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Another excerpt from River City Rivals; Mark Grace

Mark Grace played for one of the best Bishop Heelan High teams of all-time before heading to Briar Cliff where he helped lead BCU to its first National Tournament in Kansas City. He still lives in NW Iowa and I was fortunate enough to meet him for an interview. Here’s part of his remembrances of the 1970’s.

Morningside was “a good team to measure yourself against. I think they got us my freshman year. They were just so good. We were good, but we were a year or so away still. I think we won all the games my junior and senior years. I just, you know, I pumped for the first game at the auditorium. I know Morningside had a really good team my freshman year with Dave Schlesser, Doug Schultz from Le Mars, yeah. He was a good player. And Doug Marx! If you ask who I remember playing against the most, it was Marx.” When I mentioned Marx had said he liked Grace’s game and that they “battled,” Mark responded, “Oh, yeah, it was fun. They were just a good team.”

Mark’s senior season was the first time the Chargers won 20 games, finishing 25-4. The Chargers only four losses were to Kearney State (now UNK), which finished second in the NAIA Championships, Northwestern, and Loras, (both regular season losses were avenged in the District 15 playoffs), and a one-point loss in the second round in KC to Winston Salem. “We had a great underclass. Rolando was our sixth man off the bench, and he was the best player on the team. I know there were some games the other guys would ask, ‘That guy doesn’t start?’ We would just say, ‘No, he’s our secret weapon.’ Rolando could jump, really smooth, really smooth, and could almost like, just hang there, you know? He just always could get open and make good shots. I tell you what, the guy today that reminds me a little bit of Rolando is Kevin Durant.”

Mark had good memories of Ray Nacke, too. “I remember old Ray, though, and I can still picture him to this day. He’d be, whoever it was, say it was ‘John’ refereeing the game that night; Ray would say, ‘Blankity-blank, John, you’ll never ref another game for me again.’ He would say that every day! ‘John, you’re never going to ref.’ And then Ray would always, after the game or during the game, he would always say comments to Ron [Schultz], and Ron would write them down, and then at our next practice, he would go over them. You know, bless Ray, but sometimes it was funny. He’d say, ‘Mark, why did you not get that rebound?’ or he would say something crazy, you know, ‘Why’d you shoot that way?’ and I’m like ‘I don’t even know what you’re talking about, Coach.’ Ray always had funny stories. I mean, he didn’t mean them funny, they just came across funny. Yeah, he was fun.”

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An excerpt from River City Rivals; Bob Bargen

One of my favorite interviews while researching the book was with Bob Bargen, a long-time coach in Nebraska high schools as well as college. He was the coach at Morningside through the transition years of the early 2000’s. Here is a portion of his story.

Bob Bargen still looks like he could play. Whether it be baseball or basketball, Bob is in great shape. Except you can tell he’d rather be pacing the sidelines. This man, like so many others I’ve talked to during this book’s journey, is a coach. But unlike many of the others, his time in the BCU-MC series was extremely short, and difficult. You could say the deck may have been stacked against him in his only two seasons as a college head coach, but he was the transitional piece between the two eras of Morningside men’s basketball.

When you sit down with him, Bob’s eyes belie his gracious demeanor when talking about the Morningside’s transition from NCAA D2 to the NAIA at the beginning of this new century. You can see the hurt that still lies deep inside, never bubbling to the top, but there nonetheless. He says, “The hardest part has been the not knowing why” he was let go after having an incredible recruiting season prior to his second and final year. All he received was the standard, “We have decided to go in a different direction.” That recruiting class yielded Morningside’s all-time scoring leader Brad Schmidt; its 11th, Eddie Ceaser; its 15th, Tom Regan; and its 28th, Paul McGill. Quite a haul for one class that culminated their senior season with a trip to the NAIA’s Elite Eight and a final mark of 29-7 in 2006, the most wins in Morningside men’s history.

Gene Steinmeyer, who coached the women’s programs at Doane University (remember BCU Women’s “that Doane loss”?) and Northwest Missouri State, was Bargen’s assistant for a couple of years at Milford, Nebraska High. A few years ago, Steinmeyer wrote the following testimonial about his old boss.

“The next great character in coaching I was lucky enough to work with was Bob Bargen. Bob was one of those coaching figures that I had admired when I coached at Humboldt, NE. Working with Bob provided great insight on what made him tick. He was great at working officials. Usually he knew exactly how far he could take it with the officials. He could back off just in time, unless we had a big lead. It was then he didn’t care if he crossed the technical foul line.

“I saw him once get a technical from official with bad judgement and bad hair. Bob really didn’t like how he had called the game. With just a little time left in the fourth quarter and Milford safely in the lead, the official ran by our bench. Bob shouted to him, “Too bad about your hair.” It took a few seconds for the comment to sink in, but eventually the official was able to stop the game and give Bob a very comical technical foul.

“The absolute funniest exchange with an official came when Bob confronted the late, great Rudy Stoehr, an icon of an official among the high school refereeing ranks. Bob thought Rudy was letting Centennial High School get away with rough play one night in the Milford gym. Rudy had called a jump ball and Bob had disagreed. He yelled, ‘Rudy, we are getting hammered, just hammered.’ Rudy heard Bob’s loud pleads. He handed the ball to his officiating partner, so he could take the outside position on the jump ball. He walked right at Bob as the two glared at each other. I was sure Bob was about to be given a technical foul. Instead, Rudy stopped right by Bob, turned around and got into a ready position so his butt was no more than two inches from Bob’s face. I loved Bob’s comment to me. ‘Think he’s trying to tell me something?’ Bob and Rudy were two of the great characters of the hardwood I had the privilege to see in action during the same game.”

There’s much more to Bob’s story and seasons on the bench at Morningside, as well as his ‘release’ from the head coaching position. You can find it all in River City Rivals.