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

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

"A Coach's Life" Earns Star Treatment

The biography of a legendary Iowa high school coach has earned a rare distinction from its publisher.

A Coach's Life: Les Hipple and the Marion Indians has been selected by iUniverse for its "Star Program," a special marketing and sales effort reserved for books with high editorial quality and added sales potential. As a result, the current edition of the book will go out of print and a new edition will be issued with a new cover and slightly revised text.

Less than one percent of iUniverse books receive this treatment. iUniverse is one of the largest companies serving authors of self-published books.

A Coach's Life is the biography of a man who came to Marion, Iowa, in 1945 and imposed strict discipline on his players, turning out winning teams for an adoring town. When times and the town changed, the coach did not, and he lost his job in 1965 for being too strict.

The book is "a poignant biography of the stern taskmaster," wrote Jim Ecker of Metro Sports Report. "The historical background of the town grips the reader."

The new version of the book will be marketed to book retailers, traditional publishing houses, book clubs and other companies, according to the iUniverse web site. iUnverse will also seek reviews for the book and will enter it in appropriate awards programs.

"iUniverse will invite you into the Star Program only if we believe that further investment will help you receive broader recognition and greater commercial success," the web site states.

While revisions are underway, the current version remains available.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

In His Mentor's Footsteps

"UCLA had John Wooden. The Packers had Lombardi. But I feel even luckier, for I had Les Hipple. Coach Hipple gave me the guidance and discipline to shape my life."

These words are from a letter written in 1978 by a young high school basketball coach who was nominating his former coach to the Iowa Basketball Coaches Hall of Fame.

Twenty-three years later, in 2011, that younger coach, Gordon Rundquist, joined his mentor, Les Hipple, in the hall. Rundquist was honored for a 38-year head coaching career that brought his teams 559 victories against 250 losses, the 12th most victories registered by an Iowa coach. His teams won 16 conference titles and made five appearances in the state finals.

For most of his career, Rundquist coached at Maquoketa Valley High School in Delhi, Iowa, about 50 miles from where he grew up in Marion. His parents were divorced and he was raised by his mother, grandmother and an aunt. But by the time he was in fourth grade, he knew where he was headed: to the gym, where there was free play for kids every morning before school.

The boy learned to time his early morning departures so that Hipple could drive him to school, and, once there, teach him the fundamentals. In time the boy viewed Hipple as a father figure. From a very young age, he knew he wanted to be a coach, too.

This gentleness in Hipple was not apparent to most boys who played under the coach, and as Rundquist grew older and began playing on high school teams, he was treated no differently from his teammates. Spotted in the hallway with his girlfriend, a violation of one of Hipple's rules, Rundquist was ordered to make extra climbs of the rope to the ceiling of the gym. He was in trouble so often he did it routinely before almost every practice.

Nevertheless, Rundquist always felt he could go to his coach for advice about anything. That was the way he wanted to be, too. "I wanted my players to be able to talk to me, but once we got on the court, they had to know who the boss was."

Rundquist inherited many traits from Hipple, including a tendency to give very short answers to complex questions, but the one he points to most often is the practice of starting kids young. "Coach Hipple had a basketball program for elementary school kids back in the 1950s, and nobody had that. Nobody. He was far ahead of his time."

School programs that taught basketball fundamentals to fifth and sixth graders were still rare when Rundquist went to Maquoketa Valley in 1970. He started one, and it may have saved his job. His teams were struggling and his future uncertain until his first class of sixth graders grew up to play on the varsity. Their mastery of the fundamentals and knowledge of the game began a winning tradition that carried through to Rundquist's final season.

Rundquist left Maquoketa Valley when offered an early retirement package in 2005. "We lost a game we probably shouldn't have lost, and I just thought it was time to quit."

He was wrong. He was immediately offered a job as assistant coach at Iowa City West, and in an experimental first year, discovered that he loved it. "I get to be the good guy," he said.

For years, as his success grew, Rundquist made annual pilgrimages back to Marion to visit his old coach and talk about the game. They diagrammed plays together. Hipple never failed to send Rundquist congratulatory notes when his teams made state or won championships. "I knew you could do it, Gordon," Hipple wrote.

