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When the Cardinals soared

Lust recounts time, teammates on 1962-63 title team

Caption
(Shane Lucas/Daily News)
The 1962-63 Newton basketball team became just the sixth undefeated team in Iowa high school history with a perfect 26-0 record and went on to win the state championship. Members of the team included (front row, from left) Roger Bradley, Scott Power,Sonny Johnson, Dennis Schnathorst, Dave Wickett, Dave Schnathorst, Dave Lister, Dave Bennett, (back row) Coach Lewis "Buzz" Levick, Dan Markman, Larry Lust, Denny Williams, Tom Altemeier, Gary Williams, Fred George and Roger Sparks.

To this day, the memories of the 1962-63 Newton basketball team, with its perfect 26-0 record and state championship, remain strong.

Larry Lust, IHSAA Hall-of-Famer and key member of that team, recently compiled his thoughts and specific memories of the Cardinals' magic season in preparation for the upcoming reunion and reception for the team on Feb. 7.

"When you see and read this, I ask you on behalf of the team to look at the picture and have memories of everyone," Lust said. "All deserve credit, including the Newton backers and fans that had such school spirit.

"It was loud and enjoyable to play in front of Newton's fans, and I believe that all of the starters and coach Levick would agree the best team they would play all year was the second-teamers. The so-called reserves battled in practice, worked hard and ran the opponents' offense to prepare us for our opponents."

Aside from how deep the team was with talent, Lust mainly remembers how loud the gym was during the magical run, which continued with another state title in 1963-64, and actually almost started with a state run in 1961-62. In the '62-63 season, Newton became just the sixth undefeated team in Iowa high school basketball history after Melrose (1937), Mason City (1940 and 43), Marshalltown (1956) and Sioux Center (1959) under the coaching of Lewis "Buzz" Levick.

Although Lust received the ultimate honor when he was inducted into the IHSAA Hall of Fame last year, he felt his teammates deserved just as much glory as he has received. Here are a few memories from Lust about his teammates:

Dave Wickett

Dave Wickett started several games and was known to give the team a spark when entering a game. He had arguably his best game on the biggest stage — the state title game.

In that game, Wickett pulled down a big rebound late and put the nail in Council Bluffs Abraham Lincoln's coffin by scoring the last six points of the game, including a 25-foot shot, and had three key assists for layups. He finished seventh on the team in scoring with 80 total points, and will be heard from later on in Lust's memories.

Fred George

Fred George filled in quite admirably when Newton center Tom Altemeier fouled out of the state tournament game against Dubuque with 5:21 remaining. After Altemeier fouled out, Dubuque was able to quickly score and cut Newton's lead to just four points.

However, George helped spark a Newton run that extended the Cardinals' lead back to 10 points for an eventual final of 67-57. In three regular season games, George managed totals of 18, 10 and 11 while finishing sixth on the team in scoring with 111 points.

Dan Markman

In Lust's words, Markman was on fire in the state semifinals against Cedar Rapids Regis. Markman finished 8-for-11 shooting and had no free-throw attempts for an even 16 points, which would've been even more in the modern era.

"Dan really came up big, and many of his shots would've been 3-pointers today," Lust said. "He really came up big against Regis and had three big rebounds."

Markman finished fourth on the team in scoring that year with 235 points, as well as fourth in rebounding with 147.

Tom Altemeier

Aside from serving as a team captain, leading the team in scoring and being named team MVP and Best Offensive Player by his teammates, Tom Altemeier was also the valedictorian of his graduating class.

On the court, he set the single-game scoring record of 36 points against Grinnell during an 85-56 substate victory on Newton’s home floor. 

He erased the previous record held by Don Carrier (33 on Feb. 17, 1956) with a 12-for-21 night from the field and a 10-for-14 night at the free-throw line. He also grabbed 14 offensive rebounds and 15 on the defense end for an eye-popping total of 29 in the game.

Altemeier finished the year with a school-record 511 points, which averaged out to 19.7 per game. He also finished with 380 rebounds for the season, giving him an average of 14.6 per game and a double-double for the season.

