History of the IGCA

Dr. E. Wayne Cooley, the long-time Executive Director of the Iowa Girls High School Athletic Union (IGHSAU), attended the National High School Athletic Coaches Association (NHSACA) National Convention in Lexington, Kentucky, in 1984. His intent was to gather information about organizing a coaches association for Iowa’s girl’s coaches. At this convention, he liked what he saw. Iowa at the time had their own rulebooks, their own standards and the unique position of being the leader for girl’s high school athletics in the United States. IGHSAU was not a member of the National Federation nor was the NHSACA. The NHSACA was formed in 1965 at a NEA convention in spite of the National Federation not supporting an organization for high school coaches. The NHSACA worked outside the traditional “box”. The NHSACA would help provide the structure for the IGCA and provide an awards program for Iowa coaches.


At the 1985 Summer Coaches School in Fort Dodge, memberships were taken. An individual membership was $10; no school memberships were offered. The first member was Bud Legg, currently the Information Director of the Iowa High School Athletic Association. Jerry Wetzel, Indianola, Dick Rasmussen, Ankeny, LaVerne Kloster, Dubuque, Connie Shafer, Pleasant Valley, Harold Shepherd, Vinton, Frank Huston, Ottumwa, Gary Page, Urbandale, Larry Niemeyer, Cedar Rapids, Dennis Tassell, Diagonal, and Rick Dillinger, North Polk, were the “Who’s Who” of prominent coaches that joined that day.

Bill Hennessey donated $150 to the start-up coaching association. This money was left over from a club of coaches that had won state championships in basketball. The fund had been in existence throughout five decades prior to the 1980’s. Most of those involved were deceased and this organization had not functioned in many years.

On Sunday, September 15, 1985, Dr. Cooley called a meeting of the most successful and influential coaches in Iowa. The intent was to organize Iowa’s coaches, elect officers and take over some of the things the IGHSAU had been doing, i.e. all-star games and clinics. This became the first official meeting of the girls coaches association. George Long, Urbandale Activities Director was the first president. Jerry Wetzel, Indianola, was the first secretary. Bud Legg was to be in charge of publicity and newsletters.

The original goals established at the first meeting were to name an all-district team in softball and basketball; to award a plaque to each district coach of the year; and to take over the Summer Coaches School all-star games in basketball and softball.

The free four-day Summer Coaching School was held first in Clear Lake then in Fort Dodge. It was sponsored by IGHSAU. Nearly every girl’s coach in Iowa attended the August event. The states’ top coaches were chosen by IGHSAU to lecture. The biggest honor for a high school coach was to be chosen. An East-West all-star game was held in basketball and softball; the players were juniors going into their senior year. Sessions were also held in track and field. When volleyball became established, an all-star game was held and clinic speakers added. Coaches who were chosen to coach in the all-star games put on a post game clinic and had to explain why they did certain things in the game. It was quite excruciating for a coach to lose the game and then answer to the top coaches in Iowa as to why! The last night of the Summer Coaching School was a Hawaiian Luau. This was a free dinner and dance for the players and all coaches and their families. Attendance would approach one thousand!

Another goal was to nominate Iowa coaches for the NHSACA National Coach of the Year program. A school membership was discussed and implemented by 1986. The beginning of the Iowa Girls’ Coaches Association had been formed. Members at that time came from the sports of basketball and softball. Many of the prominent coaches of the day were head coaches in both sports.

One person in particular helped to give the new coaches association instant credibility: Mike Henderson, Information Director of the IGHSAU. Mike was an ambassador for the Iowa Girl. Every coach connected his face to the IGHSAU. He knew every player from every team. He knew each coach. His uncanny photographic memory helped him recall statistics and names across the state. Mike checked every all-district team and weighed in on close decisions. He picked the all-state softball team himself. He was so well respected in the coaching community what he said carried much influence. Mike stood behind our decisions and helped shape our processes.

Mike’s favorite people were coaches. A phone call or an invitation to be with coaches is one of the few things that got Mike out of his IGHSAU basement office and to put his familiar cigarette down. At early banquets and coaching functions, Mike was the featured speaker; he never missed. With Mike Henderson’s early backing, things were legitimate. Mike is the only non-coach to be inducted into the girl’s basketball coaching hall of fame. Upon Mike’s passing, the district coach of the year plaque was renamed to the Mike Henderson District Coach of the Year. Mike was vital in the early years and those that who knew him understood how important he was for the coaches of Iowa.

After agreeing to take over the all-star games that the IGHSAU once hosted at the Summer Coaching School, Dr. Cooley arranged to financially support the new coaches association until it became established. It did not take long. With the sponsorship of all-star games and clinics, membership started to rise. The 6-on-6 all-star basketball game was first held in Guthrie Center. After a few years at Guthrie Center, the games moved to Harlan with Randy Platt directing.

A new game of basketball started in 1985, 5-on-5. It had a controversial beginning.  A fall basketball clinic was started for both 6-on-6 and 5 on 5 at Des Moines East High School and was hosted by Mark Tiby, the coach at East High. The clinic was a huge success. This clinic eventually moved to Urbandale when Tiby changed positions. Nike partially sponsored this clinic. The fall clinic eventually evolved into the IGCA Shootouts held today.

