When Jefferson's basketball program was launched back in the winter of 1957-58, the coaches and participants were confronted with some of the same handicaps that had been encountered by their football counterparts. The student body, including the athletes, were still divided between "North" and "South" through the school day, and it was difficult to establish a spirit of unity. Then, to the J-Hawks, and no home court yet. the varsity practice at Roosevelt, the sophomores at Wilson, and they both had to play their games at Coe College.
But more importantly, during the initial season and the next few that followed, it was a case of just not possessing quite as much physical size and talent as their opponents. The J-Hawks had a proven coach and gang of willing athletes, but, like the Blue teams on the gridiron, the gallant efforts usually ended up a little short on the scoreboard.
Earl Klinzman, the coach of those good ball clubs at McKinley High School, prior to the east-side and west-side mergers, moved across the river with his colleague, Bob Ask, and together they joined with the newcomer Luvern "Dutch" Sauerbry to get things going. Sauerbry aided Klinzman on the varsity while Ask took over the J-Hawk sophomores. But the challenge the forced Jeff's first basketball staff was a mighty one. Klinzman was greeted by only six men who had lettered at Wilson and Roosevelt the the year before and only one of them stood six feet tall. The J-Hawks did manage to find two players of just under 6'2", but the big blue was in reality the "Little Blue" in every contest. It proved to be a long winter for Jefferson in the rugged MVC, and the club ended up winless. It was much the same story in 1958-59, but this time around the J-Hawks did pull off a mighty 44-40 upset of the Washington Warriors before a near capacity crowd in the Jeff gym. Klinzman resigned from the basketball position following the 1958-59 season, and the task was handed over to Gaylong "Gay" Dahn, a Coe graduate who had recently directed a three-year basketball resurgence at Mount Pleasant.
But the energetic young coach was also going to have to pay his dues and learn patience in the process before moving up the ladder. Dahn's first cagers, in 1959-60, could do no better. The single highlight was a 55-37 victory over Marion, but, beyond that, the best the team could do was come close. Gradually, however, the J-Hawks were making key strides-for example, it forced powerful Moline to go all-out and pushed Dubuque into two overtimes before yielding. After one more losing, but improving effort, 1960-61, a 5-15 year, Jeff's cage fortunes under Dahn took a dramatic surge upward, and the mid-1960's were to be great years for the Blue squads.
In fact, it was almost unbelievable. In 1961-62, Jefferson rang up a 19-4 overall record and finished second to Moline in the Valley race with a 13-3 showing. The great football player, Dave Long, was chosen the team's most valuable member. He was joined by Dick Schley. Larry Corfal, Sid Wingfield and Dennis Usher on the starting five, and it was a most potent group. Bob Noonan moved from Wilson Junior High School at this point to assist Dahn while Sauerby and Allen continued to coach Jeff's sophomores.
In 1962-63, Dahn's fourth year, things leveled off but the J-Hawks still managed to pull out a winning season at 11-10. then, in 63-64 it was back to big achievements for the CR west-siders. Jeff started slowly, winning only two of its first eight encounters. But it finished the regular slate on a high note, succeeding in its last four games to even out at 9-9 before tournament play. On its way to Des Moines, Jeff clipped three metro rivals, Marion, Regis, and Washington. Following two sub state victories, it was on to Vets Auditorium for Dahn's "surprise package."
Jefferson knocked out Sioux City Central in the opening round by two points and then followed with a more relaxing win over Algona. But, in the big finale, the J-Hawk machine finally ran out of gas, succumbing to Newton, 44-39. With that setback, Jeff's final record was 16-10.
The state runner-up had stars aplenty. The co-captains were Mark Noll and Dave Karasek, and they were supported by Al Jenkins, Bill Salat, Gene Miller and Dick Mullin. Jenkins was selected all-state by the Des Moines Register and Salat made the all-tournament team.
Here the J-Hawks received their State Championship trophy in 1967. From Left: Steve Erusha, Jim Nance, Larry Baker, B.J. Trickey, Larry Lawrence, and Dennis Hoelker.
The 1964-65 season was almost a carbon copy of its predecessor, but the dream didn't extend this time to Des Moines and the state tourney. It was another 9-9 regular campaign, highlighted by a thrilling 89-88 overtime upset of visiting East Moline, rated number three in Illinois. Then, in post-season competition, the J-hawks reeled off four victories before falling to Keokuk in the sub-state finals. Hence, it was 14-10 this time around, and another exciting season slipped into history. The co-captains of this club were Larry Clauson and Jim Norris. Al Jenkins, who tallied 34 points against East Moline and was the team's leading scorer, was back to receive second team all-state recognition.