Roger Sparks

Sparks was considered the best ball handler on the team and made his presence known during the state tournament, most specifically with a baseball-style toss to Gary Williams for a layup that helped the Cards get past Dubuque in the aforementioned state game.

Even more well-known was Sparks’ double-double against Regis in the semifinals, in which he picked up 13 points and 11 assists. Lust described that as one of the best individual games he had ever seen.

Sparks often showed his dedication to the team in various ways. In the state title game, he was knocked out early and had to have stiches in his arm. 

However, he returned to the game and held Regis’ best scorer, Roger Dutton, to just two points.

Gary Williams

The second of the team captains alongside Altemeier, Williams was considered the team’s best defender and hit some deep shots in the state tournament that definitely would have been “threes” today.

During the state tournament, Lust remembers one of Williams’ best games coming against Regis. Williams finished with 13 points and seven assists in the game, which featured both teams bombing shots from long range, even though the three-point line had yet to be established.

Following the state championship, Williams was named the state’s Prep of the Week. Earning that title was quite the feat, considering he woke up with a badly infected blister on his foot and could barely walk the morning of the game. However, a shot and some treatments from Dr. Onnen allowed him to play.

Williams finished with 286 points  and 192 rebounds, earning Best Defensive Player from his teammates in the team survey after the season.

The man that made it all happen

Although the Cardinals were loaded with talent for the 1962-63 season, none of what happened would have been possible without coach Lewis “Buzz” Levick.

Writing “ATTITUDE” on the top of the board for every one of the Cardinals’ chalk talks, Levick preached a posititve attitude, and the Newton players lived it.

“It’s no secret to his success that he asked us to have a positive attitude and give it your all 24-7,” Lust said. “He worked us hard and molded us into a group that played offense and defense as a team. He really had a positive effect on me and everyone else he knew.”

When his tenure with the Cardinals had ended, Levick made the jump to the collegiate level to coach for Wartburg College. 

He now resides in the Wartburg Athletics Hall of Fame after a 510-226 record with the Knights that included 14 Iowa Conference championships and two NCAA quarterfinal appearances.

Levick coached at Wartburg from 1965 to 1993 and was inducted into the Des Moines Register’s Hall of Fame in 1998. When he retired, he was ranked 28th in the nation among collegiate coaches. He finished his prep coaching career with a record of 747-328.

Lust actually attended one of Levick’s games at Wartburg years after he had graduated and found that Levick had done the same thing for Wartburg that he had for Newton.

“Coach Levick had that Wartburg campus fired up,” Lust said. “In Waverly, they had a dirty corner just like Newton. They were really loud and and sat in the corner right where the team came out from the locker room. It really took me back to the Newton years.”

“Thank you”

Decades after Newton’s incredible feats on the court, Lust still has an almost never-ending list of people he wants to thank for their support of the team both on and off the court.

The first of those people is a former teammate, Gary Simpson, who was a senior when Lust got called up to varsity as a sophomore. Following a 39-38 victory over Grinnell, Lust was having a tough time in the locker room. However, a simple gesture by Simpson gave Lust his confidence back and meant a little more in the long run.

“I really felt bad after the game and was even crying,” Lust recalls. “I had taken an ill-advised shot at the end of the game that could’ve cost us the win. Gary patted me on the shoulder and said, ‘Forget it.’ That automatically gave me great respect for Gary Williams.”

Lust fondly remembers the blood, sweat and tears story of Newton’s time at the top with Roger Sparks’ blood from the state title game, the entire team’s sweat and Lust’s tears in the locker room. Right alongside them were the cheerleaders, pep band, dirty corner and local clubs such as the Kiwanis, American Legion, VFW and booster clubs, among many others.

“It’s been said you can never say thank you too much or too many times,” Lust said. “Thank-yous go out to the families, all of our teachers and coaches, students, friends, fans and businesses that make Newton a great town.

“Everything really came together in 1963. It’s history now, but the memories shall live with us forever. It was an honor to be a Cardinal.”

Staff writer Shane Lucas may be contacted at (641) 792-3121, ext. 432, or at slucas@newtondailynews.com.

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