THE EARLY LEAD: A FANATIC’S REDEMPTION
By BRANDON HURLEY
Jerry Schultz is a storyteller.
Provide him with a generous ear for a minute and he’ll expertly find a way to guide the listener on verbal journey through his memory.
The not-yet-retired 70-year old minister has compiled pages worth of experiences in his seven decades on this earth.
Not much seems to escape him.
I didn’t know exactly what to expect as I pulled up to Schultz’s modest home last week. We’d managed to cross paths a couple of times a few days prior, and his passion for his 50-year old collection piqued my interest. He’d been struck by my somewhat embarrassing passion for the Iowa Hawkeyes, and decided to reach out.
“I thought you needed a pick-me-up,” he said.
What I discovered, despite my tepid reservations, was a masterclass in history and story-telling, a chance to feel the passion of a fellow sports fanatic.
In a way, sports allow us to travel back in time.
Schultz, as sharp as ever on a brisk yet calm Thursday afternoon, vividly painted a captivating picture of a bygone era with Johnny Majors and Iowa State football, when the fans once pelted a live buffalo with oranges. He still cherishes his solo, spring training safari through the state of Florida all these years later.
Schultz once watched future basketball Hall-of-Famer Wes Unsled fire off passes to his Louisville teammates at Veteran’s Auditorium in Des Moines. He remembers the classic charm of the place most.
“There was dust in the rafters,” Schultz said. “The whole place warmed up (during a game). Drake was the team in Iowa.”
The Pomeroy native’s memories are housed in a small, roughly 10-by-10 foot cottage in the backyard of his Jefferson home. It’s not a man cave, Schultz says, but it’s darn right close to it. He ventures there when he needs to unwind. He’ll drift off for relaxing Saturday afternoon naps, surrounded by the comfortable peace provided by 50-year old magazines and ticket stubs, the walls adorned by detailed puzzles, one of which took him a year to complete.
Schultz’s shrine-like creation is a treasure chest of nostalgia, filled with beautiful articles and transcendent color photos from a generation long ago defunct.
Schultz grew up as a farm boy in Pomeroy, helping out on the family land, listening to Cubs games on the radio. After he got his fill chasing the sweet satisfaction of big time sporting events, he became a pastor. He’s preached for 25 years, eventually working his way toward Jefferson, which is the hometown of his wife, Carol. The Schultzs moved here about three years ago after Jerry’s sudden epiphany, though he couldn’t really nail down how it came to be. He just knew they must move to Jefferson - so they did. He spent a few years preaching at Central Christian Lutheran Church and still holds services a few times a year in Coon Rapids.
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Ministry was a natural fit for Schultz.
The longtime pastor loves people. It’s why he gravitated toward religion, sharing stories of success and failure, redemption and motivation. Schultz has a riveting tale for almost every situation.
He’s somewhat of a state historian, remembering the days when Drake basketball was the king of Iowa and when Ralph Miller was guiding the Hawkeye basketball team in the 60s. He took a interesting all-day road trip to Atlanta with a few buddies for Iowa State’s 1977 Peach Bowl appearance, eventually finding his way to court-level seats at an Atlanta Hawks game the night or two before. As the trio of friends made their way to their seats, Schultz immediately recognized their unique viewpoints when he spotted the current billionaire Ted Turner, who founded CNN and once owned the Atlanta Braves until 1996, sitting in the same row only a few patrons down.
Random, by chance moments seem to follow Schultz wherever he goes. Perhaps its more of a skill because of how often they occur.
He once randomly met a member of legendary Chicago Cubs play-by-play Harry Caray’s security detail when he was on vacation in Michigan.
He stayed at the same Minneapolis hotel as the great 1970s New York Yankees and saw Billy Martin pace through the lobby before a game with the Minnesota Twins.
As somewhat of a sports history buff myself, but with only three decades of experience to lean back on, it’s a real treat when paired up with a person who possesses an even broader knowledge base. These stories were awesome.
There’s nothing particularly noteworthy about Schultz’s 1970s magazine collection or his affinity for the Chicago Cubs and his love for all sports, but it’s that relatable personality that draws you in. Let’s be real though, his magazines are pristine, and there are plenty of them. It’s surely a cool sight, and any fanatic would love to tour his little cottage for a few hours. But it’s Schultz’s story-telling that sets him apart. He’s got a mind full of sporting memories.
