20 years in the making

When you grow up in a small town, one of the biggest deals in town after cruising, is athletics.

That was certainly true in Jesup when I was growing up there in the 80s and 90s.

Sports were a chance of escape or adventure. No one went to the pros, but to Des Moines for the state tournaments. We never sent teams, but would go to see others play and dream that maybe someday we’d play at Veteran’s Auditorium.

Everyone went to the basketball games, especially when both boys and girls teams were good, football games, even when they didn’t win a game for years and later softball games.

Program page from the Iowa High School Athletic Union. (image from Jaye Donlea Miller)

During the summer of 1990, I was getting ready to enter high school. I wasn’t good enough to be a pinch runner for the varsity baseball team, but knew many of the guys on the team and our field was in the same complex as the softball team. So, we got to know some of the girls as well. Who am I kidding, of course we knew WHO the girls were, they didn’t know who WE were.

The summer of 1990, something special was brewing on the softball side of the complex. The girls were playing great ball and were winning a lot of games. In fact, they won 39 of them and only lost four before making the state tournament for the time in school history.

This year, the Jesup High School Softball team is going back to state for the first time since 1992. But just two years before in 1990, it wasn’t a return trip, but an inaugural venture to Fort Dodge.

Team picture following welcome home ceremony. (image from Jesup Citizen Herald/Jaye Donley Miller)

Its been 20 years since the girls in orange and blue almost did the unthinkable and dominate large school en route to a state title. Back then, all classes were in one big tournament. Jesup beat Ottumwa, before losing to eventual state champion West Des Moines Valley in the semi-finals. Jesup beat Mason City Newman (who had my future co-worker Amy Fleming on that team as an 8th grader) in the consolation game.

Rod Elson was the head coach, who also was the wrestling coach. Workouts for the girls looked like something out of the wrestling room. They were intense, as was he.

That 1990 team was fast. They stole a lot of bases and had overall speed. Many of the girls also ran track, even making it to state track in several events.

Jody Bolton was a senior playing center. Jaye Donlea played short and batted second most nights. Sophomore Amy Kies was the big power bat. She played first. Nan Schlee split pitching and second base duties with her twin sister Babs. Carrie Zuck played OF and also DH’d, she was just a freshman that year. Seniors Amber Kresser caught, with Tracie Bickert in left and Suzie Zuck in right. Another freshman starter was Kellie Bevans at 3rd.

Also on the team were: Shannon Foster (who would pitch a perfect game at state in 1992), Missy Beyer, Jill Fox, Amy Cagley, Heather Westphal, Mary Anton, Amanda Kopplin and Nikki Jacoby.

Many members of that 1990 squad would go on to play in college. One of those players was Jaye (Donlea) Miller.

“It was an awesome experience, not just for us players, but also for the parents, community, etc.,” Donlea, now Miller said. ” It made it even more exciting beating those larger schools, showing everyone that we could play with the “big dogs”. Coach Elson had a big role in starting a softball phenom in Jesup with our class. He worked us hard, but it surely paid off!”

Miller went on to play at NIACC in Mason City. Then she would play at UNI in Cedar Falls. She now has a daughter that will get to see Jesup on the stage this week against Mount Vernon in the 2010 State Softball Tournament.

“My daughter is at the age now where she is really getting into softball, so it’s nice to share this experience with her. Taking her to these state games will show her how exciting it is to play at this level,” Jaye added.

I remember taking a pep bus from Jesup to Ft. Dodge. It was a long trip, but fun to be part of that experience. Many other people drove. It was a “last one out turn out the lights” kind of thing that week.

That fact didn’t go unnoticed for players like Miller. “The most exciting part about playing at the state softball tournament was seeing all our fans cheering us on. I think the whole town was there. I believe Jesup had the most spectators of any school attending!”

“I remember making the trip with grandma and grandpa in the old van. Think we went every game!” said Amy Wood Rahe. The town was all abuzz over that team. Some were even displayed school colors, like Clint Fuller. He, and many others, painted their chests blue or orange to match the school colors.

“Nothing pulls Jesup together like a trip to the state tournament, other than the beer tent at Farmers Day!” said Fuller this week on my Facebook wall.

“This was an awesome experience you’ll never forget and hopefully these girls can come away with the same type of experience and someday share with their kids,” added Miller.

None of the girls on this year’s Jesup squad were alive in 1990. But that doesn’t mean they don’t know about the best finish ever by a Jesup softball team at state. This year’s team could be the cardiac kids as they’ve won several games on the road to state in dramatic fashion. The preview article in the WCF Courier on the team is here.

Leah Durnil leads Jesup to state. (image from Jesup Citizen Herald)

This year’s squad is lead by John Begley. He’s no stranger to the state tourney taking Solon to four straight state tournaments from 2003 to 2006, winning in 2003 while finishing second in ‘05 and ‘06. That’s a pretty good mark and may give the J-Hawks a little advantage. His granddaughter, Kelsey Lough, is the team’s pitcher. Did I mention she’s an 8th grader?

Will Leah Durnil, the girl who hit 2 game-winning home runs, bring her hot bat to Harlan Rogers Park? How about Erica Soppe and second baseman MacKenzie Miller? Will they continue to bring the good gloves to the park?

Best to this year’s squad against Mt. Vernon.


One thought on “20 years in the making

  1. Paul,
    Your writing style flows so well, and your descriptions bring vivid pictures to mind, while reading I felt like the good ‘ol days were just a call away to Joe’s… Thank you for the trip of memories! Mark Kies.

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