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Vic Belger joins CCHS Hall of Fame

Creston had dominant H-10 run in baseball under Belger

The man who directed one of the most successful athletic programs in Creston Community High School history will join the school’s Hall of Fame this week.

Vic Belger, guidance counselor and baseball coach in Creston for two decades beginning in the 1982-83 school year, and head basketball coach for nine seasons, is among those being honored this year. He becomes a faculty representative in the Hall of Fame.

Induction ceremonies are scheduled at 7 p.m. Thursday in the school auditorium for the new inductees, prior to the crowning of the 2018 homecoming queen.

After a 9-18 season his first summer in Creston, Belger developed consistent winning in the baseball program with 16 straight seasons of 20 or more victories. His record in Creston was 545-221 in 21 seasons (.711 winning percentage). His overall record as a head baseball coach was 920-319, which ranks 27th all-time nationally for career victories.

In Iowa his victory total ranks seventh in a career that includes stops at Fonda OLGC, Rockwell City and Rockford prior to moving to Creston in 1982.

Belger was Iowa Coach of the Year in 1990, coached 15 district championship teams (10 at Creston) and his Creston teams won the Hawkeye Eight Conference five years in a row beginning in 1989. (Carroll Kuemper and Denison joined the league in 1993. Council Bluffs St. Albert was added in 2013.)

Belger was inducted into the Iowa High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Fame in 1995 and the Upper Iowa University Athletic Hall of Fame in 1996. He was a finalist for National High School Athletic Coaches Association Baseball Coach of the Year in 2004. His final team at Creston in 2003 had a 26-8 record.

Belger had a basketball coaching record of 112-77 for nine seasons in Creston, ending with the 1991-92 season. His overall record was 249-121 with three district championships.

Two of his best teams ran into bad luck on the tournament trail, as the 1988-89 Panthers (16-6) and the 1989-90 squad (19-3) were both derailed by undefeated teams that would go on to become state champions in Council Bluffs St. Albert and Pella Christian, respectively.

His successor was Mike Gerleman, and they teamed up again in 1997 as Belger became Gerleman’s assistant. Starting in 1993, Gerleman switched from Creston’s head softball coach to become Belger’s baseball assistant coach until Belger’s retirement.

“We became close friends through coaching all those years together,” Gerleman said. “It was a big change for me when he retired because there was a void there, both professionally and socially. We were both very competitive and wanted to win. It was a great combination.”

Belger said he was surprised to hear of his selection, and cited Gerleman as one example of a consistent, high-quality staff at CCHS during his years here.

“I was surprised when I was told I was going into the Hall of Fame,” Belger said. “The fact that it’s for everything, not just athletics, I just feel really good about being considered for it. And then making it, I’m shocked! We had an excellent staff with good administrators when I was in Creston. Many of them are currently in the Hall of Fame, and I’m sure many others will be considered. It was a staff that stayed here. That made me think that Creston must be a pretty good place to work.”

The son of a baseball and basketball coach in Iowa City, as a high school student he didn’t foresee a long career in education or coaching. He went to Upper Iowa University and was a four-year baseball letterman there, majoring in history and minoring in physical education and social studies.

“I thought I’d probably teach and coach for a couple of years and find something I would probably enjoy more,” Belger said. He admits he never found that “something else” and has no regrets.

“Once I got involved, I think I enjoyed the competition,” Belger said. “I felt that I was doing good for kids in a way. Then later when I got into counseling, I thought I was having more impact in helping kids than I did as a classroom teacher. Whether it was a problem they were having in school, or helping them think about a possible career, I felt like I had accomplished something at the end of the day.”

Early hurdles

It was a career that nearly didn’t take off. During his first teaching job in Rockford, Illinois, in the 1965-66 school year, he was drafted into the U.S. Army during the Vietnam War.

After serving two years in the military, Belger applied for a teaching job at Emmetsburg Catholic.

“I was driving up for the interview and I had the radio on in my car, and they announced the school had closed,” Belger said. “When I got there the priest explained they had a meeting the night before and the board made the decision. But he told me of two other jobs he knew of at Fonda OLGC and Storm Lake St. Marys.”

Belger was hired at OLGC, where his baseball team won a state championship during the 1969 fall season. That was an era when most of the state’s small schools that did not play football had a fall baseball season.

During the period of one-class summer tournaments, his OLGC team went extra innings in a district game before losing to eventual state champion Fort Dodge in the summer of 1969.

Belger and his family, which includes wife Pat and sons Scott and Kurt, moved to four other school districts in Iowa and Colorado before landing in Creston for an extended stay.

