Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Tough and to the Point

Playing a sport for Coach Les Hipple meant a life of rigor, clean living, modest behavior and self-denial. Even so, many boys were eager to meet these demands for the right to play on one of Hipple's teams.

In A Coach's Life, author Dan Kellams narrates the story of one of the greatest high school coaches in Iowa's history, an extraordinary man who lived according the principles he taught, even when it meant losing a game or a championship--or the job he loved.

Kellams, a former Hipple athlete, offers a vivid portrait of a coach who imposed stern discipline on hundreds of boys and, in the process, transformed them into champions. A Coach's Life recalls Hipple's full eighty-six years, focusing on his long career at Marion High School in Iowa, where he led his Indians to thirty-three championships in football, basketball, track, and cross-country, giving the town its most glorious years in sports. Many young men learned unforgettable lesson they later passed on to others around the world.

Meticulously researched, this biography is set against the backdrop of small-town America during the 1940s and 1950s. Its poignant stories include those of a superb athlete who died on the verge of greatness, a school controversy that turned brother against brother, and a changing society that trapped a great coach in the vise of his own principles.

"Part Hoosiers and part Our Town . . . Tough and to the point." -- Phil Grose, author of South Carolina on the Brink

"Compelling . . . An empathetic recollection of a man and a time that no longer exist . . . A story both to enjoy and contemplate." -- ForeWord Clarion Reviews

"A poignant biography of the stern taskmaster . . . The historical backdrop of the town grips the reader." -- Jim Ecker, Metro Sports report

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Hail to the Team

"Anyone working for individual glory will fall far below the level of first string material."

Thus warned Les Hipple after taking over the sports program in Marion, Iowa, in 1945.

For 20 years he preached the gospel and enforced the rules of team play, turning out 33 state and conference champions in football, basketball, track and cross-country. He coached them all.

When a boy won special recognition from an outside source, such as being named Prep of the Week by the Des Moines Register, Hipple took the young man aside and told him, "Don't let this go to your head. You are being recognized because you play on a good team."

I was raised on Hipple's values, so when I began conducting interviews for this book, I thought of an interesting experiment. I would ask his former athletes to name their three favorite movies. I actually thought the old coach's influence was so strong that some of them would name my favorites as well.

But none did.

So, as one more measure of a coach's influence, here are my all-time favorite movies, in the order in which I first saw them.

1. Battleground (1949), directed by William Wellman.  With Van Johnson, John Hodiak, James Whitmore, Ricardo Montalban and bunch of other good guys. It's to story of a squad of soldiers in the 101st Airborne Division, surrounded by the German army during the Battle of the Bulge.

2. The Wild Bunch (1969), directed by Sam Peckinpah. With William Holden, Ernest Borgnine, Robert Ryan, Warren Oates and other fine western actors. Here, five grizzled outlaws botch a bank and a train robbery, but then assert their honor in a bloody and suicidal shootout with a brigade of Mexican soldiers.

3. Chariots of Fire (1981), directed by Hugh Hudson. With Ben Cross, Ian Charleson and Ian Holm (magnificent as coach Sam Mussabini). This hymn to young manhood follows a group of British athletes to the Paris Olympics in 1924.

Well, I said three movies, but there's a tie for third place. We can't leave out Hoosiers (1986), directed by David Anspaugh.  Set in 1951, its the story of a basketball team that accomplished the nearly impossible.

Coach Hipple wasn't much of a movie fan, but I think he might have liked these.

-- By Dan Kellams

Monday, February 13, 2012

Drill Sergeant - Or Tough Love?

"Compelling . . . an empathetic recollection of a man and time that no longer exist . . . a story both to enjoy and ponder." --  ForeWord Clarion Reviews

Woody Hayes flashed across the sports pages and is gone, in disgrace. Joe Paterno exited college football under a cloud. Lester Hipple, an extraordinarily successful high school coach in a small rural Iowa town, died in 1999, yet he remains a legendary and controversial figure in Iowa high school athletic lore.

As described by Dan Kellams in A Coach's Life: Les Hipple and the Marion Indians, Coach Hipple's control over his athletes was nearly immutable. The games and the students he taught changed, but Hipple never did.

Kellams has written a clear, compelling, and yet careful encomium to his former coach. In an Author's Note, Kellams writes: "When I began this project, I made three promises: to try not to open old wounds, to refuse to use reporters' tricks and threats to wheedle information from people who didn't want to talk to me, and to respect the memories of those who did."

