Iowa offensive tackle Tristan Wirfs made his mark on Mount Vernon. Many in town made their mark on him, too. Wirfs and his mother, Sarah, took The Gazette on a tour of his hometown, revisiting scenes around what essentially is the one square mile where he grew up. This story is a little about what can hold you back. This is mostly about what moves you forward.

Sports

Time Machine: American Legion baseball's history in Cedar Rapids

From 1971 to '76, Cedar Rapids produced top teams

The 1975 Cedar Rapids Legion baseball team finished second in the World Series. Players on that team were (front row, from left) Charles Stumpff, Steve Meier, Matt Novak, bat boy Brian Charipar, Randy Jacobson, Ron Munson and Ron Reihmann, (second row) Manager Ken Charipar, Mike Boddicker, Bill Wessling, Curt Becker, Bill Wilson, Pete Seyfer, Nick Phillips and coach Grant Wessling, and (back row) Bruce Barber, Steve Schnoebelen, Dave Alberts, Terry Kahle, Steve Rooks and Fred Stoeker. (Submitted by Matt Novak)
The 1975 Cedar Rapids Legion baseball team finished second in the World Series. Players on that team were (front row, from left) Charles Stumpff, Steve Meier, Matt Novak, bat boy Brian Charipar, Randy Jacobson, Ron Munson and Ron Reihmann, (second row) Manager Ken Charipar, Mike Boddicker, Bill Wessling, Curt Becker, Bill Wilson, Pete Seyfer, Nick Phillips and coach Grant Wessling, and (back row) Bruce Barber, Steve Schnoebelen, Dave Alberts, Terry Kahle, Steve Rooks and Fred Stoeker. (Submitted by Matt Novak)
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American Legion baseball has made a slight resurgence in Eastern Iowa in recent years, but it probably never will return to the glory days of the 1970s.

Times are different. Priorities are different.

From 1971 to 1976, Cedar Rapids had premier American Legion teams that regularly competed for national titles. Those same Legion players also played simultaneously on their high school teams, and shortly after the prep seasons were completed.

 
In that time period, Cedar Rapids had a combined 171-66 record with four appearances in the Legion World Series and two national runner-up finishes. Eight of those losses came in the World Series.

The rosters were a compilation of players from Cedar Rapids and Benton County high schools. The patriarch/manager was Ken Charipar who, along with assistant Grant Wessling, preached equal parts discipline and inspiration to those teams. Charipar played on local Legion teams in the 1940s and starred on Wilson High School teams that won back-to-back state titles. Charipar, later a coach at the University of Iowa, played in 24 games in the Cubs organizations in 1948.

Teams competed for Hanford Post American Legion Post 5, which closed in 2011. Many fathers and local sports enthusiasts — too many to mention — served as officers of Post 5 and spurred widespread community support for the squads.

Cedar Rapids Legion teams produced future major leaguers, several other draft picks and countless college players.

ORIGINS AND LEGENDS

The American Legion baseball program was founded in 1925 in South Dakota. At various times, teams from every state, Canada and Puerto Rico have competed.

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Citing its dedication to community service, the state convention delegates in Milbank, S.D., passed a resolution to start a summer baseball program. In 1926, South Dakota was joined by 15 other states to execute the same mission.

Cedar Rapids rapidly came on board. According to Gazette archives, the first Legion program was announced by Hanford Post in April 1932. It started with five local teams, each playing a 20-game schedule. The opening games were at Daniels Park, and one of the umpires was former major leaguer Emil “Dutch” Levsen of Wyoming, Iowa.

Frank Tvrdik managed local Legion teams for parts of 35 years. He took seven teams to a state title.

Legion baseball has produced 81 players who reached the Baseball Hall of Fame, from Roberto Alomar to Carl Yastrzemski. The first of them was Bob Feller of Van Meter, Iowa. Feller played two years on the Adel teams — whose catcher was former Heisman Trophy winner Nile Kinnick of Iowa — and one year with the Des Moines team.

Four players who will be taken into the Hall of Fame Sunday — Harold Baines, Roy Halladay, Mike Mussina and Lee Smith — played Legion baseball in their youth.

C.R. BREAKTHROUGH

In 1971, Charipar assembled a team chock-full of Cedar Rapids Jefferson players, plus Jon Brase of Prairie and Benton County stalwarts Dan Strellner, Doug Wessling and Steve Stumpff.

