Small Town Schools: Finding a Summer Home

Nite Hawk Field, Slater Iowa

The greatest challenge of small town school consolidation has always been finding a way to acknowledge the contributions of each of the communities that have given up their individual identities for the greater good of the students.  It’s easy to say that including their name in the identity of the new district, but no matter how many letters are sewn onto the Basketball jerseys, only one town will have the High School, and the increased prestige that comes with it.

For many of the districts faced with this dillema, summer sports have given them the chance to make the “other” communities the center of attention.  The fact that the majority of the Baseball and Softball seasons are played after school has dismissed for the year means that the diamonds do not have to be adjacent to the main High School campus.  This, combined with the relatively low cost of building and maintaining a diamond, allows the smaller communities in a district the opportunity to be the home of the “home team”.

Here are just a few of the examples of this phenomenon:

  • Ballard Community: The High School is located in Huxley, but the Bombers Baseball team plays their games at Night Hawk Field, just down Highway 210 in Slater
  • Roland-Story: Story City is the economic and population center of the district, but the deep and rich Softball tradition of Roland makes it the spiritual and physical home of Norse Softball.
  • Collins-Maxwell/Baxter: This athletic program is the definition of “all communities involved”.  First off, the Raiders are a team-sharing program between 2 separate school districts, Collins-Maxwell and Baxter Community.  These 2 communities split all home schedules, with each school getting roughly half of the schedule.  They have even shared a single Football game, but that’s another story.  In addition to this all-sport sharing, the City of Collins provides both the Baseball and Softball diamonds for the C-M portion of the schedules.
  • Colo-NESCO: Oh, hey, another Story County district!  This consolidation of towns in NorthEast Story COunty has their Baseball field located about as far in NESCO as you can get, in the town of Zearing.
  • While C-N’s Baseball field is barely in Story County, the home for Kee High’s famed Baseball program is barely in the State of Iowa, in the far Northeastern Iowa town of New Albin, 11 miles from the High School in Lansing.
  • It is not quite that far of a drive, a mere 5 miles, from Martensdale-St Mary’s HS to their Baseball home in St Mary’s, but that does not make their porgram any less impressive, as they currently ride a 69-game winning streak, dating back to the start of the 2010 season.
  • Staying in Southern Warren County, the Southeast Warren Warhawks fly North for the summer, with both Baseball and Softball playing their games in Milo.
  • Woodward-Granger’s Baseball team takes the field just off of Highway 141, and just inside Dallas County, in Granger.

And I will wrap it up with Dallas Center-Grimes.  Their High School is located just barely on the Dallas County side of the county line outside of Grimes, while their Baseball and Softball teams both play in Dallas Center.

I know there are a lot of schools that I left out, but I think this list gives you a good idea of what it takes sometimes to “keep the peace” in small town Iowa.

Double Circle Logo: a Soldier Tale

Co-Op sign in Soldier, IA, courtesy of Mike Gardner

Regular visitors to this blog have read about my fascination with the “Double Circle” logo that has adorned many of the grain cooperatives in the state of Iowa.  I’ve taken pictures of many of them myself, but I’m always looking for examples from places I haven’t thought of.  This example of the Double Circle, in the small town of Soldier, in the NW part of the state, comes from a reader, Mike Gardner.  He writes, “there must have been a gas station there, now its mostly an empty parking lot.”


Now, I have to be honest, I didn’t even know that Soldier, Iowa existed before this week, but now I think it’s going on my road trip list.

Thank You, Mr. Buck

Mr Buck

This handsome man is Mr. Stewart Buck.  He has been teaching the Visual Arts at Bondurant-Farrar High School for 36 years.  He’s been a teacher, a mentor, and most importantly, a friend to just about every student who has been fortunate enough to walk into the Art Room.  He has fueled the creativity of hundreds of young men and women, including the Young man writing this.  He is also an acclaimed artist in his own right, producing some of the most beautiful railroad art anywhere, as well as one dang good bass player.  And last but definitely not least, he is a Husband and a Father.

And now, after 36 years of being the Guru of Graphics in the BF School District, Mr. Buck is getting ready to hop up on his turtle (It’s a BF thing) and ride off into the sunset.  So I would just like to take this opportunity to thank Mr. B for everything he has done, both as a teacher and as a friend, to help make the Steve Young of 2011 a vast improvement over the Steve Young that first walked into his room back in 1992.

Twice as Hardin

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Last year, when I was planning out my Small Town Bowling Tour, I picked out a lot of bowling alleys in places I remember from my childhood.  Madrid (and Tiger Lanes) was at the top of the list, but Iowa Falls (pop. 5238) wasn’t too far behind.  I had visited the city a few times before, mostly because my cousin’s other grandparents lived there, but like most places I visited in my youth, I really didn’t remember that much about it.  Sure, I could recall the really big stuff, like the bluffs and the swinging bridge, but other than that the town was a total mystery to me, which made it worth a visit on my rare Monday off.

I made my way up to Iowa Falls using the easiest, and shortest, route: Highway 65.  However, I did plan one minor detour to the town of Radcliffe (pop. 545).  Anyone who knows anything about high school basketball in the state of Iowa knows about Hubbard-Radcliffe, and their gymnasium is a legend in itself.  The H-R school district merged with former rivals Eldora-New Providence to form South Hardin a few years ago, but the old gym still stands proud just off of Isabella Street.  I tried to take a look at the inside, but the Principal wouldn’t let me, but his reason was very sincere and understandable, so I thanked him for his time and made my way up to Iowa Falls.