After so many years, the recollections of Les Hipple, what he meant to Marion, Iowa, and what he did for his student-athletes are still fresh for those who knew or played for him.

Clearly well trained as a journalist, Kellams writes in a direct, no-frills style. His research is thorough and the narrative replete with stories from those who knew Coach Hipple, along with references to newspaper accounts of the coach's exploits.

Kellams describes small-town life in rural Iowa and the hard existence of Midwestern tenant farmers in the early twentieth century. A product of that time and place, Hipple grew up in a farm community there and knew hard work from his early years.

In later years, parents criticized Hipple for imposing harsh rules on his players. The coach once wrote: "We will keep our dates to a minimum (school parties after home games, Saturday night or Sunday afternoon) and not let them interfere with our football. If we date often, go steady, or must see a particular girlfriend between classes or at noon, we will drop athletics."

In his defense, his sister noted: "What rules? . . . That was the way we grew up." To the end, the coach attempted to enforce his stringent expectations in the face of growing dissatisfaction in the community. Despite the fact the he had brought fame and championships to Marion, the community could no longer support his drill-sergeant approach to coaching.

A Coach's Life is an empathetic recollection of a man and a time that no longer exist. Dan Kellams has written a story both to enjoy and contemplate.

By John Michael Senger

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Dan Kellams Explores Coach's Power in New Edition of Popular Biography


"'A Coach's Life' has been selected for inclusion in the iUniverse Star program, which recognizes excellence in writing and commercial success"

South Kent, CT (PRWEB) November 9, 2011

Author Amy Chua set off a firestorm earlier this year with her bestselling book, "Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mom," in which she described the rigid methods she used to demand obedience and accomplishments from her children.

Was she cruel and abusive? Or distributing tough love? Some readers were appalled; others praised her denunciation of lenient parenting.

Exploring these same issues from a different perspective, Dan Kellams delivers "A Coach's Life: Les Hipple and the Marion Indians" (published by iUniverse), the true life story of a tough high school coach in a small town in Iowa.

Hired in 1945 to bring discipline to high school athletes in Marion, Iowa, Les Hipple applied strict rules and enforced them relentlessly. Among them: no drinking or smoking, no cursing, no staying up past 10:00 p.m., no go steady with girls, no driving cars except on Sunday. Hipple turned out championship teams in football, basketball, track and cross-country, and the town celebrated his achievements.

But as time passed and social values shifted, the town grew and the attitudes of parents and school administrators changed--while the coach did not. Caught in the vise of his own principles, Hipple lost his job, fired in 1965 for the same reason he had been hired 20 years earlier--his tough approach to coaching.

Thus, the book tells the story of a man whose deeply held principles lifted him to great success--and then led to his failure and humiliation. But it is also about a vanished time in America and the cultural shifts that changed the country.

"A Coach's Life" has been selected for inclusion in the iUniverse Star program, which recognizes excellence in writing and commercial success."

(Text of a news release issued by iUniverse announcing the availability of the new edition of "A Coach's Life.")

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

The Star and the Brick

“A Coach’s Life” received two unexpected tributes recently. They symbolize where the book stands at this point in its existence.

One of the tributes, which came in the mail as a complete surprise, was a silvery paperweight in the shape of a star with the name “iUniverse” impressed on it. It was a keepsake from the book’s publisher, and it signifies the fact that “A Coach’s Life” was granted iUniverse’s rare “Star” designation.

The Star designation means that iUniverse has chosen to issue a second edition of the book with a new cover and a slightly revised text, and to promote the book in a variety of ways—all at the publisher’s expense. Fewer than one percent of all the author-published books issued by iUniverse earn this designation.

So the star stands for the belief that the book has the potential to reach a far wider and more diverse audience than I ever intended as I went about writing it.

The Star version of the book is now making its way into the marketplace.

The other tribute came in the form of a brick. Pictured above, it is one of many that are mounted on a donor’s wall in the Marion (Iowa) High School building. Benefactors who donate $300 to the school district foundation are entitled to have a red brick placed on the wall with their names on it.

For years before the book was published, and ever since, the foundation directors, LaNisha Cassell and Nancy Thornton, have championed the book in many ways, including selling it to alumni, teachers, and townspeople.

Incredibly (to me), the book generated enough profit for the foundation to warrant its own brick.

I had no idea that LaNisha and Nancy were keeping track or that such a wonderful thing was even possible.

But I’m certain my old coach, Les Hipple, would be pleased.