Things were still building up in the Jeff cage picture in 1965-66 in preparation for the peak that was to come one year later. This time Dahn's boys won ten in a row that at one stretch and grabbed runner-up honors in the MVC, the highest finish ever for an Iowa school in Valley basketball. The high points of the year were responding victories over Cedar Rapids Washington and Moline. Later, conference triumphs over Rock Island and West Davenport concluded the regular season, leaving Jeff with a league mark of 12-4, one game behind Moline. After repelling highly rated Regis in the district opener, the J-hawks went ice cold against Wash in the finals at the Iowa Fieldhouse, and the bubble burst, 46-42. There wasn't one single standout; the J-Hawks were a well balanced aggregation. four players averaged in double figures - Pat Driscoll, Bob Sample, B.J. Trickey and Larry Baker.
Then it happened - state champions! The big year was 1966-67, and finally the Jefferson J-Hawks, close so often, went the distance. Jeff lost the fourth game of the season to eventual co-champion Rock Island, but after that, it was win, win, win. the J-Hawks ended the schedule 17-1, went 4-0 in district and sub-state play, including a third victory over the Warriors, and then were victories three times down in Des Moines to win the crown.
In the first round, Jeff blasted Sioux City Heelan 82-49, and, in the semi-finals, whipped Dubuque Wahlert 90-69. The championship contest against Ames was breath-taking for the Jefferson people - team and fans. Their favorites fell behind quickly, seemingly incapable of buying a basket. It was 10-0 before the J-Hawks could find the range. They played Ames even the rest of the first half, but, with that early deficit, the MVC entry was still down by a dozen at intermission, 35-23. It go worse before it got better for Gay Dahn's club. The Little Cyclones increased the bulge up to fifteen in the third quarter before the tide turned through the final period and finally went ahead for the first time with only 1:32 remaining. But it ended up even and went into overtime. With a narrow one point lead, playmaker Larry Lawerence took charge, went into a dribbling act that took nearly 40 seconds off the clock before he was fouled with exactly 12 seconds left. Cedar Rapids Jefferson took the state title with a 72-71 victory.
The J-Hawks also had another great season in 1979-80 at 15-5, the season ranked 8th in the state’s 3-A rankings. The starting five consisted of Brad Peters, Jeff High Wayne Rust, John “Red” Kenny and Marck Lee. The only opponents to beat Jefferson that year were the eventual state champions Dubuque Wahlert and the third-place state tourney team, Cedar Rapids Washington.
Smith’s 1980-81 was only averaged overall, but it did record some major accomplishments. It became the first Jefferson team ever to win at the new Five Season Center with a 48-44 conquest of the Warriors. And, it had the pleasure of knocking off distinguished Dubuque Wahlert on its own floor, breaking the Eagles’ three-year winning streak at home.
In 1981-82, the J-Hawk cagers again only split even over the long haul but once more, attained some worthy feats. Refuting the experts who gave them little chance, this courageous group finished in the upper division of the league, beat Washington on its floor, always difficult to do, and later eliminated the perennial power Marshalltown in the district finale. It was a most satisfying year.
The last two years were difficult for the J-Hawk cagers. Though they played a good brand and made steady improvement, it just didn't on the scoreboard or in the record book. For one thing, the metro area had an unusual number of outstanding teams and then, of course, there was always Dubuque Wahlert to contend with. Smith resigned from the system following the 1983-84 school year and Jefferson was once again in the market for a basketball coach.
Standouts were plentiful in Glenn Smith's reign as Jefferson's basketball boss. Ed Uthoff won 5th team all-state honors following the 77-78 season and Brad Peters got the same recognition two years later. Other top performers for Smith were John Kenny, Dave Stevens, Bob Driscoll, and the Schneekloth brothers, Mike and Tim.
Coaching aides to Smith on the varsity level were Ron Capps and Joe Kenny.
On May 17, 1984, Dr. William Jacobson presented the new Jefferson boy's basketball coach at a press conference. Chosen to guide the J-Hawk cagers was Don Ziegler, a veteran coach whose most recent experience was resurrecting the Boune High School program. The Jefferson boy's basketball fans and the players are "hungry" for another winning ball club. With Ziegler, they feel that the school's program is in good hands. Who knows? Maybe next year!