Members of the 1971 Benton Community baseball team celebrated the 50th anniversary of their spectacular run to the state championship with 18 holes of golf at Tara Hills on Saturday.
“This has been a real treat,” coach Harry Robbins said. “I haven’t seen some of them for 10 years, when we had our 40th reunion. This was a dream season. I still have a scrapbook my wife put together of articles from the Cedar Valley Times of that season.”
The 1971 Bobcats were an experienced group in Robbins’ first year as a head coach which hung their hats on defense and “excellent pitching.” Benton won its first conference championship in the East Central Iowa Conference, going 8-2 in league play. Also in the conference that year were Cedar Rapids Prairie, Cedar Rapids La Salle, Linn-Mar and Iowa City Regina.
“Our first priority that season was to win the conference and that was a great conference,” Robbins said. “We weren’t a great offensive team, but our defense kept us in games and hitters all over the lineup stepped up. We had great momentum going into sectional play.”
Benton defeated Cedar Rapids Jefferson and then Clinton in district play to be one of eight teams in the entire state to make the tournament at Memorial Stadium in Cedar Rapids. Back then, there was only one class in baseball, meaning 442 teams competed for eight State spots.
“After we beat Jefferson in Norway, I think that opened a lot of people’s eyes,” Robbins said. “We were the smallest school in the tournament.”
The Bobcats opened the tournament with a 1-0 win over Creston, followed by 2-1 win against Iowa Falls and avenged an early loss to Burlington with 3-0 win in the championship. Dan Strellner was the winning pitcher in all three games, earning All-State honors.
“We set an attendance record that year in Memorial Stadium when 11,000 fans came through Memorial Stadium to see us play,” Robbins said. “That was the second state championship in Benton Community history. Softball won it all in 1966.”
Benton finished 26-4 on their historic season. The program would return to the state tournament in 1977, 1987, 1994, 1995, 2004, 2009, 2012 and most recently 2020. Robbins would leave Benton in 1974 for Dubuque Hempstead, eventually becoming Athletic Director and then taking a similar position in Lakeville, MN.
“I’ve been in the athletic business for 52 years as a teacher, a coach and an athletic administrator,” Robbins said. “This still remains the most significant event that I’ve been part of in athletics. It was a team championship. Everybody contributed. There were 442 teams and we ended number one.”
The team enjoyed lunch together at the country club and visited former coach Darwin Oehlerich at Keystone Care Center.