Editor’s note: The 50th reunion of the Washington Class of 1969 is scheduled for October 4-5. For more information, contact the school or consult the CR Washington Class of 1969 page on Facebook.
The depth of talent in high school athletics often is cyclical. Groups of good athletes come and go, and the success of teams ebbs and flows from year to year.
In the 1960s, Metro area programs were stocked with terrific athletes. Conference and state championship teams and individuals were plentiful.
At Cedar Rapids Washington, the run of athletic success in the 1960s was punctuated with the last graduating class of the decade, when four teams won state titles.
The most publicized was the 1969 boys’ basketball team. The Warriors captured their first — and only — championship when the state tournament was contested in two classes. Coach Don King had a plethora of talent, good enough to overcome some potholes along the way.
By the time the basketball season arrived, the Class of 1968-69 already had claimed state championships in boys’ gymnastics, girls’ gymnastics and boys’ swimming. The football team averaged 44.4 points per game and finished 8-0-1 (the tie against Kennedy) and No. 3 in the final state polls.
Later in the spring, Susan Harman claimed her second individual girls’ state golf title, and the doubles tandem of Bill Carrithers and Bob Becker finished runner-up in the boys’ state tennis tournament.
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King returned four lettermen from a 15-5 team — Jim Heck, Kyle Skogman, Craig Darling and Denny Smith, who ultimately decided not to return to the team. The Warriors also expected significant contributions from Rick Williams, Skip Schmulbach, Bill Carrithers and Tom Hurn, among others.
King had all the components: 6-foot-6 Heck and 6-4 Darling forming a bruising inside presence; Skogman, a terrific quarterback in football who brought the same leadership to the point guard position; Williams, a smooth shooter; Carrithers, a hustling all-around player; Schmulbach, a defensive specialist; and Hurn, a reliable sixth man.
It was a tough-luck season for Williams. He missed the first seven games due to a disciplinary matter and broke his foot in a district game. Even so, he was named third-team all-state, had a terrific career at Iowa and was drafted by the Boston Celtics.
Heck averaged 22.2 points per game and was first-team all-state. He still holds the Metro single-game scoring record with 53 points.
Washington went 24-1, losing only a 72-70 decision to Cedar Rapids Jefferson in the regular season. The Warriors won their last 21 games.
The state championship run began with an 87-54 win over Marshalltown and a 67-59 victory over Fort Dodge St. Edmond. Heck had games of 33 and 26 points. Carrithers had back-to-back games of 22 points.
Hurn missed the first game and stayed back in Cedar Rapids, reportedly due to illness. He caught a ride to Des Moines with local broadcaster Bob Brooks to play in the semifinal and title games.
Heck was even better in the state title game, scoring 34 points in a 73-62 win over Carroll Kuemper. Darling had 17 and Carrithers, like Heck an all-tournament selection, added 10. Skogman was credited with 15 assists.
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“These kids just never gave up,” King said after the game. “We set all these goals at the start of the season, and we’ve accomplished them all. It’s great to be at the top.”
Skogman played in 32 games as a quarterback at Iowa, leading the team in passing yards in 1972. Darling, an offensive lineman, served as the Hawkeyes’ team co-captain in 1972 and was taken in the eighth round of the 1973 NFL draft by the Minnesota Vikings. Heck played one season at Iowa State. Hurn was an all-Big Ten first baseman for Iowa and competed in the 1972 College World Series. Carrithers was captain and most valuable player on the 1972-73 Coe basketball team that was undefeated in conference play.
As was customary in those days, a caravan of vehicles formed outside of town to escort the 1969 champions to a welcoming celebration at the school the following day. An estimated crowd of 1,700 people included school and city administrators, political office-holders and other dignitaries.
Washington Principal Don Nau summed up the school year with these comments: “Washington has had its finest hour during this school year. We have had four state champions. Without question it’s a record that had never been met in Iowa.”
Mark Dukes worked at The Gazette from 1973 to 1998, the last 14 years as sports editor. If you have ideas for future “Time Machine” articles, contact him at email@example.com