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Iowa Valley honoring former basketball coach with plaque
Former Chicago Bulls coach Ed Badger got his start at the Marengo high school in 1956
MARENGO — Every successful athlete or coach got their start somewhere.
Iowa Valley High School in Marengo wants to make sure all who visit their gym understand that.
Former Chicago Bulls coach Ed Badger was born in West New York, N.J., just across the Hudson River from the construction site of the Empire State Building in 1930.
After graduating high school, Badger attended the University of Iowa where he played basketball for the Hawkeyes from 1950-53 before earning his bachelor’s degree and being commissioned in the Air Force.
Badger was allowed to delay his service long enough to earn his master’s degree in June of 1954 from the U of I. He then served as First Lieutenant until 1956, stationed in Long Island, 85 miles east of New York City in the Hamptons.
“It was a great place where all the rich people lived,” Badger said.
In 1956, Badger moved back to Iowa with his first wife, who was raised in Iowa City. Although he had coached at Saint Mary’s in Iowa City while he earned his master’s degree, Badger took his first full-time teaching and coaching job in Marengo, moving just across the street from the school, then known simply as Marengo High School.
“It was a culture shock for me and for them,” Badger said of his New York background. “The kids in Marengo were great and it’s a blue-collared town. They had good football and I couldn’t see any reason why they couldn’t have good basketball, as well.”
Before Badger moved on to take the coaching job at Wright Junior College in Chicago in 1958, he led Marengo to a league title in his second season.
“It was good faculty, good guys and good people and it was close to the university (of Iowa),” Badger said.
After 15 years of success with Wright College, and as a coach in international competition with the U.S. and Austrian national teams, Badger became a part-time assistant with the Bulls from 1973-1976.
While Badger said the junior college gig was “the best job I ever had,” he became the head coach of the Bulls in 1976, a position he held for two seasons, compiling an 84-80 record.
In the fall of 1976, high school senior Randy Carney, a sports writer for the Iowa Valley school newspaper, learned from his uncle Keith Wilson about Badger’s connection to Marengo and set up an interview with the new Bulls coach.
“We did the interview from my folks’ home because they had a speaker phone,” said Dave Wanamaker, fellow Iowa Valley alum and a Marengo historian.
“It was really cool because all of these coaches come from somewhere,” Carney said of his interview 40-plus years later. “Here’s a guy that paid his dues in Marengo and look where he ended up.”
Even though they only met once briefly years later at an Iowa game when Carney and his uncle Keith ran into Badger, Carney never forgot his connection to the former Marengo coach.
“People can see that here is a guy coaching at Iowa Valley and he ended up at the highest level of his profession,” Carney said. “It can apply to anything, it doesn’t have to be putting a ball through an iron hoop. It can be anything you do in your career. I can start here and go as far as I want to go.”
Carney’s journey has come full circle. He is the current Iowa Valley boys’ basketball coach and led his alma mater to a South Iowa Cedar League division title in this past winter.
“I’m sure that if I had a question about something, he would help,” Carney said of his occasional chats with the 91-year-old Badger, who went on to coach at University of Cincinnati for five seasons and worked with other NBA teams. “There’s no question in my mind. He really enjoyed his time in Marengo.”
With Carney leading the current Tigers team and Wanamaker the towns’ historian per se, the pair of Iowa Valley alums teamed up once again to honor Marengo’s famous former coach.
It began with Wanamaker reaching out to Badger last year about the possibility of a plaque outside of the gymnasium. Badger was overjoyed.
“I enjoyed every place that I’ve been but it’s a great honor because Marengo was the first full-time teaching job I had,” Badger said. “It’s where it all started and I really liked the people I taught with.”
With Badger’s permission, Wanamaker had a commemorative plaque made to honor the former coach’s stop in Marengo.
“It’s important to keep the basketball tradition alive,” Wanamaker said. “Let others know we’ve had some amazing people come out of Eastern Iowa, including Ed Badger.”