My navigation of the Iowa Falls area was complicated a bit by the fact that the Highway 65 bridge of the Iowa River was closed, but I still kept it pretty simple by following the signs to Downtown, which was where I wanted to start out anyway.  It was right around lunch time, so my first mission was to find some food.  I settled on a place called Camp David, which was literally at the end of Main Street, right on the river.  The food was excellent, though next time I’ll step up to the regular cheeseburger instead of the $3 special.

It seems like every town has something that surprises me, and in the case of Iowa Falls that surprise was my next stop: The Carnegie Ellsworth Building.  It was one of the over 3,500 libraries funded by Mr. Andrew Carnegie, and one of around 100 that were built in the Hawkeye State.  It was renovated in 2000 and currently serves as a cultural center for the community.

After taking in an art show at the Carnegie building, I took a walk along the main Downtown street.  I bought a cup of hot chocolate and a used copy of Ronnie Spector’s autobiography (sing along with me, “Be my be my baby…”), both in the same place, and then wandered over to Estes Park.  It was here that I once again found a pleasant surprise, the Bill Riley Bandstand, complete with a statue of Mr State Fair.

After polishing off my hot cocoa, I got back on the road.  This time I negotiated the “official” detour over the river and made my way to my featured destination: Pla-Mor Bowl.  The place was pretty busy for a Monday afternoon, but thankfully there was a lane available for me.  I bowled a couple of quick games (a 104 and a 96), but cut the session short so that I could go on the hunt for one of the places from my childhood memories: the Swinging Bridge.

The Swinging Bridge is one of those structures that gets most of its appeal from the fact that it can scare the living daylights out of you if you let it.  It is a suspension pedestrian bridge, and as the name implies, it does swing.  It also dips and drops with every step, which is very unsettling when you’re afraid of high scary places.  I got about halfway up the bridge before my fight or flight kicked in and told me to turn around and go back to the car for the trip home.

Small Town Photo 3/6/2011

My cousin Becky, completely surprised

I’d like to introduce you to my cousin Becky.  She’s one of the many people I played with during my childhood summers on my Aunt Edna’s farm south of Exira.  This photo was taken during the 2002 Exira 4th of July Parade.  Dad hadn’t been to the parade in years, probably since I was a kid, so Mom and I decided to load up the van and take him out to spend the 4th back home.  I can’t remember if we told anybody we were coming out, but I know we didn’t tell Becky.

At the time Becky was serving in the Iowa National Guard, and that year she got the honor of driving the Hummer in the parade, which is just about one of the coolest things a kid from Audubon County can do.  The three of us were kind of hidden behind a tree as she came around the corner, so she didn’t notice us right away, but when she did, the look was priceless.  And, thanks to some good fortune and a well timed shutter finger, the look has also been captured forever.

When Colfax Met Mingo

The towns of Colfax and Mingo have been joined at the hip for decades, both as sports rivals-turned-allies and as civic brothers.  But while these Jasper County neighbors may share a school district and an Interstate interchange, they have both retained their similar yet unique identities.  I was lucky enough to have an excuse to visit both towns in the same day…

Colfax (pop. 2186)

I’ve been to Colfax many times in my life, including last year as part of my Jasper County jaunt, but I hadn’t paid the old town a visit since the South Skunk River decided to expand its banks into downtown back in August.  So I was happy to see that some of my favorite places, like Poppy’s and Weirick Drug, are back up and running.

One business that used to be at the heart of Colfax, geographically and economically, was Monroe Folding Tables.  If you have sat in a metal folding chair at a church supper or an American Legion pancake breakfast in the state of Iowa, there’s a very good chance that chair had the name Monroe on it.  I once got to visit the factory on a Tuesday morning, and the place was absolutely humming, but now the place is eerily quiet, with only this sign telling you what was once there.

Sign outside of the old Monroe Tables factory, Colfax

 Thankfully, there is one place in Colfax that still comes to life the way Monroe did, if only once a week: the Colfax Livestock Sales Company.  I’ve never had the opportunity to be at the Saturday morning livestock auction, but I can imagine the whirlwind of activity that surrounds this complex when 10 AM rolls around.

The Colfax Livestock Sales Company

Mingo (pop. 261)

If Colfax is where the area’s cattle and sheep start their journey to your dinner plate, there’s a chance their next stop will be a few miles up Highway 117, at the Mingo Meat Locker, but that is not why I paid a visit to this former railroad town.  Instead, my final destination was the other major landmark, Colfax-Mingo Middle School.  I traveled to this truly old school to make good on a promise I made to some Bondurant-Farrar 7th and 8th graders, but it also gave me a chance to take myself back to the place in time when Colfax and Mingo were individual school districts and heated rivals. 

The trophy cases in the main hallway had some C-M Junior High trophies, but most of what is displayed comes from the days of the Mingo Mohawks.  From the 1944 Girls Basketball District Runnerup trophy to a Ta-Ma-Ja Conference Track championship from the 1970’s, it is a well preserved time capsule for an era where every town had their own school, with their own teams to cheer for.  The current economic trends have meant a slow death to this sort of scholastic independence, but it’s still good to know that the people of these communities continue to honor their histories.

A team photo for the Mingo Mohawks