The Hipple legacy has passed to another generation. Rundquist's son, Paul, is an successful basketball coach at Mount Pleasant.


The telephone interview with Rundquist lasted nearly an hour. Shortly after it ended, he called me back. There was something else he wanted me to know.

Rundquist's coaching career began at West Branch in 1967, the year he graduated from Coe College. The untested coach was in his early 20s.

"You know who came to our first game?" he asked.  "Les Hipple. We played at Mount Vernon and Coach came to see it. We staged a late rally and won the game."

-- Dan Kellams

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Part "Hoosiers," Part "Our Town"

By Phil Grose

Americans treasure their individual freedoms and liberties and fight fiercely to defend them.

With one or two notable exceptions.

Among them is the extraordinary lattitude afforded athletic coaches in the exercise of control over the lives and behavior of their players. Dan Kellams' book tells just such a story.

Framed in the day-to-day, game-by-game, year-by-year chronology of a small town in eastern Iowa, it seems part Hoosiers and part Our Town as the fates of the football and basketball eams play out in the broader scope of a town which draws much of its self-worth from the outcome of Friday night athletic events.

Central to all that is Les Hipple, the man who spent most of his life coaching the boys' football, basketball, baseball and track teams at Marion High School. Along the way, he imposed his own rules of conduct on this players' lives, rules which not only controlled those things which might relate to their ability to play sports but which also imposed limits on their family and social lives.

Players were not supposed to be dating and they were even forbidden from driving and automobile. One football player caught in the act of operating a motor vehicle was excused when it was explained that he was picking up medication for this mother.

It was all part of what created a cadre of Iowans known as "Hipplemen," players who not only survived the coach's regimen, but lived with it proudly, much as Marines or members of the 82nd Airborne might do.

Hipple was firm and occasionally arbitrary, and as long as he was winning--which he did with great frequency--things were fine. But he made no friends when he declined varsity letters to five regulars on the basketball team one year because he judged their effort had not been sufficient. In time, these acts of public affront piled up.

As the victories declined, so--too--did Hipple's status. Changes in coaching methods, changes in the politics of Marion High School, changes in the population of the town itself, led to his downfall.

Hipple had little in the way of social or political skills, other than bluster, and when his world toppled, it crashed badly. His humiliating demise left him bitter and confused. He had spent more time winning games than making friends, and he had no fallback when the teams began to fail. In the end, his basketball players were still being instructed to shoot free throws underhand.

Kellams dutifully records Hipple's rise and fall, writing with a sportswriter's attention to detail and reporting with an eye for statistics and outcomes. His accounts of Marion High's  football and basketball records during the 20 years of Hipple's tenure include wins, losses, key players and their performances and comments from newspapers, radio commentatiors and townspeople in general.

Marion becomes Hickory, Indiana, or Grovers Corners, New Hampshire--or Camden, South Carolina, for that matter. The attention accorded sports teams in the town's order of priorities is not unfamiliar to anyone who ever occupied the bleachers on a high school Friday night.

Kellams was a "Hippleman" and clearly liked the man. But he keeps the story straight and uncluttered. He treats Hipple the way Hipple probably treated him. Tough and to the point.

(Phil Grose is a research associate at the Institute for Southern Studies at the University of South Carolina. He is the author of South Carolina on the Brink, a biography of Governor Robert E. McNair.)

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Lessons Never Forgotten

"He worked ceaselessly to turn boys into disciplined, responsible young men, and made them champions . . .  [The book is not only] about a coach and his players, but also about an era and the values that exemplified it."

By Steve Rucker

The realization of what he had done for us came later in life.

For me, it happened at Fort Riley, Kan., in the summer of 1969.

Our Army ROTC training company had lived on canned rations and little sleep for two weeks, but today was Saturday, the last training day of our six-week cycle. It was noon. The only remaining duty was to march back to our barracks, and our miserable lives as trainees would be over.

Our evaluator, however, had other plans. He ordered that our "march" would instead by a brutal, 2.5-mile run in full gear: helmet, rifle, load-bearing equipment, ammunition and canteens. We ran down a shimmering black aphalt road under a merciless sun. The air was clear and windless, a broiling 104 degrees.

Only 40 percent of our 155-man unit reached the company area without dropping out.

