AURELIA - It's certainly not unusual, especially in small town Iowa, to find several members of one family involved in the same school activity, whether the activity is music, sports, or speech .
Most schools have had this occur over a period of several years, or even decades, if the family has lived in town for more than one generaton. In my hometown of Aurelia, we even had a case of two families, the Ladell Rapps and the John Christensens, in which both the father and his eldest son were members of undefeated Aurelia football teams - Ladell and John for Lyle Poulsen's late-1930s powerhouse, and their sons Bruce Rapp and Jack Christensen for Bill Hodam's 8-0 1962 team.
Aurelia, like many schools, has also had several instances of two brothers (or two sisters) playing together on the same Bulldog (or Atom) team. No, that is not a common situation, but certainly not unusual - or unique to Aurelia. Probably the most unique Aurelia athletic family situation up to this point would have been the Paul Jones family. Jones, a 1934 Aurelia grad and subsequent All-American football player at Iowa State Teacher's College (now UNI) , has three sons and a daughter, and in the 1964 football season, his sons Ron, a senior quarterback; Roger, a sophomore linebacker; and Bruce, a freshman defensive back were all starters for the Bulldog football squad. Daughter Janis, a 1961 grad, started at guard for the Atoms' 6-player basketball squad - the only sport available to girls at Aurelia in those days.
An even more unique situation, though, is that which Aurelia fans have been privileged to witness this year. Last year, the Bulldog football, basketball, and track fans saw a lot of brothers Jacob and Jared Bruce, as they were regulars in those sports. This past basketball season, though, younger brother Aaron, a sophomore, joined the party. Aaron was on the junior varsity at the beginning of the season (note the different uniform in the photo of the three brothers taken at the pre-season "press day"). The boys' father, Darin Bruce, said that Aaron's goal this season was to play ball with his brothers before Jacob, a senior, graduated.
Aaron worked hard, and met his goal - and more. By mid-season, he was in the starting five for coach Grant Peckenschneider's team, joining his brothers to comprise 60 percent of the starting lineup. It was definitely not some kind of publicity stunt, though, because Aaron continued starting through the rest of the season, and often led the team in rebounding, scoring, or both. Darin admits that he was pleasantly surprised by Aaron's progress this season, saying he really didn't think at the beginning of the season that he was "varsity material" yet.
Jacob was the team's leading scorer for the season, and a first-team All- Conference selection. He scored a total of 785 points the last two seasons, and added 240 rebounds, 165 assists, and 159 steals. Coach Peckenschneider notes that the Bulldogs had a better won-loss record this year in games where Jacob scored 20 points or more than they did in the rest of their games.
Jared had his share of points, too, but, as the point guard, his main job was to get the ball to his brothers and the other team members. The junior has totaled 385 points, 222 rebounds, and 123 steals in his two years on the varsity, and he also averaged five assists per game. Sophomore Aaron shot 55 percent from the field in varsity games this year, and averaged 8.5 points and 4.7 rebounds a game.
Jared is used to passing off. During the football season, quarterback Jared teamed up with wide receiver Jacob to form one of the top passing combos in the state. Parents Darin and Angie Bruce, who were described by one of the high school coaches as "super parents," confirm that the boys played catch in the yard as they grew up, and said that every Christmas, the boys would get a new football, basketball, and soccer ball, because "the old ones were worn out."
In the 2005 and 2006 football seasons, Jared Bruce completed 136 passes in 261 attempts, good for 2770 yards and 41 touchdowns., with 83 of those completions to Jacob, who gained 1975 yards and scored 34 touchdowns. The senior also returned 20 punts and 41 kickoffs in those two seasons, for an additional 1335 yards and more touchdowns. Oh yeah - he also made 140 tackles and 12 interceptions for the two seasons, including nine interceptions this season. Jacob scored a total of 262 points for the Bulldog gridders. Jared also threw two passes to Aaron, and the younger brother scored on both receptions. He also served as a backup quarterback to Jared.
His parents said Aaron is able to play both positions, saying , "Who do you think had to chase down and throw back" all the errant passes when the three boys would play in the yard?
