REMSEN, Iowa | When Nick Staab and Scott Ruden raced up and down the basketball court as preps for Remsen St. Mary's High School, a law was implemented in Iowa to accommodate non-teaching contracts for coaches. It happened in 1984.
To Staab and Ruden, the change wasn't a blip on their radar. At the time, it really had nothing to do with them.
"I wasn't going to coach," Staab said on Friday, taking a break from hauling manure on his farm east of Remsen. "I was going to farm and that was that."
For Ruden, much of the same. Both men were coached by teachers in high school, standard practice in those days.
These two men, though, have come to represent the norm as much as the exception. This pair of farmers has coached both boys and girls basketball at St. Mary's. Staab also piloted a softball team to the state tournament in his second year as head coach, 2013. On Monday, Ruden, the head coach, and Staab, his lead assistant, will direct the undefeated Hawks into their first Iowa Class 1A Boys State Basketball Tournament.
"The New London head coach isn't a teacher, either," said Ruden, citing the Hawks' opening-round foe.
Scanning a local roster of coaches reveals more of the same. Tammy Flanagan, assistant boys basketball coach at MVAO High School, which also plays in the state tournament on Monday, works for Security National Bank in Mapleton, Iowa.
Brandon Slaughter, assistant girls basketball coach at Washington High School in Cherokee, Iowa, a repeat semifinalist in last week's Iowa Girls' State Basketball Tournament, works for Cherokee State Bank. He was a longtime basketball referee until he walked off the court after officiating the 2013 Boys Class 1A championship game and turned his attention to coaching. He's been on the Braves bench ever since, serving under Heath Hagberg, the head coach who works full-time for Seasons Center as a juvenile court specialty care coordinator.
Off the top of my head, I can think of several local basketball coaches who don't spend their workdays in a classroom: Mike Langel, Ryan Wiltgen, Eric Kellen and Brandon Schaecher, of Gehlen Catholic in Le Mars; Jay Schuiteman, Unity Christian; Jon Harris, Nathan Harris and Gordy Johnson, Akron-Westfield; Matt Westendorf, Jeff Pratt, Kevin Brandt and Nick Holversen, West Monona; Shane Dreckman, Le Mars Community; and Kevin Cone, Storm Lake High School.
There are more, dozens more in basketball and other sports. Good thing.
Steve Oberg, superintendent of school at MVAO, is thankful for a change that has crept over the coaching landscape the past quarter-century or so. "We'd be hurting," said Oberg. "We'd have positions, or teams, with no assistant coach. We'd really struggle."
Oberg, in his 25th year serving the school based in Mapleton, Iowa, came from Nebraska, where he began teaching and served as assistant football and wrestling coach.
"Back then, you didn't have to have a coaching certificate to coach in Nebraska," he said. "I never did get one."
When Oberg came to Maple Valley, he met Bob Schulz, a retired teacher who was coaching girls' basketball and softball. That's probably about the only time when non-teachers directed high school teams. Those educators, though, were retired and had their certification.
Gary Richardson, a former superintendent (and state champion basketball coach) who has served Northwest Iowa school districts at West Sioux, Emmetsburg, MOC-FV and Harris-Lake Park, recalled that the Iowa Code changed in 1984 as many districts couldn't fill coaching slots with teachers. The movement began with a trickle, but soon individuals learned about the certification process. Eventually, they took courses at community colleges, in many cases, and became certified.
Flanagan took courses through Western Iowa Tech Community College in 2005. She helped coach girls basketball at MVAO for one year and has been on the boys' bench for 10 seasons.
"From being in a position on the school board, I've seen that we really cannot hire enough coaches," said Flanagan, who pointed out that the MVAO boys and girls track teams this spring, for example, compete in different enrollment classifications. So, those teams will likely head to different sites on selected track meet nights. Both teams need a pair of coaches to determine lineups and help supervise. There maybe wouldn't be enough teachers for all that, even if most teachers were certified, or had the interest.
"Teachers have a tough job, many of them feel overloaded," said Flanagan, noting how teachers often have their own children to raise, not to mention papers to grade after school, and more.
Like Flanagan, Staab earned his coaching certification though WITCC. He did most of it online. Ruden traveled to Iowa Central Community College in Fort Dodge, Iowa, to take his required courses.
"We try to help people through that process," said Oberg, who counts a grocer, a banker, an insurance agent, a couple of farmers and a college student among his active Rams coaches.
"You want to get the best person," said Richardson, who still serves as an assistant women's basketball coach at Northwestern College. "If that person is outside the system, that's fine."
Ruden and Staab, who are self-employed, sometimes burn the midnight oil to get the practice sessions covered as well as their livestock and crop concerns. Each November, when harvest coincides with the start of basketball, schedules grow hectic. Staab credits a full-time hired man, as well as his son R.J. Staab, with keeping his farm-work up to date. Both men credit their wives for helping make sure all obligations -- school, farm, family -- are met.
"I'm lucky, as our second oldest son, Brandon, takes care of our farm at night," said Ruden, who markets 1,000 beef cattle annually.
Flanagan said employers of non-teaching coaches deserve much credit, too, for their role in aiding the community and school district in this manner. She lauded Security National Bank, her employer, for allowing her flexibility with her schedule during the three months of basketball season.
Staab and Ruden admit their situation, though highly successful this season with an undefeated team, might not be ideal. For example, Staab said, he may not know if a student-athlete has had a particularly tough day at school when he arrives. He's not in the building from 8 a.m. to 3:30 p.m.
"It's also hard for a coach to recruit players when they're not in that building," Oberg said, citing an impediment for growth within an extracurricular program.
That said, coaches like Ruden, Staab, Flanagan, Slaughter and others work far beyond what they earn in doing what they can to field competitive teams and strong participants. Many of them, in fact, lose money in their coaching venture.
Staab disclosed that his coaching compensation goes directly back to St. Mary's to fund a freshman baseball coaching position. That position, he said, was an important one to have as the Hawks baseball team, which he serves as a varsity assistant coach, kept building upon past successes. The team won the Class 1A state championship last summer.
Even though he didn't make money coaching last year, Nick Staab laughed and admitted he still make more coaching than he did in feeding 3,000 head of cattle.
"The cattle market last year?" he asked. "Rough. Very rough."
Staab has been much more confident about St. Mary's sports during the past year. In fact, there's a term you could use to describe this cattleman/coach when it comes to his Hawks: He's "bullish."