In 1989 Larry Niemeyer started a senior all-star game in Cedar Rapids for schools of five-player basketball. The games were held at Mount Mercy College for around 20 years until moving to Kirkwood Community College. Once the entire state began to play five-player, the game grew to host 120 senior basketball players with six games over two days. The all-star series was sponsored by Gatorade and called the Gatorade Games. In March of 2012, these games were renamed the IGCA Larry Niemeyer All-Star Games. Niemeyer was the driving force to establish these games and keep them strong.

A small group of softball coaches started our long tradition of all-star games. Our first games were held at Ft. Dodge, then Ankeny. Games then moved to Urbandale, host of the now defunct State Fall Softball Tournament. The all-star games were held at Urbandale for many years until the retirement of George Long and the passing of Gary Page. The games moved to Johnston High School and then on to Waukee High School. Mizuno sponsored the games in the early going.


All-star games added a new dimension in both basketball and softball. Basketball coaches Rasmussen, Wetzel, Dillinger and Tiby were invited to Kansas City to meet with a group of Oklahoma coaches about challenging each other in a 6-on-6 and five-player basketball game. The meeting must have went well: the Oklahoma coaches kept under wraps four tickets to the Kansas City Chiefs game until the meeting was over and handed them to the four Iowans! Oklahoma traveled to Ft. Dodge for the first two rounds starting in 1989. Iowa traveled to Edmond, Oklahoma, in 1991. Kum and Go and Fairplay Scoreboards purchased uniforms. Oklahoma played a different set of rules than Iowa and dominated the six-player game while Iowa finally notched a victory in the five-player game in 1989. That Iowa five-player victory featured the future Big 10 Freshman of the Year (Barb Franke), the future Big 8 Freshman of the Year (Shelly Sheetz) and the future Missouri Valley Freshman of the Year (Julie Rittgers) plus many other star players. Harold Shepherd and Mark Tiby were the coaches that got the first Oklahoma win.


A small group of Iowa coaches that included Wetzel, Rasmussen, Dillinger and Tiby, met two Minnesota high school coaches in Story City to establish the Iowa-Minnesota Softball Challenge. Eventually Wisconsin asked to join. These games were held immediately after the Iowa All-Star games in August. The players who went on to play Minnesota and Wisconsin were chosen from the best of our Iowa All-Stars. The games were eventually dropped due to scheduling and budget conflicts with the other states.


With the popularity of the all-star games, the need to recognize coaches and game officials became clear.  The IGHSAU never had honored coaches or officials. In 1985 this was a pipedream. But, the growth of the girls coaches association allowed the next goal to be accomplished. Softball and basketball both started halls of fame. Awards were handed out at the softball all-star game and the basketball fall clinic. Softball still has this format today. Basketball currently recognizes their best during an evening banquet in conjunction with the April all-star games. Game officials were thrilled to gain recognition. The best coaches in state history were honored first. In basketball they were Vernon “Bud” McLearn, Mediapolis and Bill Hennessey, Roland Story. In softball Dick Rasmussen was the first.


Dick Rasmussen was one of the most successful girls basketball/softball coaches in the state. He served as the first softball chairman. Larry Niemeyer, the equally successful basketball/softball coach, was the first girl’s basketball chairman. These men established the district representative council to lead the voting for the all-district teams and district coaches of the year. This voting procedure is still in place today.


Some of the men who lead the organization in early years included Jerry Wetzel, who became the first Executive Secretary. Gary Page, Bud Legg, Connie Shafer, Dick Rasmussen, Mark Tiby and Gary Altman were some of the first presidents. Scott DeJong became the 6-on-6-basketball chair in 1986 after Larry Niemeyer’s Cedar Rapids Jefferson team switched to the five-player game. Both men were active in this capacity up to 2012. After Rasmussen led the softball side of the organization, Randy Platt, Rick Dillinger, Howard Dorman and Gary Telford followed and continued to build on what Rasmussen established.


By 1990, the new sport of volleyball was becoming more established and gaining in popularity. Tom Keating, Dubuque Wahlert and Barb Bakker, Dike New Hartford, led the inclusion of volleyball as the third sport to join the IGCA. When Keating left the sport of volleyball to be a full time administrator, Bob Fessler, Pella, took over the role as volleyball chairman. The volleyball all-star game started in 1994 in Carroll where it is still held today. Mizuno also sponsored the volleyball all-star series in the early years. Volleyball started a coach and official hall of fame in 2007. Those awards are presented at a luncheon during the November all-star games. Keating and Bakker were both eventually named to the NHSACA National Hall of Fame.


By the end of the decade Executive Secretary Wetzel had retired from coaching and teaching. Seeing a need for an active coach to take over the day-to-day operation of the coaches association, Mark Tiby, an active past president and NHSACA Board Member, took over the reigns as Executive Secretary. In 2016, Tiby stepped away from the day-to-day operation and Joel Sullivan, Ames, became just our third executive secretary.


