The Games That Shaped Me III: Heartbreak spells “North Tama”

I alluded to it in my previous installments of this series that I grew up in a town where football is big. I don’t think I made it abundantly clear how big football is in Madrid.

Have you ever seen the James Van Der Beek-Paul Walker movie “Varsity Blues”? You know the scene right before the first game where all the cars are traveling to the game, almost like a convoy? In Madrid, that was actually the case. If you didn’t play football or go to the games on Friday nights, you were a nobody here.

Even though as a youth I wasn’t always fully interested in football, I still went to the games. Madrid plays their games at what I consider the “Kinnick Stadium of Iowa High School Football”: The Jungle.

The Exterior of Randy Hinkel Field at The Jungle

In the foreground, there are those boards hanging up on the fence. More than 75% of those boards represent State Playoff football teams in Madrid, all of them since 1990. The success of the Madrid Tigers football program is thanks to one man: Randy Hinkel.

Hinkel came to Madrid from Lohrville in the fall of 1987, after Lohrville consolidated with Lake City to form Southern Cal. Before his first season, the superintendent of Madrid schools, Dr. Marion Romitti, wagered him a steak dinner that the Tigers wouldn’t finish with a .500 record as it had been 4 years since Madrid had a winning record of any kind.

Dr. Romitti ended up buying that steak dinner, Madrid finished the season 5-4, and he never doubted the ol’ ball coach again. In fact no one did, as by 1990, Madrid was in the playoffs and made it all the way to the Class A State Championship Game against Logan-Magnolia. The next year, the Madrid Tigers were state champions.

This was the precedent set for the next two and a half decades. Year after year, the Tigers didn’t just qualify for the playoffs, they made it deep into the postseason. In fact, from 1990 to 2016, the Madrid program had more State Runner-Up finishes (7) than it did first-round playoff losses (6).

The most memorable of those teams for me was the 2010 Class A State Runner-Up team. A team that went 13-1 and beat two, Class 2A playoff teams during the regular season and annihilated any Class A foe it came up against leading up to the semifinals.

It was a team that included two running backs that ran for 2,057 yards and 1,900 yards respectively, and an offensive line that looked more like a NCAA Division II offensive line rather than a small Iowa high school team.

Madrid entering the field prior to the 2010 Class A State Championship Game against North Tama

This seemed to be the team of destiny, the team to get Madrid’s 1st state title since 1991. I made every trip to the UNI Dome to watch Madrid since 2007, and even to me and my 6th grade buddies, this game felt like a coronation, rather than a contest.

The game started out that way too, as Madrid sprinted out of the gate to a 20-0 lead and it felt like this wasn’t going to be a contest.

That’s when Brendon Boerm happened.

In what is still the single-greatest high school football performance I’ve seen to this day, Boerm single-handily lead the Redhawks back into the game and eventually gave them the lead.

Boerm finished the game with 177 yards passing, 107 yards rushing and 112 yards receiving. In total, 396 yards of total offense and SIX touchdowns.

North Tama’s Brendon Boerm, top, tires to leap over Madrid’s Jeremy Johnson in the Class A 2010 State Championship Game on Friday, Nov. 19, 2010 in Waterloo, Iowa. (Rick Tibbott/Courier Staff Photographer)

Madrid didn’t keel over and die, however. The Tigers continued to fight, but the bough had broke, and the cradle had fallen.

It wasn’t meant to be.

It was the first true heartbreak in sports I had ever endured. I was crushed, 11-year old me didn’t want to see anything red for the next month. It was a group I had watched grow up every Friday night in the fall for the past two seasons and it was supposed to culminate in a State Title.

But as I heard NFL Hall of Fame running back Larry Csonka once say, “When you think destiny is calling, destiny kicks right square in the pants”.

The shortcomings inspired me, I was given grief by family about how Madrid football were “choke artists”. Quite frankly, it pissed me off. These shortcomings gave my peers and I motivation to do something that hadn’t been done in over 20 years.

Bring a State Football Championship back to Madrid.

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