.) Courier was Leonard Raffensperger.

Raffensperger wasn’t an employee of the newspaper, but he was an outstanding coach at East Waterloo High School. He later was Iowa’s coach in 1950 and 1951.

“The Waterloo Courier sports editor in 1939 was a guy named Ed Moore, and he was a good friend of my dad,” said Gene Raffensperger, Leonard’s son and a man who is a former sports editor of the Des Moines Register. He asked my dad if he’d cover the game.

“I don’t know what caused Moore to do it, but he made a decision that he was going to go to Cedar Falls and cover the game Iowa State Teachers College [now Northern Iowa] played. Moore felt Iowa had been such a poor team the year before that nobody gave them a chance to do anything in 1939.

“I was only 9 years old, but sat in the press box with my dad, who earlier in his life had toyed with the idea of being a journalist.

“Leonard had a lot to write about on that hot afternoon. Iowa beat Indiana, 32-29.”

In the acknowledgments in his book, Gene Raffensperger is one of the people John Raffensperger writes about:

“Thanks to my brother, Gene, a career writer for the Des Moines Register and the real writer in our family. Gene gave me much advice, encouragement and guidance to get me started and to finish my book.”

John also wrote, “Special thanks to my wife, Sharon, for the many hours of typing, encouragement and support needed to complete this book.”

John and Sharon are pictured on the back cover, where it says, “John Raffensperger coached high school athletics for 41 years, 36 of those at City High. At his side for all those years has been his wife, Sharon, as chief statistician, typist and ‘mom’ to hundreds of Little Hawk athletes. Over these years, John has coached football, basketball, baseball, golf, swimming and track and field.

“His success in track and field brought 10 State titles to City High, the only coach in Iowa history to accomplish this feat, election to the Iowa Track Coaches Hall of Fame and the naming of the City High track in his honor.

“It was his love of athletics and the athletes he coached that inspired him to research and write this book.”

Raffensperger points out that it was during Iowa’s 1950 football season – a team coached by his dad – that there were four backs on the squad who attended City High.

“They were quarterback Jim Sangster, fullback Bill Reichardt and halfbacks Bob ‘Chug’ Wilson and Don Fryauf,” Raffensperger said. “An all-City High backfield might have played for Iowa, but Sangster tells me that never happened. Before he passed away, Reichardt told me it did happen.”

Oh, well, Reichardt sometimes never let facts get in the way of a good story. I found that out when I interviewed him a couple of times for my own book.

On Page 6 of Raffensperger's book, Reichardt is pictured giving a stiff-arm that knocks the helmet off an opposing player in a 1947 City High game.

On the same page, Raffensperger quotes Sangster as saying this about Reichardt: “Bill was not too shy about his own abilities, and he asked me, after a particularly good game by Bill, if there was a hyphen in All-State. The next game, after a not-so-outstanding game, I said to Bill that I know there’s no hyphen in Honorable Mention.”

On the book’s back cover, 1971 City High graduate Dan McCarney, now the football coach at Iowa State, says: “I will always cherish my years and my memories from my Little Hawk career,”

In addition to coaching at City High, Raffensperger has spent time working with the sports information staff at the University of Iowa during Hawkeye athletic events.

“I’ve worked in the football press box since 1968,” he said. “The last seven or eight years I’ve handled the press box public address responsibilities. I’ve also handled the shot chart for the basketball statistics staff at Hawkeye basketball games.”

Raffensperger has also been involved with duties at Iowa’s home track and field meets.

He has done recent book signings, and points out that he has “sold more than 300 books at my own house. The book is available in two bookstores, and both have asked for more copies.”

The book, priced at $17.50, is published by Tru Art

Vol. 4, No. 344
May 18, 2005