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The sense of an epiphany continually worked its way into my mind after analyzing the lengthy encounter with Schultz.
We spent much of the sun-splattered weekday afternoon discussing the various athletes, writers and events which have stuck with Schultz from the 1960s, 70s and 80s. I was immediately drawn to these second-hand memories of days well before my time. Sports would not exist as they do today without the exceptional displays of greatness paving the way, and I never pass up an opportunity to pick up a knew perspective.
I’ve wrestled with my relationship with sports over the last year, and Schultz admitted he had undergone something similar recently. Which is why we both, without exactly acknowledging it directly, agree it’s better to enjoy sports as an observer than a singular fan of a particular team. To let the moments come to you instead of seeking them out. It seems like a cop out to simply avoid the general heartbreak one experiences as a die-hard fan of say, the Detroit Lions or the Sacramento Kings, but it does free up space to truly enjoy the spectacle of sports. We get to take it all in, willing to appreciate a great play or outcome, no matter the team.
I wouldn’t say sports back were simpler (though, you could look at the lesser emphasis on advanced metrics as a counter point), but the pageantry was certainly better. We both agreed as we stood inside his properly-heated facility, nothing compares to holding a physical copy of a story, whether it a newspaper, book or magazine and letting the words of a talented writer blanket our minds. The coverage had more of a beauty 50 years ago, it wasn’t focused solely on the viral sensation of the moment. Writers, some still do today as well, stressed the importance of letting an outcome marinate a bit before it was repackaged for the world to ingest.
That’s something we’ve always tried to recreate at the Jefferson Herald over the last five years, attempting to maintain the old journalistic artistry with visually appealing layouts and interesting human-interest columns. Schultz and I both strive to tell share the side of humanity that isn’t often displayed in the public sporting realm, especially at the rural level. That human touch of guys like Joe Falls, a Detroit beat writer and Leonard Kopett, really captivated Schultz’s imagination in the pages of the Sporting News and Sports Illustrated.
Then you have wild moments like what we saw during the Final Four over the weekend when live sporting events elicit an organic reaction of amazement, creating a unique atmosphere that’s rather difficult to replicate. An overtime, half-court buzzer beater is just another reason why sports are alone at the top. The unpredictability is quite unlike anything else.
Despite our insistence on the beauty of sport, Schultz is a lifelong Iowa State and Chicago Cubs fan. A tortured fan indeed.
One of his wildest stories was from a 1976 football game in Ames at the old Clyde Williams Field against Colorado. The former Big 12 foe, this is according to Schultz’s legend, actually flew into the game via helicopter and landed on the 50 yard line, much to the dismay of the giddy fans. CU also brought along a live mascot, a massive buffalo, which they’d trot along the sidelines after each Colorado scoring drive. The Cyclones were hoping to earn a trip to the Peach Bowl a few weeks later, which had inspired the student section to bring actual peaches to the conference showdown. As ISU pulled away late in the game, the students, exuberant over their potential spot in Atlanta, began lobbing the peaches at the Colorado buffalo mascot. Thankfully, the team officials quickly hurried the mammoth beast under the stands and out of sight, avoiding imminent disaster.
Schultz believes ISU’s odd behavior forced the Buffs to stop bringing their mascot to road games.
Schultz knows how to get his way as well. There was the time he pushed the Minnesota Timberwolves into handing him free swag and the odd occasion when he told a Union Pacific big wig he was the marketing manager for a petroleum company when all he simply did was pump gas and run the books. He’s toured Florida on a golf and spring training combo trip and convinced his father as mere 16-year old to drive the family 1965 Chevy up to Minneapolis to catch a Twins game along with some of his buddies. He’s a persuasive person. It’s easy to see why the elder Schultz was willing to part with his cherished car for an evening.
My meeting with Jerry was rather refreshing. It helped me realize why we continue to love sports, year after year. It’s not because our teams win championships or we fall in love with the athletes. It’s the memories that are created, good or bad. The highs and lows are what keep us coming back.
Thank you, Jerry. You reaffirmed my momentarily waning love.