When openings came up in Creston for guidance counselor, head baseball and head basketball coach, Belger said it had everything he was looking for in a school. He was working in northern Iowa at Rockford at the time.

“Creston had the coaching positions I wanted and the counseling position, and it was the size of school that I wanted to be in,” Belger said. “I just thought this looks like a pretty good situation and a place I would want to raise my family. It seemed like we had a lot of kids with talent and they wanted to be good players. They were willing to put in the time to do that.”

Dominant period

Starting with the summer of 1988, Belger’s baseball teams posted season records of 31-8, 40-4, 39-4, 41-2 and 35-6 through the 1992 season. Both of his sons were all-staters during that period, including the state runner-up team that fell to Spencer, 4-3, in the 1990 championship game. That game was known in local circles as the title that got away, as Kurt Belger appeared to throw a called third strike to a batter in the final inning with Creston leading 3-2 with two outs.

“I always told the guys, to me that trophy will always be a state championship trophy,” Belger said.

Perhaps the most remarkable season followed in 1991, because so many key players had graduated off the 1990 squad. After splitting the opening doubleheader with Chariton, Creston proceeded to win 40 straight games to enter the substate game against Des Moines East with a 41-1 record.

“I remember Chad Willets was one of our top guys coming back and he broke his hand,” Belger said. “I was looking at the possibility of us finishing around .500 that season. We pulled out a bunch of games late and by the end of the season we’d won 40 games in a row and we’re playing for the right to go to state in Class 4A when only four teams went to state.”

Kurt Belger, who set a state record with 41 straight pitching victories in a 51-3 career before pitching for the University of Iowa, was the leader of the Panther team that played in Class 4A for his junior and senior seasons. As a junior he pitched a memorable victory over Indianola and opposing pitcher Casey Blake, who went on to a storied career at Wichita State and several major league teams. Indianola defeated Creston in district play his senior year after Des Moines East derailed the Panthers during that 41-2 season.

“It’s too bad we went up to 4A for those two years, because we had talented teams that could have done very well in 3A,” Belger said.

Coaching tree

Scott Driskell, Creston Community Elementary School principal, was an all-state pitcher on teams that went 40-4 in 1989 with a substate loss to St. Albert, and the 39-4 state runner-up team in 1990. He was also a basketball and football standout at Creston.

Driskell, who became a head football coach before entering administration, said he was influenced by his high school coaches, 2015 Hall of Fame inductee Dick Bergstrom and Belger.

“I am not going to lie, sometimes coach Belger wasn’t your favorite person,” Driskell said. “He got after all of us and often, but as a coach (later) I appreciated it. He wanted to get everything out of us individually and as a team.”

Driskell cited Belger’s attention to detail, often preparing for obscure situations in practice that came up rarely during a season. And, Belger’s intensity rubbed off on his players.

“We were prepared and expected to execute the way we practiced it,” Driskell said. “Practices and games were intense. Through coach Belger’s focus and intensity, we won a lot of late-inning games and never panicked, because we were prepared for everything. There was always an underlying belief that we were going to win the game.”

Several other former players of Belger’s went on to their own coaching careers, such as two state championships won by Scott Belger at Southeast Polk, Kansas state titles won by Brian Bucklin at St. James Academy and multiple state tourney appearances by Casey Bryant at Western Dubuque and Ryan Woods at Ottumwa. Woods is now principal at Johnston High School.

One of Scott Belger’s longtime assistant coaches was Dave Hartman, who got his coaching career started as a 19-year-old when he joined his former high school coach as an assistant at Creston. Hartman is now head coach at Southeast Polk, succeeding Scott Belger.

“Vic brought a toughness and an attitude to Creston baseball,” Hartman said. “He impacted me with that intensity. He scouted more than anyone I knew, and he continued doing so when Scott and I were coaching together. He taught me a lot about passion, commitment, preparation and organization.”

All of those coaches mentioned above were products of the “glory days” of Creston baseball under Belger in the late 1980s and 1990s. It’s a period that Belger now looks back on fondly at the age of 77.

“I’ve always considered my time in Creston to be the most enjoyable years of my life,” he said.

Vic and Pat now reside in Waukee and enjoy attending activities of their grandchildren. Vic is employed part time as an usher for the Iowa Cubs and still teaches driver’s education for Street Smarts in the Des Moines area.

Scott and his family live in Pleasant Hills and he is assistant principal at Southeast Polk. Kurt and his family reside in Urbandale and Kurt is a senior financial advisor for Wells Fargo in Des Moines.

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