Basic Biittner : (One of) the Best Ever

Monday, June 30, 2008

Whenever anyone embarks on an attempt to make a list of "the best (fill in the blank)," or to name a single person (or object) as "the best" at some endeavor or occupation, they quickly find themselves in no man's land, fearful that they have left someone out and might offend that person, his family, or "fans."

Having said that, let me just say up front that I am going to undertake just such an endeavor in this column, and am fully aware of the dangers. So with that, let me apologize to anyone here and now who may feel I have slighted anyone. Of course, that's one of the fun things about lists - the discussions and arguments they usually spark. Also a reminder, this list is my personal list and is not definitive.

Back to my "endeavor." I have been watching athletic contests at my alma mater, Aurelia High School, for close to fifty years now (!), and made the statement to a couple of friends this year that I felt that Jared Bruce, whose career as an AHS athlete will soon end, was the "best all-around athlete" that AHS had ever had.

"Ever," of course, covers a lot of ground - and a lot of outstanding athletes.

So I took a journey back through the cobwebs of my mind to see if my bold statement had any validity, and just who would be Jared's "competition" for this fictitious title.

Some criteria had to be set in order for a person to be considered for inclusion on this list, and I decided that candidates : 1) must have participated in at least three varsity sports (and had a substantial high school career in each sport); 2) must have competed between the years of 1958 and 2008, meaning I actually saw them compete. Some of the pre-1958 Aurelia athletes who were thus not even considered for this (non-existent) title include - among many others - Paul Jones, who went on to become an All-American football player at Iowa State Teacher's College (now UNI); John Christensen, who played halfback on three undefeated football squads in the 1930s and long jumped over 20 feet - a school record that stood for 30 years; and Red Brownmiller and Lanny Grigsby from the 1950s. Grigsby later played and coached college baseball at Buena Vista, and Brownmiller was considered by the legendary Aurelia coach, the late Bill Hodam, to be the "best athlete (he) ever coached." Since many of the players who did make the list were also coached by Hode, that statement alone is pretty impressive.; and 3) must be male, because basketball was the only girls' sport in Aurelia for many of these years, and so there aren't a lot of candidates who would meet my first criteria.

Here is my list of the top Aurelia male athletes of the last 50 years, by decade :

1959 - 1968 - Denny McCleerey, Royce Dyslin, Rick Hodam, Rod Nelson, Mark Ammons, Roger Jones, Steve Menefee

1969 - 1978 - Tom Estes,Tim Hills, Mike Tolzin, Scott Whitmore

1979 - 1988 - Doug Lockin, Pat Miller, Lee Evans,

Ryan Kolpin, Jared Rapp, Ben Johnson and Greg Nelson

1989 - 1998 - (Alta/Aurelia) - Tom Radke, Cory Wuebben

1999 - 2008 - Jacob Bruce, Jared Bruce

I have listed 22 athletes, ALL of whom put in a lot of quality minutes of play for a lot of great (and some not - so - great) Bulldog (and Warrior) teams over the last half century. My decision? I took the "high road" (otherwise known as the chicken way out) and opted not to try and pick any one of them as the "best ever."

I do feel, however, that my personal "Top 5" would include Dyslin, Jones, Lockin, Evans and - Jared Bruce.

So as the hustling, always- fun - to - watch Bruce winds up his athletic career as a quarterback, point guard, distance runner, pitcher, and (occasional) wrestler for Aurelia, I salute him as one of the five best athletes that I have ever had the pleasure to watch perform for the school's teams.

I wish the young man, the son of Darin and Angie Bruce - nothing but the best in the future, as he continues to perform on the gridiron - first in the July 26 Shrine football game in Ames, and then for another of my alma maters, Buena Vista, beginning this fall.

Go get 'em, Jared!