January 18, 2018
High School Football: The Mount Vernon Mustangs 1970-2017 (This article was a part of the recent Smithsonian Exhibit-Hometown Teams on display in uptown Mount Vernon during the spring of 2018)
For as long as I can remember, high school football in Mount Vernon, Iowa has been a unique source of community pride and a central topic of discussion at various area gathering spots. The tradition surrounding the sport in Mount Vernon has been of great impact to our citizenry and has even been a source of conflict.
Jim Bellamy Era (Head Coach 1970-2006)
“Just do your job, Son!” This regular Jim Bellamy quote epitomized Mount Vernon football for 37 years here. Since this time, “Just do your job, Son!” has been a common local phrase used by countless players’ fathers and now countless players who have become fathers. “Just do your job, Son!” brings back many other thoughts and memories, such as: clock management, discipline, fundamental excellence, toughness, accountability to self/team, and finally, protection. Although none of us players appreciated his protection at the time, Coach Bellamy was shouldering the game and doing the heavy lifting for all of us. You see, if we each did our jobs, he had the rest of the game plan covered, and we were well on our way to victory. The young men of Mount Vernon did just that for the better part of 37 seasons and forever put our community on the Iowa football map.
Bellamy’s career here saw the formation & expansion of the Iowa High School Athletic Association (IAHSAA) playoffs, the rise & fall of the competitive Eastern Iowa Hawkeye Conference, and the conversion to statewide district football. All the while, his teams played its home football games at the historic First Street/uptown stadium located just steps north of the building you are standing in right now. The stadium, considered by most opposing coaches/fans to have always been tired, worn, and unfit for play, was uniquely Mount Vernon and seemed to provide a home field advantage second to none as hundreds (in some cases thousands) gathered on Friday nights on the half-bowl hillside.
Coach Bellamy Career By The Numbers:
*320 coaching victories (268-93-1 at Mount Vernon, 74% win-loss ratio)
*Three (3) IAHSAA State Championships (1974, 1993, & 1994)
*Five (5) IAHSAA Runner-up finishes (1973, 1978, 1989, 2002, & 2003)
*Twenty (20) State football playoff qualifiers and sixteen (16) conference/district titles
*Inducted into the Iowa Football Coaches Hall of Fame in 1985 (21 years before retirement)
Post Bellamy & Save The Field (2007-2013):
Across the country and across Iowa, history has shown that replacing a coaching legend can prove to be a difficult task for many reasons. Such was the case for Mount Vernon Football after Jim Bellamy retired. Although not without great effort from its coaches and players, football success in Mount Vernon struggled for the better part of seven (7) seasons as the high school team failed to record a winning season during this time.
Interestingly, the victory drought from 2007-2013 ran parallel to a time when ambitious volunteers formed “Save The Field”, a local grassroots group interested in raising money and providing volunteer labor for school athletic facility improvements, namely the historic First Street/uptown football field/stadium. It was the opinion of many that improvements to the historic stadium were long overdue if it were to continue as the district’s stadium of choice. However, the decision to improve the stadium was not without detractors as the school district had abandoned the adjacent school building (2006) and later sold it to Rick and Trude Elliott (2009). Some citizens, including school officials, were unsure how the historic stadium would remain viable in the school district’s long term facility plan as the district now was primarily located on a central campus on the southwest side of town. Additionally, the actual ownership of the stadium grounds are said to be owned by at least three different entities, adding further complexity to the situation.
Still, fundraising began in earnest in 2010, and in 2013, the “Save The Field” effort forged ahead as new home bleachers and press box were ultimately built at the historic stadium through substantial volunteer labor and in-kind donations. Additionally, cash donations totalled nearly $200,000 from several sources, including: $50,000-Mount Vernon Community School District, $60,000-Mount Vernon Booster Club, and $90,000-various local/non-local donors including MVHS alums/FB players
Recent Times (2014-Present):
The first game played in the renovated stadium occurred in the fall of 2014 and also marked the first home game for Mount Vernon’s current head Coach Lance Pedersen. Although the Mustangs would open with a non-district loss, the season ended with a winning record and a playoff berth. Under Pedersen, new modern program elements were added, including: football program fundraising, a fast paced no-huddle offense, player leadership training, increased practice intensity, coach assisted post HS recruiting channels, active communication channel/social media presence, and a renewed buy-in from athletes, parents, and fans. Early results in recent times under Pedersen indicate a positive trend with four (4) playoff berths in four (4) seasons, a state runner-up finish in 2015, a 35-13 overall record and a 73% win-loss percentage.
Another new element over the past couple years is the desire of the coaching staff and the school administration to rent out and play the majority of their home games on the new modern artificial turf surface at Ash Park/Cornell College. Depending who you visit with, the decision to move our district football games away from the uptown historic First Street stadium has been met by the Mount Vernon citizenry with equal parts approval and angst as it truly depends who you talk to. Neither stadium seems to offer a solution that provides a clear or popular majority. Interestingly, a part of a recent school district bond issue offered a new multi-activity athletic complex which was soundly defeated by those living in the Mount Vernon Community School District in 2016.
David M. Ryan
Mount Vernon Football Public Address Announcer Mount Vernon Football Historian
About the author:
Dave Ryan has had the unique position through the years of having closely followed Jim Bellamy’s coaching career, played football for Bellamy from 1982-1984, while also having sons that have played football for Mount Vernon High School during the previously mentioned Bellamy era (Jacob Ryan 2003-2006), the post Bellamy era (Trey
Ryan 2010-2013), and now, in the Recent Era (Paul Ryan 2015-2018). Ryan notes that these periods of time have been interesting, entertaining, and unique and all are an important part of Mount Vernon Football. Ryan certainly has an opinion on where the game of football should be played in future years and if you see him on the street, he invites you to engage him on the topic. Most importantly, regardless of where football is played in Mount Vernon, Ryan would like all those interested to know that “Just do your job, Son!” remains an important part of the football tradition and legacy of Mount Vernon, Iowa.