The date was Friday, October 11, 1957. The site was near Kingston Stadium. It was the time of President Ike. Mickey Mantle, and Elvis who was catching up with Bing and Frank. As we look back, the 1950’s were a seemingly serene time in many ways-- not so long ago.
On that night, six decades ago, before a crowd of 9000, the two new Cedar Rapids High Schools met on the gridiron for the first time. The Washington-Jefferson rivalry was underway. It was the beginning of the “West side” versus the “East side”, blue against red. And the Cedar River became the symbolic dividing line for both the J-Hawks and the Warriors as they began their athletic competition.
For the players involved, it was especially exciting and challenging. The Franklin and McKinley kids were now Washington Warriors. The Roosevelt and Wilson athletes were now Jefferson J-Hawks. In both cases, former competitors and rivals became teammates.
The old division was still felt by the J-Hawks when the school year ’57-’58 began. Jefferson had to function in two locations until April because of construction delays. The former Roosevelt students remained at the so-called “North Jefferson” and the Wilson kids were still there at “South Jefferson”. The first Jeff football team came from two directions to practice on the lot north of Kingston Stadium and the City Park across the way. They did share the same locker room at Kingston! The Warriors got into their new building right away that September.
Jefferson’s first varsity football staff was led by Head Coach George Hidinger, Line Coach Bob Ask and Backfield Coach Vern Bredeson. Hidinger had been at Roosevelt, Ask at McKinley and Bredeson at Wilson the year before. The sophomore team was led by coaches LaVern “Dutch” Sauerbry and Bob Allen. The first Warrior coach was Bill Barnard. His varsity aides were Orville Rust and Bud Rainbow.
Excitement mounted on both sides of the river as red and blue teams and fans anticipation mounted as the historic night drew near. They had to wait though until week five of the season. Jeff had lost its first game ever at Clinton on September 13, 1957. The outcome was similar a week later in its first home game ever against Moline. The Warriors won their opener against Rock Island at Kingston.
“Washington Wins City Title, 20-13” was the Gazette’s headline the following morning. The Warriors broke a 13-13 tie with 3:07 left in the fourth quarter as a clamorous crowd of 9000 witnessed the exciting struggle, as the first Cedar River acclaim went to the East side. It was a foregleam of the many great Wash-Jeff encounters that have followed.
The Warriors won three of the first four Jeff games, the 1958 meeting being a 7-7 tie. The tide finally changed for the J-Hawks as they were victors the next six seasons, 1961-1966. During that “Golden Years” span, Jefferson won two state championships, and two runner-up spots in the Iowa Polls. Rivalries being what they are, Jefferson’s 37 game undefeated streak ended in 1967 at Kingston Stadium before a crowd of 12,000 by Washington.
It was a battle of football unbeatens when Jefferson and Washington renewed their rivalry in 1972. But it turned out to be a one-sided victory for the Westside, 37-7. The J-Hawks defense yielded only seven points while their well-oiled offense totaled 424 yards. That season Jefferson went on to an 11-0 undefeated record, and the school’s third state title with a team many call one of the best ever in Iowa.
The outcome of Jeff-Wash remained even for some time, but the Warriors began to get the upper hand after three straight J-Hawk victories at the turn of the century. The series became red dominated. Jeff last win was in 2001. So the Warriors own the “bragging rights” with their lopsided edge of wins in the rivalry. A consolation response by the Westsiders can be had in their pointing to three state crowns they’ve claimed. Neither of the other Cedar Rapids public high schools has ever been champions, or the best in Iowa.
Two mysteries remain in the Wash-Jeff football series. First, where is the Warrior sword captured at half-time by a J-Hawk student in the 1968 game?
And, a few years later, how did the Jeff cheerleaders learn of a warrior Kolache being prepared at Sykora Bakery for their cheerleaders to be used as a spoof of Westsiders at the game? And, who ate it?
The ongoing domination by Washington on the gridiron plus the coming of Kennedy and the other metro schools gradually lessoned the significance of the Wash-Jeff meetings.
Going into the 2018 season, their coaches together want to re-energize the attention and importance of their game. A part of that joint effort will be the “ …… “series trophy which will reside in the winning schools trophy case each school year.