Xavier has claimed 21 state titles since 2003

By Jim Ecker

The lane that leads into the Xavier High School parking lot is cleverly called the Avenue of the Saints, but it also could be called Championship Alley.

The private school on the northeast side of Cedar Rapids has won 21 state titles since 2003, making it one of the most successful schools in the state, regardless of size or classification.

Xavier has won six state titles in girls soccer, four in boys soccer, three in girls basketball, two in girls cross country, two in boys cross country, two in boys track, one in baseball and one in football.

“Some schools are known as a football school, some are known as a basketball school,” said Mike Winker, Xavier’s activities director. “I’m very proud of the fact that it’s been multi sports.”

Xavier offers 19 varsity sports for boys and girls, and the Saints have won state championships in eight of them. They’ve won at least one state title for eight straight years and claimed six titles in 2006.

“I am surprised that we have won that many,” Winker said. “When we started putting up banners and the team pictures, we were hoping to have two or three or four, maybe, after 10 years. It’s just been unbelievable. I’m pleasantly surprised.”

Xavier High School opened in 1998-99, the result of combining Regis and LaSalle into one private high school. The girls basketball team won the first state title in the winter of 2003, opening the floodgates.

“When they won it, it told everyone in this school that, ‘Hey, we can win it here,'” Winker remarked. “I think it gave people the confidence that Xavier can win state championships. Until you win that first one, people don’t know if that’s realistic or not.”

Coach Tom Lilly and the Saints also claimed state 3A titles in girls basketball in 2005 and 2007, giving them three banners.

Xavier won the girls state cross country title in the fall of 2003, giving the school two crowns for that calendar year. Xavier also won two state titles in 2004 and two more in 2005, showing the school was here to stay. Then came a truly banner year when the Saints notched those six titles in 2006.

The Saints captured crowns in girls cross country, boys cross country, boys soccer, girls soccer, baseball and football in 2006. All state titles are impressive, but the Class 4A state title in football was especially rewarding because Xavier’s enrollment is much less than some of its big-school 4A competitors.

Officials at the Iowa High School Athletic Association think Xavier is the smallest school to ever win the 4A football crown in state history.

“That’s pretty cool,” Winker said. “It’s a neat accomplishment.”

 Winker said former Xavier principal Jeff Henderson helped instill an attitude that the Saints could compete at the highest levels.

“It took some time,” Winker noted. “We had growing pains in terms of getting everybody on the same page.

“It’s so important that parents are on the same page as the coaches, administrators and the kids, because if the kids go home and hear, ‘We can’t compete, the other schools are too good,’ that doesn’t help.”

Lilly’s first state title in girls basketball in 2003 paved the way.

“It told everybody else, we can do this,” Winker said. “And it was almost like there was a race amongst the boys to be the first boys team to win a state championship.”

The boys soccer team won the race in 2004. All told, Xavier girls have won 11 state titles and Xavier boys have won 10 titles.

Regis and LaSalle were playing in smaller conferences when the two schools combined to form Xavier. The Saints joined the Mississippi Valley Conference with larger schools from Cedar Rapids, Iowa City, Dubuque, Waterloo and Cedar Falls and had to compete in 4A football, but not everybody at Xavier thought it was a good idea.

“There were a lot of people in our community that thought we can’t be a 4A school, we can’t compete in the Mississippi Valley Conference,” Winker said.

Winning the Class 4A football title in 2006 dispelled that notion. Many of Xavier’s state titles came in lower 1A or 3A divisions, but the football team conquered the biggest schools in the state. 

The banners for all 21 state titles are displayed at the top of the basketball court at Xavier. You can get a stiff neck from looking up and counting, because it’s crowded up there.

“I think I have room for maybe nine more,” Winker said with a smile.


2003 — Class 3A girls basketball, Class 3A girls cross country

2004 — Class 1A boys soccer, Class 1A girls soccer

2005 — Class 3A girls basketball, Class 1A boys soccer

2006 — Class 3A girls cross country, Class 3A boys cross country, Class 1A boys soccer, Class 1A girls soccer, Class 3A baseball, Class 4A football

2007 — Class 3A boys cross country, Class 1A girls soccer, Class 3A girls basketball, Class 3A boys track

2008 — Class 1A girls soccer, Class 3A boys track

2009 — Class 1A girls soccer

2010 — Class 2A boys soccer, Class 1A girls soccer

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Linn-Mar swimmers go the extra mile

By Jim Ecker

Metro Sports Report

Swimmers at Washington, Jefferson and Kennedy can stroll down the hallways at their school and jump in the pool for practice. Not at Linn-Mar.

