When I started as sports editor here at the Journal-Eureka way back in 1995, Jerry Carstens had been coaching girls basketball at Midland for exactly 30 years.
At the time, that number absolutely blew my mind. That was even before I really got to know Jerry and all the success he’d had with the Eagle girls during his brilliant career, which ended with him as the fourth-winningest Iowa High School girls basketball coach of all-time.
Now, with me being here at the newspaper for almost 25 years myself, I can understand some of the things Carstens used to tell me about the intricacies of time.
I was saddened when Carstens decided to resign at Midland back in March of 2004, but I also understood. I was going to miss our conversations on the phone each and every week during the basketball campaigns. For nine years I had been calling and for nine years Carstens always answered and was ready to go.
We usually talked for hours every week, and the time always seemed to fly by. Of the conversations we had, 99-percent of it wasn’t for the newspaper, it was just one friend talking to another, and that’s what Carstens made me feel like, a friend.
Though I hadn’t talked with him for several years, I lost that friend Sunday, Oct. 27, as Jerry passed away at the Hallmark Care Center in Mount Vernon.
As one of the first Midland High School coaches I conversed with on a regular basis back in the mid-1990s, Carstens made things easy for me, and showed me around the Midland campus and introduced me to people I may not have normally gotten to know.
I always enjoyed my trips to Wyoming to cover Eagle girls basketball back when Carstens was coaching, and for variety reasons. Carstens always had competitive teams that were extremely entertaining to watch. The girls were so well drilled in the fundamentals of the game, it almost seemed like they couldn’t make a mistake if they even tried.
I mentioned that to him on several occasions over the years. His response? I must not have been watching the game close enough.
But, Carstens and his teams, hung their hats on defense, and it was on that side of the floor that he took distinct pleasure in. Midland led the state of Iowa in fewest points allowed and fewest points allowed per game numerous times during my tenure covering Carstens’ program. It was amazing to watch. The girls got after it and knew exactly where they were supposed to be and when.
With defense like that, the offense didn’t need to score much, but they still did. Not only did Carstens’ Midland teams lead the state (usually regardless of class) in defense, but also in point differential.
Eagle girls basketball was dominant, and fans in Wyoming turned out in huge numbers for every home game. I actually felt bad for the Midland boys’ teams during those years. The stands would be full of fans for the girls’ games, then once that was over, half of the fans would leave. That’s how popular Carstens’ program was. It was almost like a cult following.
I used to ask him after he lost a large class of seniors if the following campaign would be a rebuilding one? That never seemed to bother him. He had a formula for success and nothing was going to deviate him from his grand plan.
That plan? Win. And that’s what he and the program did. EVERY YEAR.
Carstens ended his head coaching career with a mind-boggling 685-246 overall record coaching a total of 39 years at Midland and two at Laurens-Marathon High School (41 total years of coaching). After resigning at Midland, Carstens moved to the Independence area where he was an assistant coach with the Mustangs’ high school girls’ program. Basketball was still in his blood and he needed to be around the game for a few more years.
I remember when Carstens gave me the call letting me know his time at Midland was up, I wanted to do a huge feature in the paper displaying one of the greatest girls basketball coaches to ever walk the sideline.
Carstens would have none of it. If I was going to do a story, it would be short and sweet with no frills. He didn’t want (or even think) his retirement was that big of a deal. That’s the kind of person he was. It was never about him, it was about the team, and he just wanted to quietly slip into retirement.
It’s not often in life that a man like Jerry Carstens comes along, but I can count myself blessed for being able to know him and call him friend for as long as I did. You’ll be missed Coach Carstens. You are one of the All-Time greats.