The association has grown to over 4,000 members and over 300 schools as members on a yearly basis. A ring program was started for the state coaches of the year. Administrator awards, assistant coach awards and the E. Wayne Cooley “YOU CAN” award began. IGCA took over selecting the only recognized all-state teams in softball and volleyball. The sport of basketball also picks an all-state team but is one of many in Iowa. More sports sought membership within the organization. IGCA continued to grow in ways not thinkable in 1985.


Golf Coach Greg Guinn, West Liberty, attended a 1992 IGCA meeting and asked an important question, “Can the female golfers in Iowa get the same recognition that other females are getting?” With that question, golf became the fourth sport to join and Guinn became the first girls golf chairman. Upon Guinn’s retirement, Byron Hartwig, OABCIG, and Dave Alvis, Keosauqua, followed as the state golf chairmen.


In 2008 Urbandale Bowling coach Chuckie Geilenfeld met with Executive Secretary Mark Tiby to see how to form a Bowling coaches group. After much discussion, Bowling opted to instead join IGCA. In fact, both girls ­and boys bowling coaches joined the IGCA. Iowa’s newest sport became the fifth sport under the IGCA umbrella. The first sport chair for Bowling was Bob Kunkle of  Waterloo. Matt Schneider, Waverly, took over the reins of Bowling and has continued to grow the sport.


A sixth sport was added in 2014, Soccer. Deliberations between the IGHSAU and Executive Secretary Tiby had gone on for a few years. Preliminary meetings did not result in the addition of soccer until Todd Hornaday, Bettendorf, came forward with a full slate of district representatives for each class ready to join. Since the sport of girl’s soccer was added months before the start of the 2014 season, the first year only all-district teams were named along with district coaches of the year. In the 2014-2015 year, the IGCA offered schools with soccer and bowling programs to join with an additional fee to support those sports. Hornaday served as the first soccer chairman. Soccer girls currently receive the same awards as all other IGCA sponsored sports.


While the Iowa Girls’ Coaches Association was growing, recognition within the NHSACA was also growing. National leaders began to recognize the long-time Iowa girl’s coaches as leaders nationally. Again with the financial support of Mr. Cooley, Bill Hennessey, Roland-Story, became the first Iowan to hold a seat on the NHSACA Board of Directors, as National Chairman in girl’s softball. Others followed. Rick Dillinger became a National Chair in softball. Harold Shepherd was a Special Sports chairman. In girl’s basketball, it was all Iowa. Jerry Wetzel served a six year term as National Chairman for girl’s basketball followed by Mark Tiby, Urbandale, for six years, Scott DeJong, Ankeny, for six years, Stan Rupe, Corydon, for another six year term and Joel Sullivan, Ames, serving his six year term. Justin Davie, Wapsie Valley, is the latest Iowa Coach serving in this capacity. No other state has held this office in the last 3 decades! Bill Coldiron, Valley West Des Moines, was a golf chairman; Bob Davidshofer, Cascade became Cross County chair and today is the Assistant Coach chairman; Bob Darrah, Dowling, was a wrestling chairman. Iowa became a national leader!


Not only were Iowans prominently active within the NHSACA Board of Directors, Iowans slowly were recognized for their leadership ability on a much bigger scale. Jerry Wetzel became the first Iowan to serve as president of the NHSACA. Harold Shepherd was next. Jerry Horton, Pekin, was the most recent NHSACA National President. Wetzel was the first to bring the National Convention to Iowa in 1984. The convention returned to Iowa under Horton in 2013.


Perhaps Dr. Cooley’s goal of national recognition went beyond his wildest imagination. The National Coach of the Year program had named three Iowans National Coach of the Year prior to the forming of the IGCA. Since then, it has exploded! Over fifty Iowa coaches have been awarded the prestigious award since! The first to come was Bill Hennessey, softball coach at Roland Story. Two Iowa coaches, Rasmussen and Niemeyer, became a rarity of sorts: named National Coach of the Year in two separate sports (basketball and softball). Original president George Long became the first Iowa Athletic Director named. And, softball dominated. More Iowa coaches have been named National Coach of the Year in softball than any other state (eleven total). Girl’s basketball was right behind with eight coaches named. Wayne Westenberg, Unity Christian, became the first Iowa volleyball coach to win the award in 1999; Tom Keating, Dubuque Wahlert, won the award in 2005. Mr. Cooley’s dream for Iowa coaches to be nationally recognized came true.


Dr. Cooley’s beginning dream has been passed down through his successors, Troy Dannen, Mike Dick and today Jean Berger. The IGCA and IGHSAU have an outstanding relationship that has resulted in a strong Iowa athletic program for young women. The help that IGHSAU provides in printing, communications and website information continues today. Without the support of the IGHSAU, our organization could not exist.


The Iowa Girls’ Coaches Association has become a statewide leader for coaches. Hundreds and hundreds of coaches have volunteered to serve throughout our history; too many to name in a single article. A byproduct of the association was the camaraderie, the friendships and professional networking that brought many coaches together for a common goal.  Most importantly, the Iowa Girls’ Coaches Association still remains true to their mission statement: Support, Educate and Recognize the Iowa Girl and Her Coach.