The Lions don’t have a pool.

Linn-Mar practices at Coe College, which requires a daily bus ride toward downtown Cedar Rapids. Coe has a terrific facility, but there are logistical problems.

For one thing, there’s not enough time for the Lions to practice before school in the morning. That puts them at a competitive disadvantage, because Washington, Jefferson and Kennedy all swim before school and after school.

For another, Linn-Mar cannot practice immediately after school because the Coe pool is booked with other groups. The Lions practice from 7:30 p.m. to 9:30 p.m. and don’t return to school until approximately 10 p.m.

“It’s a huge commitment for the guys,” Linn-Mar Coach Ralph Cortez said. “It’s a hurdle.”

The Lions lift weights in the mornings at Linn-Mar, but there’s no morning swim. So while the other Metro schools have two practices per day, the Lions are trying to keep pace with a single practice at Coe. 

The impact? “Huge,” Cortez said.

On top of all that, the Lions don’t have the Coe pool to themselves . They share the facility with other groups from 7:30 p.m. to 8:15 p.m., then have the water from 8:15 p.m. to 9:30 p.m.

Despite the restrictions, Linn-Mar finished ahead of Jefferson and Kennedy at the state meet last year and the program appears to be growing. Cortez had 14 swimmers when he became the head coach seven years ago, and now he has 35.

“We’ve turned out some really great swimmers, so I’m excited to see what will happen when the circumstances change,” he remarked.

By “circumstances,” Cortez means Linn-Mar getting its own pool someday.

“It has been proposed and it has been taken forward, but it always stops,” he said.

Cortez, 47, is not complaining. A successful swimmer himself at Fresno State from 1982-86, he’s proud of his team. He said most of the swimmers have “great” GPAs and are involved in other school activities.

“They’re busy, busy people,” he said.

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“A Coach’s Life”: Fascinating portrait of Les Hipple and Marion

By Jim Ecker

Metro Sports Report

Marion native Dan Kellams gives readers a rare treat with his new book on former Marion High School coach Les Hipple, well worth the time for anyone interested in the school or the city itself.

Kellams, a Marion High School graduate who played for the legendary coach, provides a poignant biography of the stern taskmaster whose teams dominated the Wamac Conference in the 1940s and 1950s, while also providing a keen historical look at the city of Marion itself.

Hipple compiled a 105-42-10 record in 18 years as Marion’s head football coach from 1945-62 and won seven conference titles; collected a 310-120 record in 20 years as the boys basketball coach from 1945-65 and captured 12 Wamac crowns; coached the boys track team from 1945-62 with five league titles, and also won eight state cross country titles in a row.

Hipple is a member of the Iowa Halls of Fame in both football and basketball, one of the few coaches to hold both honors, and his basketball teams were among some of the best in the state, regardless of classification. Marion High School named the school’s athletic fields after him in 1978, a fitting tribute to his career, but numbers and honors don’t do justice to the man or the book (“A Coach’s Life: Les Hipple and the Marion Indians”).

Hipple, who died in 1999 at age 86, was a strict disciplinarian who placed heavy demands on his players. He received strong support in the community during the glory years from parents and administrators, but times changed and support waned. He became a controversial figure and utlimately was fired, leaving behind a legacy of success, outstanding athletes, love, respect and some bruised feelings.

Hipple treated all his players alike — stars and deep reserves — and often said he didn’t care what his players thought of him at the time, but carely deeply about what they’d think of him in the future when they were grown men. There are several moving tributes to Hipple by former players, who indeed grew to respect the values he instilled in them as boys.

His rules were among the strictest in the state:

1) No smoking or drinking.

2) In bed by 10 p.m. every night, except Friday and Saturday, when a midnight curvew was allowed.

3) Dates with girls must be kept to a minimum. No going steady.

4) Cannot miss practice without permission.

5) May not drive cars except on Sundays (remember, this was the 1940s and ’50s.)

6) Use only proper language at all times.

7) Take best possible care of equipment.

8) Keep dressing rooms clean, home and away.

Players who violated rules were ordered to run endless laps, while serious or repeat offenders were kicked off the team.

