” I knew we would either rally around the last CMB football team ever or it would get divided fairly quick. “Rob Luther
I remember so clearly being a 10 year old boy standing in the endzone watching the Maxwell Rockets play BCL for a chance to play in the state championship at the UNI Dome. For me and my friends, the UNI Dome was a place that would have rivaled any stadium in the country. In 1976 it seemed almost like a place you read about in comic books or fairy tales. As clear as watching that game was talking to a man standing near me. He introduced himself as Earle Bruce. I knew he was the head coach of the Iowa State Cyclones. He asked me questions about Dave Jacobson, our QB. ISU ended up offering Dave a full ride and he chose to play for the Cyclones. This was when I knew I wanted to be a high school football player and even possibly a coach. Those players on that field were as amazing to me as any NFL player. These guys were who I couldn’t wait to be.
The head coach of those Maxwell Rocket teams was Rick Sullivan. The place where I watched that playoff game and eventually played and coached myself is now named Sullivan Field. Coach Sullivan was the type of coach you wanted to play for. He was tough, but he knew exactly how to motivate you. And for a QB, his offense was well ahead of its time. We were in the gun and throwing it a ton. Coach Sullivan was not only our head football coach, but also the school’s superintendent.
Heading into my senior year in 1983 we moved from the Maxwell Rockets to the Collins-Maxwell Panthers due to a consolidation. My class would be the first to graduate from Collins-Maxwell. As a student-athlete, I can remember just being excited to have some more guys out for the team. Collins previously did not have football. They did play fall baseball before consolidating.
In 1988 Collins-Maxwell began sharing football with old TA-MA-JA conference rival Baxter Bulldogs. Coach Sullivan along with the Baxter superintendent, Neil Seales were instrumental in getting the athletic sharing off the ground. These 2 men had the foresight to understand sharing athletics in rural Iowa was a way to keep their schools thriving. Over the next 5 years CM and B became known as the CMB Raiders and fielded many strong teams in all areas. They were a 2A program and played in the tough Heart of Iowa Conference.
I took my first assistant football position in 1991. Over the next 6 years I coached at Van Meter, DM East and in 1995 became the head football coach at Woodward-Granger. In our 2nd year there we got to 5-4. W-G had not had a winning season in many years. In the spring of 1997 the CMB football job opened up. I spoke with Coach Sullivan, who was still the superintendent, and he offered me the opportunity to be the next CMB head coach. I did not hesitate. Along with being the head football coach, I would also handle the assistant principal duties at the 6-12 building. It had always been a dream of mine to coach at my alma-mater. I wanted our kids to experience those feelings the players and youth did in the 1970’s.
In our first year in 1997 we shared the district title. I felt we had a fantastic team. I look back and wish I had been a better coach. If that group had had a seasoned coach, it could have made a deep run. In the off season, Neil Seales, the Baxter superintendent and head track coach, called and asked if I would be interested in being the 6-12 principal at Baxter. Switching schools would still allow me to be the head football coach at CMB. I believe I was the only person to be a head coach of any sport for CMB while working in each of the 2 buildings.
Over the next few years we worked hard to establish a culture that gave our players high expectations as well as something to be proud of. Each day half our team would get on a school bus to travel 20 minutes to practice. We had 2 different summer weight programs, we had two homecoming games,2 fight songs, we had 2 homecoming parades and for a while even 2 different senior nights. We played together, but it did not always feel our schools shared much. Some of this was because of the strength in leadership at those schools. Rick Sullivan retired around 2005. Anytime one of the orchestrators of a coop sharing agreement leaves, things may change. Before his retirement everyone felt things were close to 50/50. After Rick retired you began to hear the rumblings that Coach Seales was calling all the shots. This was not true, but perception can become reality quickly.
Despite some grumpy community members our football team hit its stride. From 2007-2009 the Raiders won 2 district titles and a runner up. Our 3 year regular season record of 23-4. We had our first play-off victory. We got to play in the UNI Dome. We had multiple all-state and scholarship players. I was named district coach of the year twice and State 2A Coach of the Year. CMB was on the map the way the Maxwell Rockets were in the 70’s and the Baxter Bulldogs were in the early 80’s. We were getting 55-60 young men to play football each season. We were fielding 3 levels of teams, 9/JV/V. One night we played a varsity game on both the Maxwell and Baxter Fields. The first half in Maxwell. A transformer blew and the only choice was to come back in the morning. Then I suggested taking the party 20 miles to Baxter. So just like Field of Dreams we traveled F-17 and finished at Baxter. Only time this has happened in Iowa HS FB. In 2014, that CMB team finished the regular season 9-0. We had a major celebration that brought back players from the few Baxter and Collins-Maxwell past teams that also went undefeated. This was a high point for CMB. I saw gyms packed with members of all 3 communities. We really felt school spirit! But wait……it wasn’t school spirit because we didn’t have a CMB High School.
We had moved to a single fight song and one homecoming and senior night. Everything we were doing was the basis to begin having conversations of sharing classes. Not a consolidation. Just put a high school in one place and a middle school in the other town. Each town would keep its elementary. Myself ,as the principal of Baxter, and Kevin Williams, my old CMB baseball coach, led this charge as the building principals. We began to show our communities all the benefits by putting our schools together. The opportunities were incredible from more elective offerings, college credit courses, and even some cost savings. During this process Kevin took a job at a different school. In hindsight, this may have been the beginning of the end. There was not Sullivan, or Seales, or Williams at the table. It was 3 new administrators who all had visions and ideas what this should look like. And like it or not, as we tried to put our 2 school boards together, you could sense tensions as we kept moving full forward with the plan.