Darin, the son of Jerry and Jolene (Rapp) Bruce, is a 1984 Aurelia graduate, and is employed at Tyson Foods in Cherokee. He said he has always encouraged his sons, as well as 14-year-old daughter Courtney, to get involved in all sports, feeling there was "no sense sitting around and getting out of shape" between the seasons of their favorite sport. With that in mind, all three boys participated in youth soccer and baseball, and wrestled in junior high, where the split season allowed them to do this, yet still play basketball.
Little sister Courtney has practiced this philosophy, too, as she plays volleyball, basketball, track and softball. Courtney is an eighth grader this year, so next year there will still be three family members in Aurelia High School.
The Bruce family lives right across the street from the school, and when I mentioned that there should be no excuse for any of them being late for school, Darin responded: "They'd have to get by Secretary Mom first." This was a reference to Angie's job as High School Principal Dave Hickman's secretary, and her office location near the front door of the high school.
The Bruces are a close-knit family, with a good sense of humor. They related several humorous family stories during the course of our meeting, but, unfortunately, I don't have the space here to share any of them.
Angie did say that it has been "enjoyable watching them grow up," and that she "would have never thought the boys would have this much success playing together," after the years of watching their competitiveness against each other. Darin said that all four kids are very competitive, and that they have just continued to get tougher, through all the "bloody noses, bloody lips, and broken glasses."
Darin admitted that he may have let things go a bit further than he should have, as the kids were beating on each other growing up, saying that he was "trying to toughen them up." I think it worked. The kids are tough competitors today, and it sure beat naming the boys "Sue," as in the Johnny Cash song.
The Bruce Boys don't have many idle moments. In addition to school and sports, they all work at Sleezer Pork, meaning they get up very early - and also go to bed pretty early, too.
In track this spring, Jared will continue to be one of the area's top runners, competing in the 3200, 1600 , and 800 meter runs, and on relays. Jacob will run sprint events, like the 200 and 400 meters. Aaron said he'd be doing "Whatever they (the coaches) want." Coach Mike Fry thought he would probably be "In a position to battle for a spot on the relays" this year. Fry said, "If Aaron maintains his mental toughness, he is on track to reach his potential."
Jacob will have earned 10 letters in football, basketball, and track by the time he graduates in May, and younger brother Jared, who also competes in baseball, will also have 10, with another year to go.
From all accounts, Jared was a very good wrestler when he was younger, and even suited up with the varsity wrestling team at a meet or two this year as a favor to the coach , because "They didn't have anyone with much wrestling experience at the 152 pound weight."
Aaron will have earned three letters by the end of the track season, with two more years to go.The three boys each have a different favorite sport - Jacob's is football, Jared's is track, and Aaron's is basketball. They do play golf, too, but "just for fun," although Jared is considering golfing for the school team this year, too.
The boys also have different favorite NFL teams - the Redskins, Cowboys, and Jaguars - and their favorite school subjects differ as well. Aaron likes Math, Jared likes Health and Graphics, and Jacob enjoys Woodworking.
Jacob's plans after graduation are not set in stone at this time, but he is leaning towards attending Iowa Central Community College in Fort Didge, playing football there, and then pursuing coaching and teaching physical education as a vocation. He also enjoys doing woodworking, and has thought about possibly teaching Industrial Arts.
Jared said that beating Alta in the District basketball tournament this winter was one of the favorite moments of his athletic career, along with the exciting football victory over Elk Horn-Kimballton when he was a sophomore. The Bulldogs scored 24 points in 26 seconds in that contest to win the game in so exciting a fashion that it landed both Jared and Jacob's mugs in the "Faces In The Crowd" section in Sports Illustrated magazine the following week.
Comments from coaches regarding the Bruce brothers all mention the boys' good work habits, their competitive nature , and their willingness to do whatever is asked of them. Football coach Myron Radke calls Jacob "A leader by example," and Jared "A leader of leaders." All the coaches we spoke with also commented on how much Aaron has improved in all sports this year.
Coach Radke said that the boys "are loved by all the elementary students, and respected by all the adults in the community."