(Editor’s Note: This is the final story in a series which Courier sports writer Scott Jackson wrote about each of the five newest inductees into the Indian Hills Community College Athletic Hall of Fame. The induction ceremonies will be held Feb. 22)
OTTUMWA — For the third consecutive year, Indian Hills will pay honor to some of the greatest athletes on some of the greatest teams in school history.
For all the people that have gone in or will be inducted into the school’s Athletic Hall-of-Fame, perhaps no one deserves it more than Dr. Lyle Hellyer. Without Hellyer, there might not be any athletes to honor or great teams to remember.
Because without the former Indian Hills president, support for the athletic programs that have become so popular today may never have arrived.
“I always believed that athletics were a necessity,” said Hellyer, one of the first two IHCC Hall-of-Fame Athletic Lifetime Contribution honorees. “We’ve always been competitive. Our baseball program has become legendary. Our basketball team is one of the greatest in the entire country. With some hard work and some great people, I’m proud to say that Indian Hills is the best community college in the state of Iowa.”
For Hellyer, the growth of the college overall is something that has been an incredible source of pride. It was 53 years ago that Hellyer first took over as the Dean of Centerville Junior College, back during a time when IHCC athletic programs were playing on makeshift fields and dressing in sometimes makeshift locker rooms.
One immediate change Hellyer made when he took over the Centerville school was to add an athletic team. With fellow 2014 IHCC Hall-of-Fame inductee Ron Clark helping to get the program off the ground, Centerville JC started a football program just a few months before the team’s first game in 1963.
“I remember Lyle and I have to go up to Ames to get used football equipment from Iowa State so we could practice,” Clark said. “Everything that program became is 100 percent thanks to Lyle. He deserves all the credit for how quickly it grew.”
While the football program didn’t last for decades, it did grow quickly into one of the premiere junior college football programs. Players including former NFL All-Pro Rick Upchurch and Super Bowl champion Tony Galbreath credit being part of the IHCC Falcon football team as part of the reason for their professional football success.
“Indian Hills was the step for me,” Galbreath said. “I kind of needed training wheels on my bicycle. I learned a lot of great things on and off the field there.”
Hellyer talked about of the first IHCC athletic program he would start from scratch.
“Those football teams were legendary. We ended up with around 100 to 120 players, which is pretty good considering we had to find players from all the small towns around the area just to put that first team together,” Hellyer said. “It got to the point where the community was ready to run me out of town when I had to drop it nine years later, but it was a financial thing. Local teams wouldn’t play us anymore, so every road trip was to Grand Rapids, Michigan or Miami, Oklahoma and we just couldn’t afford it.”
Watching an athletic program grow and have that much of an impact on the community did not end for Hellyer in the early 1970s. In fact, it would be just the start of what would be one of the Seymour native’s great staples over his 40 years helping Indian Hills grow into the college it has become today.
Hellyer would become Vice President of Academic Affairs when Centerville Junior College merged with what was then known as Merged Area XV Community College. In 1973, Hellyer was named President of Indian Hills Community College, a job he held until retiring in 2001.
In between, the college would grow by leaps and bounds over those 28 years. The Ottumwa campus itself has become a beautiful, sprawling gem of education with state-of-the-art facilities for nationally known programs including Arts and Sciences, Advanced Technology and Health Occupations.
Hellyer is quick to point out that the growth of Indian Hills was hardly the work of just one man.
“It took a lot of devoted people being involved putting in a lot of effort and a lot of quality work,” Hellyer said. “We started out at Ottumwa back when the school was out by the airport and was all technical programs. There were no Arts and Sciences as part of our curriculum to help our growth happen.”
While the educational part of Indian Hills certainly has grown over the years, Hellyer’s greatest impact on the college may well have been his devotion to growth of IHCC Athletics. Under his presidency, Indian Hills became a national power in a variety of sports with three consecutive national basketball championships, a national golf champion, 11 consecutive national tournament appearances by the IHCC softball program and a five trips to the JUCO World Series by the IHCC Falcon baseball team spanning Hellyer’s 28-year tenure as school president.
The growth of Hellyer will always be remembered. Besides having his name on the facility that houses the basketball team’s home gymnasium and offices, Hellyer’s wife Romalynn has been honored with having her name adorn the IHCC Softball Field.
After this weekend, there will be one more place to find the Hellyer name on campus. On the wall of IHCC Athletic Hall-of-Famers.
“We call ourselves the Indian Hills family,” Hellyer said. “I had a part of it, but everyone that has worked to grow the college and everyone that works there now feels like a member of the family.”
“I don’t think a day goes by where I don’t hear from a former Indian Hills athlete. It’s just a closer community of people than any other college that I’ve ever seen.”
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