Gladbrook Greats: 1962 Gladbrook Panther Football

The 1962 Gladbrook Panthers football team. PHOTO COURTESY OF DEAN HOPPE

Expectations were high as the Gladbrook football squad approached their 1962 season. Coming off an Iowa River Valley Conference (IRVC) championship, the Panthers had a new head coach, Paul Kellerhals, but they had only six returning lettermen. Several seniors, a transfer and some underclassmen stepped up to fill gaps in the lineup. In its preseason special edition, the Marshalltown Times-Republican picked Gladbrook to repeat as IRVC champions but cautioned that the Comets of Beaman-Conrad were loaded with returning talent (11 lettermen) and were capable of challenging the Panthers for the crown. Several teams in the league had excellent players so the race was expected to be tight. The starting lineup for Gladbrook consisted of the following: Center, Larry Maassen; Guards, Jim Bauch and Ken Storjohann; Tackles, Ken Clar and Tom Street; Ends, Dale Sienknecht and Dean Hoppe; Quarterback, Duane Beichley; Halfbacks, Gary Ellis and Larry Herink; and Fullback, Ralph Thomsen.

Other key members of the Gladbrook team were Craig Tessau, Terry Schmitz, Jerry Hassman, Dave Mundt and Steve Baumeier, who all contributed to a highly successful season.

The Panthers easily won their first two games against Maxwell and Union-Whitten and then prepared to host Beaman-Conrad in a highly anticipated game at the Wentzien Field on September 28, 1962. It was Homecoming week for Gladbrook, and the normal Homecoming festivities ensued. There was a bonfire and snake dance on Thursday night, high school classes decorated windows in downtown businesses and Sue Handorf Koster was crowned the Homecoming queen before the game. The band conductor, David Boyd, had prepared a special halftime performance for the 50+ piece marching band. As always, the Gladbrook cheerleaders were present to rally school spirit and support the team. Jim Bauch recalls, “It was the classic Friday night lights game in which every kid dreams of playing.” The local newspaper estimated that it was the largest crowd to attend a Gladbrook home game.

Gladbrook took advantage of several Comet turnovers early in the game. Following an interception by Craig Tessau, the Panthers marched to the first score of the game and forged a 13-0 halftime lead. As he did throughout the season, Ralph Thomsen relied on a combination of speed and power to score three touchdowns and passed for another to Dale Sienknecht for a 26-6 final score.

During the season, the offense was led by Ralph Thomsen who scored 22 touchdowns and averaged over nine yards per carry. A play in the game against Alden was a great example of Ralph’s talents. On a running play designed to go around the left end, Thomson realized that he would be stopped for no gain. He reversed field, picked up several key blocks, and shed several tacklers to outrun the Alden defenders for a 61-yard touchdown.

While Thomsen was the leading scorer, Herink, Sienknecht, and Ellis contributed a total of 17 touchdowns to the effort.

Gladbrook’s defense was relentless throughout the season and was led by linebacker Jim Bauch who totaled 54 tackles for the year. Jim was particularly effective in the Panther position in which he directed his teammate to defensive formations based on opponents’ likely next play. Jerry Hassman, Dale Sienknecht, Ken Storjohann, Tom Street and Ralph Thomsen were major contributors to a defense that held opponents to an average of 3.1 points and less than 115 yards of offense per game. Storjohann recalls that the defense was effective because everyone knew their roles and did their jobs.

The closest Gladbrook came to a defeat was its game against Radcliffe as the teams were locked in a scoreless tie at halftime. Radcliffe was using an unorthodox defense that stymied the Gladbrook offense. The Panthers were not accustomed to being tied. They made some adjustments to their blocking schemes. Early in the second half, Larry Herink ran for two touchdowns and the outcome was no longer in question.

Thomsen and Bauch were named to the All-Area First Team, and while they were deserving of the recognition, the success of the 1962 Panthers was the result of a team effort. As one sportswriter noted, “This was not a “two-man” team; you do not go undefeated without the contribution of many players on the roster.” As the 1962 season came to a close, team and individual accolades and recognition were plentiful. Ten starters were named to All-Conference teams, and Thomsen was second team All-State. At that time, there was only one All-State squad which made Ralph’s award that much more noteworthy. Very few players from smaller schools earned that distinction.

Larry Dennis, sports editor of the Marshalltown Times-Republican, summed up the season with the following tribute: “Coach Paul Kellerhals has built a machine that blocks with vicious abandon on offense and a defense that regards every opposing ball carrier as a mortal enemy. Gladbrook has been rated no better than 9th among the state’s small schools but if there is a better ball club in this class, it should present itself for recognition.”

At a recent reunion, seven members of the 1962 team were present. Predictably, the conversation turned to the team’s athletic accomplishments. Stories were retold and embellished as lifelong friends reminisced about their shared victories in that special season over 60 years ago.

Every fan who reads this article can probably remember a team from their community that excelled and was a source of pride and celebration. Whether they competed 6 or 60 years ago, it is never too late to tell their story and to honor champions.

1962 Season Record

Opponent | We | They

Maxwell 27 0

Union Whitten 45 6

Beamon- Conrad 26 6

Wellsburg 38 13

Hubbard 46 0

Alden 33 0

Radcliffe 21 0

Traer- Clutier 39 0

Thank you to Jim Bauch, Ken Storjohann, and Ralph Thomsen for sharing the memories that brought this story to life.

This article is part of a series titled ‘Gladbrook Greats’ written by Dean Hoppe, a proud graduate of the Gladbrook High School Class of 1963. The series focuses on individuals educated in the community of Gladbrook. The Gladbrook school district officially reorganized with Reinbeck on July 1, 1998 – becoming one-half of the new Gladbrook-Reinbeck Community School District. Gladbrook’s K-8 building was shuttered following the 2014-2015 school year, and the entire complex razed in 2022. Hoppe, now retired and living in the Twin Cities, intends for this series to bring back positive memories of his hometown community.