“You, as a Marion Indian, cannot do some of the things other students do,” Hipple wrote in 1952. “If you think more of smoking, drinking, dating or going steady, staying out late at night, or riding around in automobiles, then you are not willing to ‘pay the price’ and it is best for you not to take out a uniform … To be on a championship team you have to be a champion yourself.”

There are still numerous “Hipplemen” in Marion, successful businessmen and fathers who learned valuable lessons from their coach. But no mistake, they feared the man and knew they risked dismissal, with no chance for appeal.

Kellams does an excellent job of describing some of the big games and championship seasons, but it’s the historical backdrop of the town and its rapid growth during this period that grips the reader. There are fascinating behind-the-scenes stories about Marion principals, superintendents, school board members and the athletes themselves, along with the role disgruntled parents played in Hipple’s demise.

There’s a telling segment about racial discrimination at the municipal pool, along with detailed accounts about growing up in Iowa in the early and middle parts of the 20th Century.

Kellams gives a balanced account of Hipple’s life, stressing his triumphs while not ignoring the shortcomings, but the author’s deep respect for the man comes shining through.

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Les Santee surprised by Hall of Fame honor

By Jim Ecker

Metro Sports Report

Lee Santee has been an assistant swimming coach at Jefferson High School for 39 years. That’s a remarkable achievement, but he didn’t think it was worthy of any special honors.

“I thought I was only doing what I was supposed to do,” he told the Metro Sports Report.

The members of the Iowa High School Swim Coaches Association felt differently and inducted Santee into their Hall of Fame in November.

“I was surprised,” he said. “I didn’t expect it.”

Santee, 65, figures the Hall of Fame should be for elite swimmers and legendary head coaches, not a career assistant who was just doing his job.

“He doesn’t want that recognition,” said Ryan York, Jefferson’s head coach. “It’s not about him, it’s about the kids. He always wanted to make that very clear.”

This time it was about him, however.

York, 33, swam for Santee at Jefferson. So did hundreds of others, boys and girls.

“He is Jefferson swimming,” York said. “He’s a great motivator. He knows if you were having a bad day, he knew the right thing to say.”

Santee returned for his 39th season despite suffering a moderate heart attack in August.

“I talked to him the day he was at the hospital,” York related. “He said, ‘I’ll see you at practice on Monday.’ There was not a hint in his mind that he was going to retire.”

Santee had an operation on Thursday and had every intention of attending practice that Monday with the Jefferson girls’ swim team, but he didn’t make it. “My doctor said I couldn’t go,” he remarked.

He missed two or three days of practice and missed one meet. Then he returned.

It’s hard to keep Santee away from the pool, even though he wasn’t a high school swimmer himself. He grew up on a farm near What Cheer, Iowa, and Tri-County High School did not have a swimming team.

“I swam in the middle of the night, out in the river, setting fish lines,” he said.

Santee began teaching in 1967, and in 1972 Jefferson swim coach Jim Taylor asked him to help coach the team.

“He said, ‘I need somebody who can work with people,’ and I said, ‘Well, I can do that,'” Santee related.

A career as an assistant swim coach was born, even though Santee knew little about the sport.

“Nothing,” he said. “Absolutely nothing. I learned on the job.”

He never aspired to become a head coach.

“I was asked several times by different schools, but no, I never wanted to,” he said. “I was busy with other things. Being an assistant coach allowed me to kind of be several places at once.”

Santee taught at Taft, Harding and Jefferson before accepting an early-retirement package in 2002, but he never retired from coaching. York, who is half Santee’s age, doesn’t want to think about him retiring.

“It’s been a pleasure working with him,” York said. “I look forward to it every day.”

The Jefferson boys’ swim team practices at 5:30 in the morning. Santee beats them to the pool.

“Every morning,” York said. “He’s there at 5 or 5:10 every morning. We get there and just chat.”

Santee, who lives on 32 acres in Swisher, is accustomed to getting up early, dating to his days on the family farm neat What Cheer when he had to milk cows by hand.

“You did your chores first, then you had breakfast,” he said.

He’s still doing his chores, and after 39 years it landed him in the Iowa High School Swim Coaches Association Hall of Fame. They think he’s the only assistant coach in the Hall of Fame, but nobody is sure.

“It’s quite an honor,” he said.

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Washington boys swimming: A banner program

By Jim Ecker

Metro Sports Report

Chris Cruise has helped Cedar Rapids Washington win eight state titles in boys swimming during the past 25 years as an athlete, assistant coach and head coach, but that eighth title in 2008 was the best of the bunch.

