The ‘Green Wave’ turns ‘Irish’
Cherokee IC basketball Glory Days
On a recent cool and windy day, I took a stroll down the quiet halls of what once was a "full of life" Immaculate Conception Catholic High School here.
It was sad and too quiet. The lights were dim. You could hear a pin drop. Something came over me. I felt myself missing the hustle and bustle of this hallway on game days. The anticipation and excitement of tonight's game. The green "beanies" on every grade school boys' head. Everyone in Irish green and white. The sainted sisters proudly
sporting their "Go Irish" buttons and praying for a win. It felt like family, and it was.
I continued through the schools halls, and made my way into the gym. No kidding, I could smell the popcorn. You could hear former IC Coaches Jerry Bissell and Bill Spears barking out instructions, teaching the game of basketball and of life. The cheerleaders, Cathy Clark, Joyce Messerole, Polly Eisenmenger, Vicki Glassmaker, Judy Kohn, Ellen
Holton, Jane Schmillen, Cathy Campbell, Edi Sheehan and Suzanne Brown all rooting on the famed IC fast-break style basketball and coaxing cheers from the student stage section.
Jim McCarthy perched in the rafters filming the games. Everyone at IC in attendance. Cheerleaders jumping up on the stage after every cheer. How did they do that all night?
But on this March day, like most days since the final graduating class gathered here in 1969, it is eerily quiet and still. The trophy case sleeps in darkness. I squint to read the inscriptions on the trophies. Perhaps they have a story or two to tell. Ya think?
So, in my best Irish brogue, '"It 'twas the time of the Irish."
With St. Patrick's Day just passed, it's only fitting we take a leprechaun peek back to the Cherokee Immaculate Conception Catholic High School basketball glory days.
"THE GREEN WAVE"
Before they were the "Irish." who knew the IC basketball teams in the 1930's were called "The Green Wave?"
I attended school at IC for nine years never knowing anything about "The Green Wave." We were always the "IC Irish." And, how many of us remember the 1938 and 1939 IC teams that participated in the school's first ever back-to-back state tournaments?
That's right. "The Green Wave" of '38 lost a first round 31-27 decision to Defiance in the Ninth Annual Catholic State High School Basketball Tournament held in Davenport.
The next year in Dubuque, IC's 1939 Diocesan Champs contingent qualified again for state, but lost in the second round to Mason City, 33-23.
Players on those '38-39 teams, coached by Jim Brockway, were Cyril "Hap" Gravenish, Paul Timmins, Walter Rupp, Claude Timmins, Jim Cosgrove, Junior Dugan, Staver Hyndman, Paul Campbell , Tom McCullough, Charles Bush, and student managers Bob Day, J. Eisenmenger and Paul Mansfield.
In '39, Hap Gravenish was a second team all-state selection and first team all-tourney selection along with teammate Walter Rupp. Hap later became head coach of the IC cagers. And, a little further down the road in 1965, he would see his daughter, Linda, crowned his alma-mater's Homecoming Queen.
Thanks to Linda's (Lee) "Rock Hudson" scrapbook, we noted in January of 1940, Hap and a few other Cherokee "All-Stars," played host to the always popular Harlem Globe Trotters basketball team. Gravenish led the Cherokeans with 14 points and displayed "some classy dribbling and passing," according to a Daily Times article. "Chick" Evans,
Cleghorn, and Nitzke, Aurelia, turned in sparkling games as did King of Meriden and Timmins, Cherokee, quoted the local press. Oh yes, the Trotters won.
Now let's leap ahead to the 1960s, specifically the years 1964 thru 1968. This was an awesome span for the IC Irish basketball family.
In the mid-1960s, Coach Jerry Bissell spent three seasons as the leader of IC teams who would post a spectacular 62-8 record. Bissell's Irish would go 20-4 (64-65), 23-2 (65-66), and 19-2 (66-67). Then in 1967-68, Bill Spears took over the Irish reins, and his club finished 18-3.
So, that's 80-11 in four seasons. Pretty good, huh? To make that kind of run, it took a lot of special players and a basketball family that believed in each other. Let's look back at some of the players and highlights of those glory years.
Cherokee IC 1964-65 Season (20-4)
This was the first of four-year run. It was dubbed "the greatest Irish season in history." by the local scribes.
This special team was led by starters Cyril Boever, Giles Struck, Chuck George, Denny Mansfield and Dan Dugan. Also instrumental in this noteble roster were Tom George, Mike Phelan, Dan McCarthy, Dave Timmins, Randy Langholdt, Pat Sutter, Dean Curtis, Chuck Kohn, Dan Glassmaker and Don Faber.
As a team, the '64-65 Irish established a astounding 43 school records. They were spearheaded by the versatile play of talented senior playmaker Denny Mansfield. Denny was the first ever named to the "IC Hall of Fame." He became the first IC cager to surpass the 1,000-point mark, averaging 21.4 points per game and setting seven new
individual school records. Denny was also named to the Iowa Newspaper Association's All-State 5th Team.
In this season a full-court pressure, run-and-gun Irish piled up 1,789 points for a 74.5 average per game and netted 102 points in one game against Danbury Catholic. Struck, a flashy playmaking junior, was the squad's leader in assists and second leading scorer with 397 points, followed by Chuck George with 355 points.
The 64-65 Irish were the first IC team to win a sectional title in 25 years with a 74-48 win over the Galva Blue Devils. The dream season ended however, when a Jim Kriege led Remsen St. Mary's team topped the Irish 73-62 in district play.
Cherokee IC 1965-66 Season (23-2)
And you thought the 64-65 season was fun.
