116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
CEDAR RAPIDS — Even at 96 years old, Bob Ask is clear minded and encyclopedic in his knowledge of things Cedar Rapids related, especially his beloved west side.
You walk into his apartment at an assisted-living facility in town, and the first thing you see is a large framed poster: a collage of photos and newspaper clippings commemorating his induction into the Jefferson High School Athletic Hall of Fame.
Neatly stacked at the bottom of the framed poster are books. One is titled “High On A Hill,” which he wrote in the 1980s on the first quarter century of the school.
Another is “Fight Team Fight,” which he aided retired Jefferson teacher and coach John Hegarty in writing, celebrating the history of J-Hawks football.
Sitting on a chair at an adjacent desk, Ask leafs through a handwritten game plan he helped put together when Jefferson played and beat West Des Moines Dowling in the 1972 Class 4A state championship game. It was the first year the Iowa High School Athletic Association sponsored playoffs.
Then he pulls out a small black datebook with yellowing paper to show you. He has been making daily personal journal entries for more than 80 years, he figures.
“September 12, 1952,” Ask reads. “This is the day. Big stadium opener tonight: 12,000 (people) to see Wilson 6, Franklin 0 and Roosevelt 8, McKinley 6. Two tough breaks really hurt us, John and I with our respective teams.”
John is his late brother. The subject of his post is the grand opening of Kingston Stadium.
It’s been 70 years since the old gray lady housed its first two events, its first two football games. Bob Ask was there, the lone assistant coach for Clarence Paulson at McKinley High School.
“I would imagine they are probably all gone,” he says, when asked if he knows of any player from that night who might still be alive.
He knows for sure he is the last surviving coach.
“I had forgotten that John was at Wilson, coaching baseball and track,” he said of his brother, who died in 1978. “But now I remember he coached football one year, maybe two. So my brother was there the first time, too. While I went on to coach football a long time, he coached track.”
Jefferson is honoring its 1972 state championship football team Friday night when the J-Hawks host Ottumwa for homecoming. Bob Ask was an assistant football coach for the school its first 25 years.
If he can secure a ride, he’ll be there. One more visit to Kingston, 70 years after his first.
“Those games didn’t count,” Ask said. “I think Wilson might have had a regular-season game the next night. All these people showed up because it was the very first event.”
The Gazette estimated 11,000 fans came out to watch opening night. That’s even though these weren’t full-fledged games, as Ask said.
Ronnie Dostal of Wilson recorded the first touchdown in the stadium, returning an intercepted Franklin pass. He was just a sophomore.
The construction of Kingston Stadium cost $550,000, which equates to $6.1 million today. A voter-approved bond issue was passed in 1948 to build it, Kenwood, Cleveland and Buchanan elementary schools.
“You will realize it is more than a mass of concrete, steel and wood that they are dedicating Friday night,” Gus Schrader wrote in his Red Peppers column in The Gazette. “It’s a part of this city’s soul. To the boys who play here Friday night — and every season in the future — it will be a stadium today and a shrine tomorrow.
“Through the years, they’ll keep coming back — back from wherever fate takes them — and the place where they played football will always be one of the things they’ll visit to help rekindle boyhood memories. They’ll show it to their sons and proudly enlarge upon tales of their own or others’ prowess that grow greater with the years.”
Kingston Stadium hosted NFL exhibition games between the Minnesota Vikings and Green Bay Packers in 1961 and the Packers and Washington in 1962. A Canadian Football League game also was played at the stadium.
Semipro teams called it home in the 1970s. Graduation ceremonies, band contests, soccer games and track meets totaling in the hundreds have been held at Kingston, which has aged fairly gracefully thanks to upkeep that has included the installment of artificial turf and an eight-lane track.
But high school football games have been its biggest, most-memorable staple. At one point, Jefferson, Kennedy, Washington, Regis, LaSalle and Prairie (for one year) high schools all played their home games there, as did Coe College.
Most weekends, there would be games Thursday, Friday and Saturday nights. The original seating capacity at Kingston Stadium was 15,500, decreased significantly in 2019 when bleachers in the north end zone horseshoe were eliminated as part of a $2-million upgrade.
“I tell you, coming from little Marengo, my hometown, where we had our football stadium on the fairgrounds under (head coach) Harold Wilkinson, to this, it was a thrill,” Ask said. “I was 26 years old, now I’m 96. I was just awe-struck.
“I think I mentioned how well the stadium has been kept. I think it’s one of the premier classics. Even though it’s not that beautiful deal Linn-Mar’s got.”
Ask left McKinley for Jefferson when it opened in 1957. He was part of a large 50-year Kingston anniversary celebration in September 2002 that appropriately included a varsity doubleheader, this one featuring Kennedy against Jefferson and Washington versus Cedar Rapids Xavier.
Among his most memorable Kingston moments is Jefferson’s 20-18 win over Davenport Central in a 1965 battle of teams ranked first and second. That victory gave Jefferson the mythical state championship.
Then there was a 1992 game between Washington and Regis he attended with his late daughter Becky.
“Halftime of Regis-Wash, we were walking down the end zone, the Wash band was playing,” Ask said. “Becky says to me ‘Dad, he’s running toward us, and he doesn’t have any clothes on!’ It was a streaker. A streaker comes running toward us with his tennis shoes and a smile.”
Duane Kramer, then the athletics director for the three C.R. public high schools, yelled at Ask to come help him catch the streaker.
“The crowd’s going crazy,” Ask said, with a chuckle. “It was moon over Miami. He got stuck on the first fence, I reached out and grabbed one leg. Duane had the other. We held him until the authorities came.
“One of the funniest things that ever happened at Kingston.”
The very first game and a streaker. When it comes to Kingston Stadium, Bob Ask literally has seen it all.
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