It was his first state title as head coach at Washington and put his name alongside legendary Wash swim coaches Hal Krizan and Jim Voss, the two men who established the Warriors as the premier swim program in the state for four decades.

Cruise greatly enjoyed that title in 2008. “The most unbelievable experience I’ve ever had as a participant or coach,” he told the Metro Sports Report.

Krizan founded the Washington swim program in 1956 and collected 11 state titles, including 10 straight from 1964 through 1973. Voss succeeded Krizan and earned 15 state crowns from 1974 through 1997. That made 26 state titles in 41 years, a remarkable string of success.

Cruise succeeded Voss in 1999. It took nine years until the Warriors returned to the top, but he mde it.

“We had some pretty lean years for a while,” he said. “I know it was a little bit discouraging for a lot of our kids, and it was a little discouraging for me, too.”

Other schools caught up, or maybe Washington slipped a little, but the Warriors still have one of the premier programs in the state.

Cruise, 40, swam for state championship teams at Washington in 1987-88-89. He won two individual state titles in the breaststroke, swam on championship relay teams and was named an All-American.

He later joined the Washington coaching staff and helped the Warriors take four more state titles in 1994, ’95, ’96 and ’97, although he left midway through the 1997 season for his student teaching at another school.

Cruise swam for Voss, then worked for Voss, then succeeded Voss as head coach.

“It was always a great thrill to work under Jim,” he said. “He was a tremendous coach, obviously. He was just a phenomenal person to be around.”

Remarkably, there have been only three head coaches at Washington in 55 years: Krizan from 1956-73, Voss from 1974-98 and Cruise from 1999-2011.

“I feel very fortunate and very blessed to be able to follow in their footsteps,” Cruise said. “They’re obviously two tremendous coaches. They had a tremendous impact on the sport of swimming here at Washington and in the state of Iowa as well.”

Cruise acknowledges it was “difficult at first” to succeed two legends.

“You don’t want to reinvent the wheel, sort to speak,” he said, “but you have to make it fit within your own personality and the things you’re comfortable with. I feel like I’ve been able to put my own stamp on the program.”

The state championship banners sparkle in the Washington pool. There also are spots devoted to Randy Ableman and Kent Ferguson, Washington’s two U.S. Olympic divers, and to Tim DeBoom, a Washington swimmer who was the world champion in the Ironman Triathlon in 2001 and 2002.

Cruise began visiting the Washington pool as a young boy.

“I think when you walk in for the first time, you see all those banners that are up on the wall,” he said. “Back then, it was a little different than what it is now. We only had these little squares (for each state title), but there were quite a few squares hanging off the bottom of that banner. It was pretty impressive.”

Remarkably, Washington has won 47 straight district swim titles. The Warriors will shoot for No.48 on Feb. 5, then aim for the state meet Feb. 12. The goal, as always, is to keep winning, keep adding banners.

“I feel very fortunate to be part of that,” Cruise said, “and I hope it continues for many more years to come.”

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Wash’s Ashley Piper headed to Colorado Christian

By Jim Ecker


Ashley Piper had never heard of Colorado Christian University prior to last summer, but she’s learning fast.

Piper has signed a national letter-of-intent to play basketball at the NCAA Division II school in Lakewood, Colo., next season.

Piper, a 5-foot-9 guard, is averaging 7.1 points for the Cedar Rapids Washington girls’ basketball team, which is 9-0 and ranked fifth in the state.

“They saw me play in a summer league game at Cornell,” Piper explained. “I’m really excited. The team is awesome and the coach is really cool.”

Colorado Christian Coach Tim Hays and the team have a 5-0 record in the Rocky Mountian Athletic Conference and are 6-2 overall.

Piper visited the school in September and signed in November, ending her search for a college. “I can enjoy my senior year and play basketball,” she said.

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No.4 Cougars too strong for Wash, Oglesby

By Jim Ecker


There were skeptics when Kennedy jumped from No.9 to No.4 in the Class 4A rankings Tuesday, but maybe the folks who vote in the AP poll knew what they were doing.

Jake Manning scored 17 points and snared 13 rebounds Tuesday night as the Cougars topped No.7 Washington, 56-51, in a Mississippi Valley Conference battle despite a brilliant display of 3-point shooting by Josh Oglesby.