I was in the group that made it. For an hour, we stood in the area as others straggled in. Fifteen percent were heat casualties who needed help to make it back.

As I stood in formation, exhausted, I began to realize why I had come in with the 40 percent. I was able to meet the physical and mental challenges of that grueling run because I was a "Hippleman." Quitting was unthinkable.

For 20 years as coach at Marion (Iowa) High School, Les Hipple insisted on stern rules, tough conditioning and strict adherence to fundamentals. He worked ceaselessly to turn boys into disciplined, responsible young men, and made them into champions. He was my mentor and coach, and I can think of no better example of what a man should be.

Another Hippleman, Dan Kellams, has published a book about this remarkable man. "A Coach's Life: Les Hipple and the Marion Indians" is not just a book about a coach and his players, but also about an era and the values that exemplified it.

Hipple's training rules would shock today's young athletes. He did not allow his players to drink, smoke, curse, stay up past 10:00 PM, go steady with girls or drive cars (except on Sunday afternoon or with his advance permission).

While the rules are outdated today, Coach Hipple's values and devotion to his players are timeless.

And some of his teaching lives on today in Monticello, Iowa, where I coach the sophomore basketball team. Last summer at a youth basketball camp I observed Monticello's varsity basketball coach, Tim Lambert, teaching grade-school players the fundamentals of shooting a basketball. The techniques Coach Lambert used were very familiar, because he had learned them as a grade-school student from Coach Gordon Rundquist of Maquoketa Valley High School, and Rundquist had been a Hippleman.

When Coach Lambert finished his instruction, he saw how intently I was watching. "I bet that looked familiar," he said. For a moment, I was a fourth-grader again, and Coach Hipple was still there, still teaching. He would have been very pleased to see what those youngsters were learning.

And I'm sure that you, too, will be pleased to get to know the extraordinary man who is at the heart of "A Coach's Life: Les Hipple and the Marion Indians."

(Steve Rucker served two years in the Army, then remained in the Army Reserves for 23 years, retiring as Infantry Lieutenant Colonel. His civilian career has been spent largely in information technology and project management.  His sophomore basketball team finished the season with a 16-4 record.  This article was adapted from a column that appeared the Monticello, Iowa, Express.)

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

A Scientist's View

"I don't know if the critical examination of the sociology of Marion, Iowa, was an objective of this book, but it certainly is an outcome . . . Kellams has captured how the city's athletic program mirrored cultural changes in society "

By John Mark Dean, PhD
Distinguished Professor Emeritus
University of South Carolina

For many of us who participated in competitive athletics, our interaction with coaches was a transforming experience. Others found their coaches were stereotypes of men trying to live out their fantasies of athletic success through "coaching" and were incompetent teachers. The most fortunate high school athletes had coaches who used sports to instill a positive set of values and behaviors that stayed with them for their adult years: discipline, teamwork, loyalty, and the knowledge that practice and hard work paid off and was rewarded.

Dan Kellams has given us unique insights into the life of exactly such a high school coach in Iowa, and concurrently a view of public education from post-WWII through the 1960s. His carefully researched analysis of Coach Les Hipple's life also documents the transition of American culture over that time.

Iowa and the rest of the country were transformed from a rural to urban culture over a 30- to 40-year period. Kellams has captured how the city's athletic programs mirrored the cultural changes in society during that time. The coach's relationships with parents and the politics of school boards and administrators are a microcosm of general society.

I don't know if the critical examination of the sociology of Marion, Iowa, a small Midwestern city, was an objective of this book, but it is certainly an outcome. Hipple saw high school athletics as an educational activity that promoted individual discipline and development that led to team success and community pride. It appears that Hipple and other coaches of that era believed in the mind-body relationships practiced in ancient Greek culture. The Greeks believed that such attributes and practices were understood as a complex interlocking system.

Hipple's coaching success in one team sport using his "rules" contributed to championships in other sports. A failure by student-athletes to perform and follow the rules had consequences. If players broke the rules, they lost starting positions, playing time, did not earn a letter, or were not permitted to remain on the team.

All this developed a feedback loop that generated a sustained culture of excellence in the school. Those championships became integrated with the economic and political affairs of the city. Slight variations of Hipple's rules were adopted by other coaches throughout the state and they, too, enjoyed success.

