Washington Evening Journal
111 North Marion Avenue
Washington, IA 52353
CARROLL — In 2018, the New London football program was just about to hit its peak. A pair of 6-3 seasons and a playoff berth under the helm of then head coach Brad Helmerson, combined with a wealth of talent coming back for the new season had the Tigers in great shape.
Helmerson, however, had to wrestle with a tough decision. Citing his busy schedule as New London Fire Chief and the team’s amazing potential, Helmerson stepped down as head football coach, so whoever replaced him could give the team its full attention. That 2018 squad, under new head coach Mark McSorley, would go on to win the first state championship in Tiger football history.
Three-and-a-half years later, Coach Helmerson can finally call himself a state champion. His 2022 New London baseball squad earned the school’s first baseball championship with a thrilling 8-7 win over top-seeded Remsen, St. Mary’s in Friday’s Class 1A state title showdown, and they did so in Helmerson’s last game in a Tiger uniform.
Helmerson, along with assistant coach Justin Schulte had already decided that this run would be their last. The 2022 squad, anchored by perhaps the best senior class in school history, would be the last group that Helmerson and Schulte would lead on to the battlefield. The two, along with nine senior leaders, will go out on the highest of highs.
“They're just like a second dad,” said senior third baseman Ryan Richey. “We're around them just as much as our families. Getting it done for them, and getting to see the smile on their faces, and getting to see them go out this way. There's just no greater feeling.”
The 2022 baseball squad proved to be exactly what the 2018 football team was; a program at its absolute peak.
The Tigers broke the school wins record with an astounding 31 victories on the season and only one loss. They reached double digit runs in a ridiculous 19 games and only allowed five or more opposing runs twice all season.
At the state tournament, the Tigers put up 36 runs, the most of any of the 32 teams that traveled to Carroll or Iowa City for any of the four state tourneys going on throughout the week.
And according to the New London seniors, that kind of overwhelming success points right back to the leadership of Helmerson, Schulte and Jayden Flowers, a former player under Helmerson who serves as the team’s other assistant coach.
“You've got three different personalities, and they just feed off of each other,” said senior Carter Allen. “They mesh perfectly. Being a part of their group it surreal.”
Allen ran the whole gambit for New London sports. As a freshman, he played defensive line for the state championship Tiger football team. In the spring of 2022, he was a leader for the New London boys’ state track championship team, and now gets to close his high school sports career with a third title.
“It's difficult to put in to words what it means to me to be on the field with these guys one last time and playing sports with them throughout the years,” Allen said. “I just wouldn't change it.”
Allen was able to catch the final out of the 2022 baseball championship, receiving the second throw of a home-to-first double play, which silenced a furious Remsen, St. Mary’s comeback. Clinging on to a one-run lead, senior teammate Kooper Schulte forced a soft bouncer to the mound, and Tucker Gibbar, another senior, touched the plate and fired the ball to Allen at first base.
“The best part of it is working hard with all my teammates,” said Kooper Schulte, the son of the Tigers’ outgoing assistant. “Every season, day in and day out, we spent countless hours on the field. We're the hardest working team in Iowa. I believe that 100 percent.”
Along with Richey, Allen, Schulte and Gibbar, the New London roster will lose state championship winning pitcher Dereck Santiago, Joshua Catala, Seth Bailey, Camden Kasel and Drew Benz to graduation.
Gibbar, who sparked a New London rally with a second-inning solo home run, which brought a 3-0 deficit down to two, spoke about his head coach after the win.
“Helmerson has meant a lot of things to me,” Gibbar said. “He's taught me a lot about the game, and he's just helped me become a better person. Whenever I'm getting angry or upset, he's always there to be like, 'Tuck, you're good. Let's keep going.'”
In 14 years as head coach, Helmerson compiled a 210-128 record. He plans on moving down to lower levels of New London baseball to help younger players prepare for high school. Schulte, who finished his fourth year with the program, will continue to be the head coach at Southeastern Community College.
As the team conducted post game interviews after Friday’s win, and the New London faithful packed up to get set for a four-hour trip back home, Helmerson unsuccessfully fought back tears as he put the day’s emotions into perspective.
““When you see the kids that have graduated, and when they come back and they thank you for what you've done,” Helmerson said. “That's what it's all about.”
And while the Tiger squad will look at lot different when the summer of 2023 rolls around, the names that helped bring this championship to the New London community will not be forgotten. Their legacy won’t stop at the state championship trophy sitting at New London high school, but will live on in memories of the greatest season in Tiger baseball history.
The Union’s Hunter Moeller contributed to this story