INDEPENDENCE - For Independence, the prep football season opener bore little resemblance to its winless 2016 campaign.
Even in defeat, a clear message was sent that there are brighter days ahead for the Mustangs.
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By the time the summer of 1966 arrived, Cedar Rapids Washington athletics already had enjoyed an excellent school year.
The football team was 5-3-1 in the ultracompetitive Mississippi Valley Conference. The boys’ basketball team finished second in the state tournament. The boys’ swimming team romped to another state championship. Individuals in wrestling and boys’ track captured state titles.
In that era, high school baseball teams could compete in fall, spring and/or summer seasons. Until 1966, Washington had played only a spring season.
After an 18-5 spring campaign, the Warriors entered the summer season for the first time. It became an historical move.
“Up until then, when the guys were juniors, they played during the summer against town teams all around Eastern Iowa,” then-Washington coach Harold “Pinky” Primrose said.
Washington went 19-1 during the summer, capped by a state championship. It was the first summer title for a local team since Wilson in 1950. Entering this season, only three other Cedar Rapids schools have since captured a crown — Washington (1994), Xavier (2006) and Kennedy (2010).
Washington’s only loss in 1966 was a 3-2 decision to Center Point, a team the Warriors had beaten two weeks before, 14-0. Washington outscored teams, 149-39, in 20 games, including eight shutouts.
Before the summer season, Washington lost top left-handed pitcher and Florida State recruit John Reid when he was hit on the thumb off a wicked line drive by LaSalle’s Gordy Pisarik. But the Warriors still had plenty of mound talent.
Dave Close went 8-0 in the summer and totaled 15 wins between the spring and summer, still a school record. Joe McGillicuddy, also an excellent outfielder, had a 6-0 pitching record and Dennis Caldwell went 3-1.
“Dave could throw 10 curveballs in a row if he wanted and he had good control,” said Primrose, now 82. “Joe had fun. He was one of our vocal leaders. Overall, the guys felt no one could beat them.”
In the one-class setup in 1966, Washington had to win eight games in sectional, district and substate play (today, some 4A schools need to win just two). The Warriors endured one-run wins against North Linn, La Porte City and Clinton along the way. McGillicuddy fashioned a one-hitter in a 1-0 win over La Porte City.
In Ames at Brookside Park, Washington’s state title game opponent was Council Bluffs Thomas Jefferson, which was 22-2 and coming off a spring season state championship. It was the 64th game of the year for Washington players between American Legion, spring and summer schedules.
Behind a single by Darrell Lindsey, who hit .362 that year, Steve Seyfer staked Washington to a 2-0 lead with a two-run homer to center field in the second inning. But Jefferson struck for four runs, two earned, in the third.
Washington tied it in the fifth inning with two runs, both coming on bases-loaded walks. Mike Seyfer, a Missouri recruit and the team’s top hitter at .378, started the uprising with his second hit of the game.
Close pitched 6 2/3 strong innings, striking out 10, but was pulled in the seventh when he had a two-out hit batsman. Caldwell came on and got a three-pitch strikeout.
“I don’t think David has ever forgiven me for taking him out but it was time to make a change,” said Primrose, who had a 728-385 record in his coaching career at Washington, Norway and Lisbon.
Washington escaped a sixth-inning jam when Jefferson loaded the bases with two outs, but second baseman Tim Zuber snared a hot line drive.
The game appeared headed for extra innings when Jefferson got two quick outs in the seventh. But an error off the bat of Steve Seyfer opened the door. Primrose decided to summon pinch runner Jim Hamer for Seyfer.
Catcher and co-captain Tom Madson laced the first pitch he saw to the left-field fence. As Hamer rounded second, Primrose was waving him home. Hamer narrowly beat the throw and Washington was the state champion.
Hamer’s slide was captured in a classic picture (above) by Gazette photographer John McIvor. Primrose is seen on Hamer’s heels and Warriors Gary Skogman, McGillicuddy and Verne (Keith) Boots are seen with gloves in hand urging Hamer to home plate.
“I had to send him,” Primrose said. “That was for the win. It was a chance of a lifetime and memories that will last the rest of your life.”
For 50 years, they have.