One wall of the gymnasium inside New Ulm Cathedral High School tells the stories … or at least the ending of some of the best stories. Ten banners celebrate state championships: six in softball, two in baseball and one each in dance and football.
The first baseball title came in 1964, but the rest of the championship stories are more current. Three softball state titles came in the 1990s and were followed by more gold in 2003, 2005 and 2007. The Greyhounds won a 2005 state baseball championship, the dance team brought home a 2000 crown and the latest banner to be hoisted honors Cathedral’s 2010 Class 1A football champions. Overall, Cathedral has won nine state titles in the last 18 years.
The banners are a testament to a small school with big aspirations, as well as an administration, coaches, teachers, families and students committed to excellence.
“We just kind of have an atmosphere right now of really trying to do the best we can,” said football coach Denny Lux. “And that’s in everything we do at Cathedral; it’s in the arts, it’s in athletics, in everything.”
Cathedral, which was founded in 1919, has an enrollment of 171. A large number of those students are involved in activities, and most of the athletes compete in more than one sport. The school’s facilities are spartan; the gym dates from the 1950s … the weight room is in the basement, where pads protect skulls from colliding with overhead vents … and the football team walks eight blocks to the practice field.
One of the thickest threads running through the athletic program at Cathedral is its corps of veteran coaches. Lux has been a teacher at the school for 26 years and the head football coach for 16. Baseball coach Bob Weier is in his 19th year and softball coach Bob Mertz has been on the job for 32 years. Weier, Mertz and longtime athletic director John Vetter are all Cathedral graduates from the 1960s.
“I think that we have an excellent coaching staff throughout, in all the sports,” said Weier (pictured at left), who recorded his 299th and 300th career coaching victories Tuesday when the Greyhounds swept Comfrey/Cedar Mountain in a Tomahawk Conference doubleheader.
The coaches’ career records tell the story, as well. Mertz is 642-114, Weier is 300-127 and Lux is 105-63. The Cathedral softball team is ranked No. 1 in Class 1A, the baseball team is No. 5 in 1A and the football team is coming off that state championship, a 13-1 season and 35-3 mark over the last three seasons.
“I look at it in two ways,” Vetter said of the coaches’ longevity and success. “One of them is we’ve been fortunate to have a tremendous sense of cooperation between coaches, players and parents. The other thing we’ve had here is that in order to be successful over a long period of time you need veteran coaches. And to have veteran coaches, people have to be able to coach in the right kind of environment. The board of education, the administration, parents and all the different stakeholders have to provide an environment in which coaches learn and grow and do their jobs.”
New Ulm has long been known as a baseball town, with a string of players signing professional contracts. At the top of that list is Terry Sterinbach, a graduate of New Ulm High who enjoyed a lengthy major league career and was profiled here on John’s Journal in late April.
“It’s tremendous,” Weier said of the town’s baseball tradition. “A kid in New Ulm, when he gets to 4 or 5 years old he wants to be a baseball player. You’re steps ahead. There are communities where kids want to be basketball players or football players. Here, they want to be baseball players.”
The story is similar in softball, said Mertz, who was an assistant coach when Cathedral started its softball program in 1979.
“Kids come to me with a lot of background in softball,” said Mertz (pictured at right). “We are able to work on some of the fancy pickoff plays, the slap bunting, and we’re able to do those things because they come to us with more knowledge of the game.
My whole thing is believing in defense. That puts those banners up in the gym. Bob Weier and I are fanatical about defense. We know that’s where it starts, and the kids know it, too.”
Defense also has played a major role in Cathedral’s success on the football field. After losing to Springfield 21-7 in the season opener last fall, the Greyhounds gave up only six touchdowns through the rest of the regular season. Their average margin of victory in the 2010 regular season and playoffs was 36-12.
Along with practices and hard work in the weight room, the football team’s long walk through the neighborhood to and from practice is part of their success, according to Lux.
“For practice we walk about eight blocks, and our athletes here don’t know any different because they’ve been doing it since the high school was founded,” he said. “It is a time, I think, to build that team chemistry as the guys walk down and walk back together. They’re joking around, having a good time. When our practice is over, they still have another 20 minutes to get back to the shower yet. That whole team concept continues for a while.”
The weight room has been a factor for all the athletic teams at Cathedral, even if it isn’t fancy. After all, what happens in that room is more important than how the room looks.
“We take a lot of pride in our weight room, we take a lot of pride in the fact that our athletes are dedicated to it,” Lux said. “In the summer, our weight room is open at 6:30 in the morning and it’s open again at 4:15 in the afternoon. When you hear the older generation talk about these younger kids and that they don’t know how to work, I tell them to come to our weight room at 6:30 in the morning and you’ll see the guys lined up to get in there. So they know what work is all about.”
In a small school, everyone helps each other, and that includes the coaches.
“I think we do learn from each other, and the athletes learn from all of us here,” Lux said. “We feel that our coaches, whether it be fall, winter or spring, are the kind of people who put in a lot of hard work. The kids trust us, they believe in us, and we do the same thing with them. We give them that respect back.”
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BY THE NUMBERS
*Schools/teams John has visited: 634
*Miles John has driven: 9,873
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