The success for Hipple and his Marion teams came with a personal cost to Hipple. Parents who wanted their children to have the recognition of being a starter on teams complained privately and publicly. Parents appealed to the political structure of the school board and the administrators for satisfaction. Sacrificing the coach to appease dissatisfied parents and fans is a well-understood outcome of virtually every school system at every level of competition in the U.S. This is especially well-known by families of coaches.

This book is an excellent read for those interested in biography, the evolution of high school athletics, school administration, and the changes in cultural values during this time. Could a Les Hipple use his policies and practices and succeed as a coach and teacher in 2011? How would he teach young men the classical Greek values of athletics in a world that encourages the recruitment of middle school athletes into the pop culture of contemporary college athletics and professional sports entertainment?

It is highly unlikely that today's parenting practices and school administration values would make an effort like Hipple's even possible to consider.

John Mark Dean is an internationally known marine scientist specializing in the ecology of fish habitats. He grew up in a series of  Iowa towns--Allerton, Fontanelle, and Marshalltown--the son of a high school coach.

Friday, January 7, 2011

"A Poignant Biography"

By Jim Ecker

(Note: This is an excerpt from a review written by long-time Iowa sportswriter Jim Ecker, who now heads a new sports web site, Metro Sports Report)

Marion [Iowa] native Dan Kellams gives readers a rare treat with his new book on Marion High School coach Les Hipple . . . [Kellams], who played for the legendary coach, provides a poignant biography of the stern taskmaster whose teams dominated the WaMaC Conference in the 1940s and 1950s, while also providing a keen historical look at the city of Marion itself.

Hipple compiled a 105-42-10 record in 18 years as Marion's head football coach from 1945-62 and won seven conference titles; collected a 310-120 record in 20 years as the boys basketball coach . . . and captured 12 WaMaC crowns; coached the boys track team . . . with five league titles, and also won eight state cross-country titles in a row.

Hipple is a member of the Iowa Halls of Fame in both football and basketball, one of the few coaches to hold both honors, and his basketball teams were among some of the best in the state . . . Marion High School named the school's athletic fields after him in 1978, a fitting tribute to his career, but numbers and honors don't do justice to the man or the book ("A Coach's Life: Les Hipple and the Marion Indians."

Hipple, who died in 1999 at age 86, was a strict disciplinarian who placed heavy demands on his players. He received strong support in the community during the glory years from parents and administrators, but times changed and support waned. He became a controversial figure and ultimately was fired, leaving behind a legacy of success, outstanding athletes, love, respect and some bruised feelings.

Hipple treated all this players alike--stars and deep reserves--and often said he didn't care what his players thought of him at the time but cared deeply about what they would think of him in the future when they were grown men. There are several moving tributes to Hipple by former players, who indeed grew to respect the values he instilled in them as boys.

His rules were among the strictest in the state:

1) No smoking or drinking.

2) In bed by 10 every night, except Friday and Saturday, when a midnight curfew was allowed.

3) Dates with girls must be kept to a minimum. No going steady.

4) Cannot miss practice without permission.

5) May not drive cars except on Sundays (remember, this was the 1940s and '50s).

6) Use only proper language at all times.

7) Take best possible care of equipment.

8) Keep dressing rooms clean, home and away.

Players who violated rules were ordered to run endless laps, while serious or repeat offenders were kicked off the team.

"You, as a Marion Indian, cannot do some of the things other students do," Hipple wrote in 1952. "If you think more of smoking, drinking, dating or going steady, staying out late at night, or riding around in automobiles, then you are not willing to 'pay the price' and it is best for you not to take about a uniform . . . To be on a championship team you have to be a champion yourself."

Kellams does an excellent job of describing some of the big games and championship seasons, but it's the historical backdrop of the town and its rapid growth that grips the reader. There are fascinating behind-the-scenes stories about Marion principals, superintendents, school board members and athletes themselves, along with the role disgruntled parents played in Hipple's demise.

There's a telling segment about racial discrimination at the municipal pool, along with detailed accounts of growing up in Iowa in the early and middle parts of the 20th century.

Kellams gives a balanced account of Hipple's life, stressing his triumphs while not ignoring the shortcomings, but author's deep respect for the man comes shining through.