Cedar Rapids won the Great Plains Regional in Williston, N.D., and became the first team in Cedar Rapids history to make the World Series.

The locals had equal parts solid pitching — led by Dan Dalziel, Kent Clark and Strellner — and a strong lineup that included Blake DeMaria, Mike Curran, Doug Holland, Duane Clark, Brad Trickey, Wessling, Stumpff and Brase.

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Cedar Rapids went all the way to the national championship in Tucson, Ariz., but suffered a 16-1 defeat at the hands of West Covina, Calif., which featured 11-year major leaguer Rob Wilfong. Cedar Rapids finished 35-10 and paved the way to even more success.

The 1972 and ’73 teams lost in either the districts or regionals, but Cedar Rapids was back on the map in 1974. If there was a star in the mid-1970s, it was Mike Boddicker, a pitcher and third baseman from Norway. Boddicker played on three Legion World Series teams and went on to a 14-year major league career. He still holds Iowa high school career records for pitching wins (76) and strikeouts (1,122).

 
A combined six-hitter by Craig Wilford and Guy Stoecker resulted in a 5-1 win over Missouri in the 1974 Regional final in Ralston, Neb. Earlier, Boddicker won a 10-inning pitchers’ duel with future Hall of Famer Paul Molitor of St. Paul, Minn., 2-1. Dave Gaskill homered off Molitor and Boddicker scored the winning run in the 10th on a single by Harold Miller. But that 26-8 squad lost back-to-back games in the World Series in Roseburg, Ore.

Cedar Rapids hosted the regional in 1975 at Veterans Memorial Stadium. More than 2,000 fans attended games featuring the local squad, and it responded with a World Series-clinching, 6-5, win over Council Bluffs. Cedar Rapids overcame a 5-4, ninth-inning deficit on run-scoring singles from Bill Wilson and Terry Kahle. Bruce Barber, a Jefferson product who already had a year under his belt at the University of New Mexico, got out of a two-on, two-out, full-count jam in the ninth.

In Rapid City, S.D., Cedar Rapids dropped its opener to defending champion Puerto Rico, 9-8, after trailing 7-1. Cedar Rapids battled back through the losers’ bracket with four straight wins, including a complete-game, five-hitter by Barber over Fullerton, Calif., to push Cedar Rapids to the championship game.

Injuries and a 12-innings-in-three-days Legion rule for pitchers doomed Cedar Rapids in the final against Yakima, Wash., 8-4.

 
Other stalwarts on that 1975 team included Matt Novak of Kennedy, Randy Jacobson and Steve Rooks of Jefferson, Pete Seyfer of Washington, Ron Reihmann of Amana and Curt Becker of Benton Community.

Novak, a stellar outfielder, then worked part-time in The Gazette sports department and provided daily reports and highlights to the newspaper.

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Charipar assembled another solid team in 1976. Behind Boddicker’s pitching, Cedar Rapids won the Regional in Hastings, Neb., and advanced to the World Series in Manchester, N.H. After winning its first game, Cedar Rapids suffered back-to-back 1-0 losses despite outstanding pitching performances by Boddicker and Chuck Johnson.

For some who played on the World Series teams, it was the first time they had been on an airplane. Local interest was such that Bob Brooks provided live radio broadcasts from World Series games.

TODAY’S LEGION

The Cedar Rapids Legion program has taken on different forms over the years, including a period in which there were Red and Blue teams. Each was a compilation of players from either east or west side high schools, plus a smattering of area players.

C.R. Red, with Charipar and Jim Van Scoyoc coaching, returned to the World Series in 1986. That team was led by Urbana’s Cal Eldred, who also had a 14-year major league career. The squad dropped back-to-back games in the Series.

Iowa had not been represented in the World Series since that year until Dubuque County advanced last season.

Today’s local Legion program consists of a half-dozen teams, each with players from one high school. Teams play a spring season and are finished with Legion ball before the high school season begins.

Observers point to a variety of reasons for today’s state of the program. Some athletes are tugged in different directions by offseason activities in other sports. The proliferation of showcases has drawn some players. For others, it’s simply not a priority like it was decades ago.

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We value your trust and work hard to provide fair, accurate coverage. If you have found an error or omission in our reporting, tell us here.

Or if you have a story idea we should look into? Tell us here.