Oglesby hit eight triples for the Warriors, some from tough angles, and scored 28 points in the noisy Kennedy gym. He wasn’t Josh Oglesby much of the game, he was Josh Ohhh!-glesby with his uncanny ability to make shots.

“In all the years I’ve been a head coach, I’ve never had a guy make eight 3’s on me,” Kennedy Coach Bob Fontana said. “Not even Jason Bohannon.”

The least impressed person in the Kennedy gym was Oglesby himself.

“It’s a loss,” he said. “You can say that I had a lot of points and I might have played good, but it’s a team sport and a loss to me … I didn’t play my best. I didn’t get my teammates involved.”

Oglesby may have been too tough on himself, but one thing is certain: Kennedy played very well.

The Cougars (6-0, 4-0) crashed the boards, hit all 12 of their free throws and got significant contributions from Manning, Kyle Lamaak, Jake Misener, Darius Fuller, Josiah Coleman and Christian French.

Washington (4-2, 3-1) was a two-man gang with Oglesby netting 28 points and Wes Washpun 17, giving the seniors 45 of their team’s 51 points. 

A full house beat two aces.

“Anytime you can beat a team that’s got two Division I guards like that — and they can score like they do — that’s just a great team win,” Fontana said.

“It was a good team effort,” agreed Manning, a rugged 6-foot-5 senior. “Not one guy won the game.”

Oglesby gave the Warriors a 49-48 lead with his eighth 3-pointer from the deep corner, but Manning countered with a side jumper to put Kennedy ahead to stay, 50-49.

Misener gave the Cougars a 54-51 edge with two free throws with 56 seconds left. French blocked a shot by Washpun, but the Warriors retained possession. Then came the biggest play of the game.

Coleman stole the ball from Washpun near midcourt and got fouled by the Washington guard, who pounded the court in frustration. Coleman hit both free throws with 15.5 seconds left to give Kennedy its 56-51 advantage.

 The Mississippi Valley Conference is loaded with strong teams this year, with four of them residing here in the Metro area with Linn-Mar, Jefferson, Kennedy and Washington. There are other strong clubs around the state, which is why Fontana doesn’t think his team should be ranked so high.

“We’re not the fourth-best team in the state,” he insisted. “I would have put Wash, Jeff and Linn-Mar ahead of us, and I would have put Cedar Falls ahead of us.

“I’d say right now we’re a top-10 team, but I’d say we’re more around 9 or 10. We have a lot of things to iron out before we’re in the top-4.”

Washington Coach Brad Metzger was impressed with the Cougars.

“I think Kennedy is real talented,” he said. “People are not talking as much about them, but they’ve got some real solid basketball players and athleticism. They’re going to do well.

“You can’t call them a sleeper, because they’re as good as anyone. They’ll grind it out and they’ll fight you.”

Oglesby shot 8-for-11 on 3-pointers, according to Washington’s chart. The 6-foot-6 senior put on a show that people will remember and showed why he’s got a scholarship to the University of Iowa.

“That’s a good display for people to watch, a good thing for Hawkeye fans to get excited for,” Metzger said. “He can make shots, you know? That’s great for the state of Hawkeye Nation.”

Cybryan Moa, who hit five 3-pointers in Washington’s 49-41 victory over Jefferson last week, missed all his 3-pointers Tuesday and scored two points. Washpun struggled at the foul line, going 2-for-9 and costing Wash valuable points.

Metro basketball fans got a treat last week when Wash beat Jeff with numerous stars on display, and they got another treat Tuesday night.

“The MVC is crazy-good this year,” Manning said. “Man, there’s so much talent in there.”

WASHINGTON (51): Carr 1 0-0 2, Tann 0 0-0 0, Butterfield 0 0-0 0, Washpun 7 2-9 17, Moa 1 0-0 2, Oglesby 10 0-0 28, Hoekstra 0 0-0 0, Bredl 0 0-0 0, Todd 1 0-0 2. Totals 20 2-9 51.

KENNEDY (56): Manning 7 3-3 17, Fuller 2 3-3 7, Misener 3 2-2 9, Heitland 0 0-0 0, Dixon 0 0-0 0, Christians 0 0-0 0, Lamaak 5 1-1 11, Coleman 2 3-3 8, French 2 0-0 4. Totals 21 12-12 56.

Halftime — Kennedy 25, Washington 22. 3-point goals — Washington 9 (Oglesby 8, Washpun 1), Kennedy 2 (Misener 1, Coleman 1).

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