1959 NUHS set records, but took 54 years to realize it
By Steve Marquartdt
Special to The Journal
Editor’s Note: This article was written by Steve Marquardt, who worked at the New Ulm Journal from 1956 to 1971 as sports reporter, staff writer, regional news editor and city editor during that tenure. The 1959 team photo was made available by Dannheim; the reunion photo was taken by Steve’s son, Jay.
NEW ULM – Secrets are best if kept; doing so for 54 years, however, is a little ridiculous.
That was the consensus when the 1959 New Ulm High School baseball team gathered for a first-ever reunion Saturday, Aug. 10, at Turner Hall.
The “secret” that remained silent for 54 years was the fact that the 1959 Eagle team set at least six school records along its journey to the Minnesota state high school tournament. Until the reunion event, records established in 1959 had never been revealed, much less reported or published.
The records surfaced as Herb Schaper of the website New Ulm Sports Central was digging through archives developed in conjunction with local historian Carl Wyczawski, seeking information on the 1959 team and others in the 1950s. That’s how the record-setting data was found and rescued from oblivion by Schaper. In his search, he realized he was dealing with something more than mere statistics. Records found by Schaper:
-Most hits in a season: 23 by Senior Wenz Wiesner
-Most RBIs in a season: 20 by sophomore Denny Sperl
-Most triples in a season: 4 by Senior Dave Silcox
-Most team wins in a season: 15
-Most team consecutive wins in a season: 11
-Most team runs in a season: 128
Thrilled to hear about the records for the first time were 1959 senior players Dave Silcox, Ken Cordes, Glen Plagge and Orv Ulrich, plus sophomore players Karl Preuss, Gary Storm, Clarence Falk, Mike Olson, Denny Sperl and Steve Marquardt, along with student manager Jerry Dannheim.
Over the years, the 1959 team had been best remembered for its unique combination of seven seniors and seven sophomores. The team is now recognized as a record-setter as well.
Silcox’s four triples in a season held up until 1989; the 15 wins were tied by the 1964 NUHS baseball team and broken by the 1966 team, which won 19 games, Schaper found.
In noting the records and statistical updates, Schaper indicated Sperl’s 20 runs batted in might still be a sophomore record, but that would require additional verification. Sperl’s 20 RBIs in 1959 were the most ever by a New Ulm High player to that point, Schaper uncovered.
Showing some of his past journalistic whiz, Schaper injected humor into his slide presentation by recognizing Dannheim as having the most wins by a student manager, resulting in an enormous reaction from the reunion audience.
Several wives, children and other family members of players plus Wyczawski and retired New Ulm High School teacher and coach Jim Senske were among others who attended the event. Senske became an assistant baseball coach in 1961, when the sophomores of 1959 were seniors. He and Wyczawski also spoke during the program.
Another sophomore member of the team, Mike Young, was unable to attend. Deceased members of the 1959 14-member squad include Wenz Wiesner, Nils Iverson and Gary Carlson. The three deceased seniors were honored with a moment of silence.
Assistant coach E. William Anderson and student assistant manager David Zahn were also unable to attend but did send personal correspondence shared at the reunion.
Silcox, who was the Saturday banquet master of ceremonies, recalled that the team wasn’t predicted to be very successful because of its makeup: seven seniors and seven sophomores. He remembered the sophomore group was always a winner.
“Those sophomores never lost as they were developing in youth baseball programs. They were unbeaten in Pee Wee’s, Midgets and Juniors” Silcox said.
New Ulm became a garden bed producing good summer youth baseball programs back in the 1940s and 50s. Many of the players remembered being transported in or on various vehicles to get to youthful games.
One such experience shared found the late Joe Harman, at the time a NUHS teacher and New Ulm Parks and Recreation Department summer supervisor, driving a flatbed with players on it.
“He told us if any of us fell off they’d have to answer to him,” Dannheim joked.
Others remembered youth baseball trips to St. James, Springfield and other towns with Harmon at the wheel of a bus.
“I think one person who we should all remember and give a lot of credit to is Joe,” Mike Olson said.
Harman, incidentally, remained instrumental in New Ulm youth baseball development as well as the entire summer playground recreation programs for years.
The South Central Conference, District 10 and Region III championship trophies from 1959 were also on display at the reunion. The trophies were also rescued but that happened years ago when NUHS cleared out trophy cases. The 1959 championship trophies have been retained through the efforts of Silcox and Cordes.
During that 1959 season, Sperl led the team with a .400 batting average, followed by Wiesner at .371 and Iverson at .363. Other batting averages were Ulrich .291, Olson .267, Preuss .267, Storm .250, Silcox .245, Falk .240 and Young .200.
Behind Sperl’s 20 RBIs, Wiesner had 14, Olson and Storm 12, Iverson and Silcox 11 and Ulrich had 10.
Wiesner and Sperl each homered twice. Wiesner also scored 19 runs and Iverson had five doubles.
Iverson had a perfect 8-0 record and a 0.91 ERA. Plagge was 5-1 and Cordes 2-0, both with a 1.82 ERA.
Plagge threw a gem of a game when New Ulm beat Granite Falls 3-0 for the region title. The late Iverson, incidentally, finished his high school pitching career with 16 wins and 3 losses.
Preuss recalled watching Iverson run wind sprints at West Side Park prior to the 1959 baseball season.
“I would wave to him and one day I walked over and we talked a bit,”?Preuss said. “I recall him saying he just wanted to be in really good shape for the upcoming season because it meant a lot to him. I am glad he did because it helped him be a heck of a pitcher and contributed greatly to our team’s success.”
The 1959 team won its opening state tournament game against Thief River Falls 7-2 behind Iverson, then lost 4-1 to eventual state champion Minneapolis Washburn.
The 1959 team’s third-place finish would become the first of seven for NUHS, which is a state record today.
The 1952 New Ulm baseball team was the school’s first state tournament entrant. It won the consolation championship that year. NUHS has won five consolation titles, another state record that still stands today.
In 2002, New Ulm High School won its only state high school baseball tournament championship under Senske, who still holds the state record for baseball wins by a coach at 707.
The reunion effort was spearheaded by Silcox, Cordes, Dannheim and Sperl. Only Sperl and Dannheim remain residents of New Ulm; the other team members traveled in for the event.
Cordes created an exceptional iMovie chronicling the season in photos, clippings with accompanying sound, including the Star Spangled Banner at the opening, New Ulm High School fight song during and finishing with a rendition of the famous Abbott and Costello “Who’s on First” bit.
Copies of the iMovie edited by Cordes and a poetry piece recalling the 1959 season written by Marquardt were shared with all at the reunion. A baseball memorabilia auction was also held with a number of items contributed by Marquardt from his baseball collection and three Hard Rock Polka Town T-shirts donated by Silcox. The auction garnered $102, which was turned over to Schaper as administrator for the New Ulm Sports Central, the sports website dedicated to preserving and sharing sports history of New Ulm’s immediate area.