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By Fritz Wagner, Regina senior
IOWA CITY — On Nov. 16, 2012, the Regina football team won its third consecutive state championship. Head coach Marv Cook and his staff have built what is now the premiere program in the state with the Regals winning 42 consecutive games.
Some already are calling it a dynasty.
In August of 1958, a group of students from St. Patrick’s, St. Mary’s and the Iowa City public schools came to Regina. These young men were the first to play Regina football, but they would not be the last.
For more than 50 years, Regals have worn the blue and gold on Friday nights. Wins and losses have come and gone, but passion and pride have held constant.
“Nothing compares to those Friday nights playing for the Regals,” said Mike O’Connell, Class of 2006. “I will never ever forget those nights. Those memories will stick with me forever.”
Current Regals are experiencing the peak of Regina football, but just as Rome was not built in a day, Regina football has endured the ups and downs that go with any sports program.
They say if you do not know where you have come from, then you do not know where you are. In order to truly appreciate the significance and the magnitude of the recent football success, one must look back to the coaches, players and teams that make up Regina football history.
The birth of a program
It did not take long for the football team to make some noise after the school’s establishment in 1958. Within five years, the Regals were playing championship-level football despite a major lack of resources.
While players in 2012 might whine about not having the newest, most expensive helmet, the early Regals played most of their games at City High because Regina did not have lights for the football field until 1962.
After compiling a record of 15-3 in the 1960 and 1961 seasons, Regina was in prime position for a breakout year, but head coach Duane Calvert was not especially confident. In an area football preview from an edition of the Iowa City Press Citizen from September of 1962, Calvert said, “When you lose eight starters, it makes you wonder. I figure we’ll have about a 50-50 season.”
Luckily for the Regals, Calvert was dead wrong. The 1962 Regina team played one of the finest seasons in the history of the program, finishing with a 9-0 record and its second straight Miscowa Valley Conference Title.
On top of perfect records, the 1960s featured arguably the two best linemen to ever walk the halls of Regina. Defensive end Dan Delaney and offensive tackle Jim Miller both earned all state honors when divisions by enrollment didn’t exist and continued to play football at Big Ten schools.
Delaney was a nightmare for opposing offensive linemen. His hard-nosed style of play caught the attention of many colleges, including Iowa and Notre Dame. Delaney chose to continue his career at Nebraska and, after a successful college career, he returned to Regina to coach football for more than 10 years.
While most of Regina does not know who Miller is, he is the only Regina graduate to play in the NFL. After a solid high school career, he started on Iowa’s offensive line for three years before signing with the Atlanta Falcons in 1971. Miller finished his career with the Green Bay Packers in 1976.
Tough players like Miller and Delaney defined the great decade of Regina football that was the 1960s, but that was only the beginning.
The 1972 season marked the first year of playoffs in Iowa high school football, and the Regals were almost left out. Playoff teams were decided by a point system that awarded teams a certain number of points based on the size of the schools they defeated.
Head coach Dave Clement’s Regals finished with an unimpressive 5-4 record in 1972. They were initially overlooked for the postseason, but Clement did the math and realized that the Regals’ five wins against much larger schools qualified them for the playoffs.
A dramatic season became even more exciting when Regina was one of four teams competing in the inaugural Class 2A playoffs. Their semifinal opponent was Tripoli. It was “win or go home” and the Regals secured the victory with a touchdown in the final seconds of the game to win.
In the championship game, the Regals lost to Sioux Center 21-6, ending a thrilling season with a heartbreaking loss. The future looked bright since the Regals were runners-up in the first year of playoffs, but the future proved to be painfully disappointing.
Regina would not earn a playoff berth again until 2004.
Delaney and DeMarco
In 1974, Delaney returned to Regina to coach. At the time, coaching Regina football was not an enviable position. The Regals always were the smallest school in their conference and Delaney faced the challenge of going head-to-head with much larger schools like Linn-Mar, Cedar Rapids Praire and LaSalle.
Competing in the Eastern Central Iowa Conference was anything but easy, but Delaney and the Regals never backed down. In 1978, Regina went 7-2 and Delaney was named co-Coach of the Year in the ECIC.
In 1981, a young, energetic John DeMarco joined the Regina coaching staff after years of coaching high school football in Boca Raton, Fla. He brought with him a coaching philosophy built around speed, toughness and pride. Delaney and DeMarco headed a Regina coaching staff that persevered through the toughest schedules Regina has ever seen.
“Dan was a great coach,” DeMarco said. “We had good chemistry and worked together really well.”
In 1986, Delaney left the program in the capable hands of DeMarco. Neither coach had much success in the win column, but they inspired their players to hold their own against bigger teams with many more resources.
Playing football for Regina did not become any easier during DeMarco’s tenure. In the early 1990s, the football program was seriously struggling. Enthusiasm and participation were at an all-time low. Regina cross country and track had the spotlight.
“There was a point where we almost dropped football,” DeMarco said. “I told the kids the situation, but they said ‘no coach, we want to play.’ I was so proud of them. We were going through some really tough times, but we endured. I credit the kids. They gave everything they had.”
If it were not for DeMarco’s perseverance with the program, it may never have recovered and developed into what it is today. The legendary Regina figure retired from coaching football in 1995.
“It was fun while it lasted,” DeMarco said. “I miss the kids, those Friday nights.”
DeMarco still attends games regularly and works closely with students in physical education class.
The turning point
Before head coach Matt Mitchell’s arrival in 1998, the football team had suffered 11 consecutive losing seasons. But in Mitchell’s two years, the Regals went 12-6 to turn the tide for Regina football.
It all started in the weight room with Mitchell’s teams.
“The habits you develop in the weight room translate to the field,” Mitchell said. “I think it has less to do with enhancing physical characteristics as it does developing a mental mind set. Showing up every workout and grinding thru some discomfort can make you a better player.”
The new coach was blessed with arguably the best running back to step on Regina field. Ian Farrell rushed for more than 3,000 yards in his career and earned all state honors in 1999.
“What separated him from other great athletes was his competitive drive,” Mitchell said. “Ian hated losing. That competitive drive was contagious amongst other members of our team.”
Mitchell and Farrell may not have won a state championship or finished with a perfect record, but they turned the program in the right direction when the 1999 team won its district championship.
“(The district championship) meant the start of a new era for Regina football,” Farrell said. “We really felt we were part of something special to get Regina football back on its feet.”
From good to great
The football program was on the rise, but the Regals still had not made the playoffs when Chuck Evans arrived in 2001.
“Chuck Evans was an outstanding leader,” O’Connell said. “He did a wonderful job of rallying the troops and bringing back excitement to the Regina football program. Without his leadership I don’t think Regina would have turned the corner like they did during his tenure.”
Evan’s plan took time. He had losing seasons in his first two years, but the Regina community had faith in his leadership. It paid off.
“He became successful at Regina because he stuck to the plan,” O’Connell said.
In 2003, the Regals just missed the playoffs by after finishing with a 7-2 record. Evans was named Coach of the Year in the district. They had finished the season on a four-game win streak, but it was not enough. Seniors were heartbroken, but the underclassmen used it as motivation during the historic season of 2004.
In 2004, Regina took on Pekin in the final game of the regular season for a chance to go to the playoffs for the first time since 1972. The game was tied 14-14 in the fourth quarter when Daniel Murray nailed a field goal as time expired to send the Regals to the playoffs.
The drought was over.
“That was one of the most memorable wins I had while at Regina,” O’Connell said. “I believe it truly was the turning point in the program.”
The Regals won the state championship the next year and have made the playoffs every year since.
The rest, as they say, is history.