The brick tells me I achieved the goal I had in mind when I started this project so long ago. Every time I faced an editorial decision as I worked on the book—and there were thousands of such decisions—I always opted for the one that I thought would best meet the interests of my target audience. And that audience was the people of Marion, Iowa, who remembered the coach and his times.
If I can write a book they will like, I said, I will succeed.

The brick says I did it.  The star says more is possible.

-- Dan Kellams

Above, the donor's wall in the Marion High School building

Saturday, September 10, 2011

A Victim of His Principles

"[Hipple's] rules were almost a form of asceticism . . . Hipple valued instilling discipline over a fleeting victory."

Excerpts from The Iowan magazine, Sept. / Oct. 2011

By Nick Bergus

The great coaches--think Vince Lombardi, John Wooden, and Bear Bryant--are quoted for their wisdom on character as much as they are hailed for their innovative strategies and tactics.

Les Hipple's name isn't as familiar as those legendary coaches of the Packers, UCLA, and Alabama, but the boys he coached at Marion High School from 1945 to 1965 would probably say he was cut from the same cloth.

As coach of the Marion Indians' football, basketball, track, and cross-country teams, Hipple won 32 state and conference championships. He's a member of both the Iowa football and basketball halls of fame . . .

Hipple had rules . . . There were unwritten ones and 10 written ones that were sent home to parents of football players every fall. The boys were expected to follow them year round. The rules were almost a form of asceticism: no smoking or drinking, no staying out late, no serious dating, no skipping practice, no swearing, and no driving except under very specific circumstances . . .

The rules were strict, but the coach expected all of his athletes to follow them. Those who didn't comply--whether a captain, leading scorer, or backup--were benched or removed from the team. Hipple valued instilling discipline over a fleeting victory.

The coach believed his rules and methods were the bedrock of Marion High School's athletic excellence. But as the values of his athletes' parents shifted, and as the school administration changed, Hipple's strictness, and his refusal to adapt his methods in any major way, led to his downfall . . .

The greatness of great coaches like Hipple is due in part to their strictness . . . The refusal to change, however . . . eventually becomes a liability. And as stability becomes stubbornness, even great coaches can become victims of their own unwavering principles.

Sunday, August 7, 2011

Reflections on "A Coach's Life"

One year ago this month, A Coach's Life was launched at a book party in my hometown, Marion, Iowa.

I should have kept a journal.

Now the book is poised for a new launch, dressed up in a new cover and ready to seek a wider audience through a cooperative marketing program with the publisher. Inside it will be essentially the same, although I've been able to fix some minor factual and stylistic errors and to add (and subtract) a few words here and there.

But before pushing ahead, let's look back at what the book has meant to me and to others since it was published.


New friendships. Rekindled friendships. Deepened friendships.

The reaction has been so genuinely friendly and accepting that I can hardly believe it.

We had a terrific launch party, held in an art gallery in old uptown Marion.  The building had held a hardware store in my youth.  I signed about 80 books, and some folks who hadn't seen each other in years sat at tiny tables, catching up and reminiscing.

A few weeks later, my wife and I rode in a red convertible in the Swamp Fox Festival Parade, laughing and waving at all the kids and dogs that lined the parade route. It was good that some dogs came out, because the grand marshal of the parade was a recently retired drug-sniffing dog, being honored for its long service to the town.

We had great turnouts for talks at the Marion Public Library and the Old Settlers' brunch. There were a lot of Hipplemen at both events, and they were laughing at my gags before I could deliver the punchlines. (Book talks in Tipton and Des Moines were less well attended, but no matter, the folks there enjoyed it.)

But the truly wonderful thing was how welcoming people were, how willing to tell me how much they enjoyed the book, and even thanking me for writing it.

I wrote the book out of my love for the times and town of my childhood, and I guess it showed, for I received love in return. Who says you can't go home again? Not me.

Some of the stories I heard about the book and its role in people's lives were heartwarming and heart wrenching--and completely unexpected.

  • Family members took turns reading the book to a dying man in his hospice bed. 
  • A man who bore lifelong anger at the Coach Hipple read the book reluctantly and discovered in it something that led him to forgive the coach and to rid himself of the burden of his resentment.
  • A man with failing eyesight, a hero of my youth, enjoyed hearing the book read to him by his daughters on his birthday.
  • A daughter was moved to seek (and, I believe achieve) a reconciliation with her father.
Many people took the time to write notes of appreciation. "It feels as if you have reached into my head and stolen my memories," wrote one reader.

No book can be called finished just because it is written and published. Readers complete the book by what they bring to it. This book has been blessed with great readers.

-- Dan Kellams