In the fall of 2015 when things should have begun to get finalized, actions by the C-M board showed a lack of commitment to making a CMB High School actually work. Talks initiated about building a brand new school or adding another school or two to a much bigger plan. The Baxter School Board wanted to take this journey with C-M. This was the school that we had shared sports with for over 25 years. I was at the table for some of these discussions that started to derail the plan. I was not at some others that were very detrimental. Eventually in May of 2015 the Collins-Maxwell School Board voted to take whole grade sharing off the table. They also wanted to pursue a 3rd school to share our sporting coop with. Our board did not respond well to those decisions. A great deal of time and effort had been put into why this made sense for all our kids. And then feeling on rocky ground with our sports sharing agreement, our board voted to end the sports sharing following the 2016-17 sports seasons. You can imagine how that year went for most teams. The football team included. We should have contended for a district title. We had many seniors who started as sophomores on the undefeated team. There was a divide in our leadership. I knew we would either rally around the last CMB football team ever or it would get divided fairly quick. My staff did a great job working off the field all season long. I think we all felt more like counselors than football coaches. We finished with a win on the road at South Hardin. I will never forget the end of that game. It was like no one wanted to leave the field. Everyone was taking pictures. Players and parents were crying. You could sense a feeling of what did we do? Why is this our last game?
As the year and seasons went on, you knew the separation was not going to be one with a lot of mutual respect. We will just leave it at that. In January of 2017 Baxter did a major reveal rally with our entire school and community. In the fall we would be the Baxter Bolts. Our colors would be Purple and Silver. We wrote an original fight song. We broke out the new uniforms. We handed out Bolt t-shirts. There was definitely no turning back now. I officially was done coaching for my alma mater.
As the head football coach, it was my job to lead the change to 8-man football. We would have a competitive team that fall. I needed our team to stay positive and excited about going to 8 man. We kept every player on that team and even added a couple. We had a tremendous first year. The only black mark was that the IAHSAA denied our request to be put into a district and be eligible for the playoffs. We appealed and lost. That stung! I got right on the phone and began looking at schools who had byes in their schedules. We even paid some schools to come to our place to get us a homecoming and senior night game. We traveled all the way to the Missouri River to play Remsen-St.Marys. We travelled another week all the way to the Mississippi River to play Easton Valley. We traveled all over the state to get 9 football games. When the smoke cleared we ended up 8-1. Our only loss was to a final 4 team. We beat a different team who made it to the semi- finals. We were really good. We had a junior OL who had multiple offers. My QB was first team all state. He threw for 12 TD’s in one game. We finished with the 3rd highest scoring offense in Iowa 8 man history. We had a WR break multiple state receiving records. But in the end, we did not get to play in the first round of the playoffs. This still leaves a horrible taste in the mouths of those kids and parents and I am sure community supporters.
So now we are the Baxter Bolts. The other school is the Collins-Maxwell Spartans. How easily some just move on. I will do anything for my school, My team,. and my players. But not seeing those CM guys, I still feel something is missing each fall. Both schools have had some strong athletic successes. So the big question…..How have the Bolt vs Spartans Friday Nights been? Well in 2017 Collins-Maxwell refused to play Baxter . Both teams are traveling all over the state. Neither team is eligible for the playoffs. I suggested we play a home and home in the same season. All offers to play football that fall were met with a hard no by C-M administration. So in 2018 we finally got the chance to play football. It was the last sport that would play in this rivalry. The week before the game a Baxter student took his life. That put lots in perspective. The Spartans were very generous and wore yellow socks to show support to the family. We won the game, It was a hard fought battle that the Bolts finally prevailed at home 42-22. I think the CM staff and Cory Crkonvich do a fantastic job with their guys. That showed the following year when after coaching for CMB or Baxter for 24 years, I would be on the visitors sideline. That felt so uncomfortable. I was the new kid in class, but I knew every one knew me. The game is going to happen in Maxwell, And I would feel like I was standing on the wrong sideline. I had coached our guys to some amazing victories and titles but none on the other side of the field.
The game was a tight fought battle. It was back and forth. We made a couple critical mistakes and the Spartans won 54-52. Great game, great crowd, just on the wrong side with the guys from Baxter. You look at that group, the group to come from both schools and think..……We would have an incredible 11 man team. Could history ever repeat itself? Probably a pipe dream, but it is a dream that many of us coaches go to from time to time. Maybe those bus trips to practice weren’t that bad.
So in my life, I am coaching my guys and the Bots hard. I am learning the 8 man game. We play on Friday Night, but it just feels like something is missing and I can’t put my finger on it. Is it the shorter field? Is it not getting 55-60 players out? Is it having 4 coaches instead of 8?
What is it that I miss most? “CMB”. I know in my heart we missed some amazing opportunities for all of our kids. These opportunities would have happened both in class and on the field, court or mat. I loved playing for the Rockets and Panthers. I love coaching the Bolts, and the Raiders will always be something special to me. Hometown kid plays football and is an all conference athlete for the Maxwell Rockets. He gets his shot to coach his high school team, stories books may be written about. But instead I now have to find ways to beat them once a year. .Life changes quickly. If you blink those 100 yard fields will be 80 and those 11 guys on defense, lose 3 because you are now 8 man!
Baxter Bolts Head Football Coach (2017 – present)
Former CMB Head Coach(1997 – 2016)