This campaign was even better. More school records. More of everything, including a Diocesan Championship, the first since 1939 Green Wave! It was the year of Chuck, Giles and company. Here's how it went down -- both Chuck and Giles joined the 1,000 point club this season leading the Irish to its' best ever record. Not that is wasn't a team
effort, but Chuck and Giles were special players. The stats speak for themselves.
"Jerry Bissell's second campaign on the Irish hill was intriguing, invigorating and often spectacular," wrote Cherokee Daily Times scribe Frank Buckingham about the 65-66 season.
George was the first ever Cherokee cager to lead the Hawkeye State with most points scored in a season at 781. He finished his career with over 1400 points. A dedicated, driven athlete, Chuck won four straight Diocesan Free Throw championships. In a 126-51 win over Willow, Chuck hit 44 points to tie older brother Ronnie George's record.
A sidenote...I joined Cherokee brothers Tim, Jeff and David Greenwood in rebounding for Chuck. We were gym rats and we were the guys who rebounded thousands of free throws for our idol Chuck, who then established his incredible accuracy at the line. No
kidding, we rebounded so many shots our fingers bled. Chuck spent every available moment he had to improve his game.
"His devotion, desire and willingness to punish himself in order to be just a notch above the rest paid off for Chuck George," wrote Buckingham. "His rigid adherence to the conditioning rules might be a lesson or guideline for other younger Irish to use in the future."
All kinds of accolades for Chuck - Des Moines Register All-State, Channel 9 Top Prep '66; 2nd Team All-NW Iowa; 7th Team All State; First Team All-Conference; IC Hall of Fame Inductee; 4 time CYO Diocesan Free Throw champ. Chuck hit his peak with a 46
point performance against Emmetsburg that year to establish yet another IC record.
Chuck was not alone on this trip. Multi-talented teammate Struck, a career assist leader, finished with a boatload of honors as well - Two-time All-Diocesan Tourney; Channel 4 Hall of Fame; 2nd Team All-NW Iowa; 5th Team All-State; First Team All-Conference; 1153 career points; IC Hall of Famer. In a game against Remsen St. Mary's, Giles tossed in 15 of 17 goals for 88.2% shooting. A fantastic floor general and National Honor Society student.
This truly was a special team with junior veterans Dan Dugan and Tom George often times breaking into double figures. Tom, a tenacious defender, spearheaded the Irish belly-button defense, and in one game had seven blocked shots.
Buckingham wrote, "The kangaroo-like leaps of Tom George on shot blocking were noteworthy."
Also breaking into the starting lineup, another Mansfield, sophomore Dave, who helped fuel the fas-paced offense. Other contributing members of the squad were seniors Mike Phelan and Bob Bergen, juniors Dave Timmins, John Eisenmenger, and Dan Sheehan,
sophomore John Schissel and lone frosh Larry Timmins.
In tourney play, the Irish were dubbed the "District Darkhorse," and faced LeMars Central in the district final. "Great Irish Try Falls Short 80-77" read the headlines of the sport page. It was over in an instant but never forgotten. In that same tourney, LeMars ousted Cherokee's Braves by almost the same score, 82-77.
Cherokee 1966-67 Season (19-2)
"Tom (George) is the best total player I have ever coached," noted Coach Jerry Bissell after his final season as Irish coach. And, that's really saying something when you think back to Giles and Chuck.
Tom ended with a career total 771 points, 664 rebounds and 206 assists. He was also a National Honor Society student. He ended with a career field shooting average of 46.8 percent and dipped in 209 of 283 free throws for 73.4 percent. The thing that set Tom apart was his tenacity. He played hard at both ends of the floor all the time.
This IC team, paced by Dugan and George, kept IC's home win streak alive at 29 straight. The dynamic duo combined for 63 points in their final bow at the IC gym, beating Granville-Spalding 90-68.
Most of Dugan's shots all season came from well beyond what we know today as the three-point line. There was no three pointers and one can only imagine was Dugan would have done had he been gifted with a three point line.
This team also was blessed by talented junior guards Chris Campbell and John Schissel, and another top performer Dave Mansfield. The Irish won 13 straight until losing to Remsen St. Marys, only to get revenge with a 29 point win over Remsen later in the year.
This was Bissell's final season at IC and he amassed in impressive 62-8 record here.
George and cross-town Cherokee Braves' cager, Tom Graves,
were both named honorable mention all-state.
I often wonder what might have been had the Irish and Braves been one throughout those glory days of the 1960s. I'm guessing pretty darn tough!
Cherokee IC 1967-68 Season (18-3)
Bill Spears was the Irish new head coach, but the results this season were the same. His team employed a full-court pressure defense spearheaded by the crafty guard play of Campbell and Schissel. The Irish offered a balanced offensive attack and were the Quad
County Conference champions.
Dave Mansfield, Pat Sheehan and Larry Timmins were key contributors on this squad, which had lost nine seniors from the 1966-67 team. The Irish winning tradition continued. Others key contributors on the roster wre Kevin Woltman, Bob Broderson, Jim MacKowski, Gerald Tallman and Jimmy "Pee-wee" Anderson.
In late February of 1968, the Irish defeated Meriden-Cleghorn 66-56, and Marcus 81-68 to earn a crack at Class A No. 1 -ranked Paullina. This was the beginning of Paullina's dominance for several years to come. A Neil Fegebank - led Paullina squad, eventual state champs that year, defeated IC in district play 89-59. It was reported that 1,800 fans packed the Paullina gym for the game, and over 500 disgruntled fans were turned away.
This cold night in March ended IC's fantastic four-season run. The school would soon merge with Cherokee Washington High and begin building more memories as Cherokee Braves.
(Editor’s note: A special thank you to IC alums Linda Lee and John Snapp for helping provide information to Denny Holton and photos for this look into the Irish glory years.)