Francis Drury — The Innovator of 1937-1941

By Rita McDonald

Francis Drury
Francis Drury

Francis Drury was hired as Williamsburg’s physical education teacher and science teacher for the 1937-1938 school year.  Francis graduated from the Wisconsin State Teachers College at La Crosse, Wisconsin and received his masters from the University of Iowa.  The first year was a quiet one for Drury.  An open house for a music festival and a physical education demonstration was held in the spring of 1938 with tumbling as a special attraction.  Two sanctioned high school sports, basketball and baseball, were the sports of the day but at this open house Drury introduced boxing, wrestling, volleyball and soccer to the spectators. 

In 1938 Drury introduced tumbling and acrobatic work to high school boys to enable athletic exercise to those boys who did not participate in basketball.  On March 31, 1938, a “gymnastic circus” was held in the grade school auditorium, where it was announced that the circus would become an annual event. 

In September of 1938 Drury founded the Intramural Club.  This club would provide money for anyone receiving injury in teacher supervised intramural sports, baseball, basketball and physical education.  The student would pay twenty-five cents a semester dues and the school matched that amount.  First officers for this club were Keith Dougherty, president, Charles Harris, vice president and Leighton Pierce as secretary and treasurer.  Fall intramural sports were football, soccer, speedball and horseshoes.  Winter sports included basketball, volleyball, boxing, wrestling and tumbling.  Spring sports were track and kittenball, now known as softball.  Specialty sports such as ice hockey, ping pong and checkers were also played throughout the year.


In the fall of 1938 the newly formed cross country team practiced on the pavement leading from Williamsburg to Parnell.  Cross Country was supposedly a run of a mile and a quarter over any road the coach might pick out.  According to the school news, the athletes were hoping to win at least a second place in a race.  Ten athletes traveled to Iowa City on Saturday Oct. 22, 1938 but only five would run in the meet.  Orville Rathjen finished first, Dick Keil second, Bob Mahan third, Dale Gahring sixth and Allen Hinrichs seventh.  This would be the team’s only win of the season.  However, two of the three losses suffered were to the state champs, University High, from Iowa City.  Williamsburg placed fifth in the state mile meet and third in the state mile and nine tenths at the Class B Level.  By the fall of 1939 cross country was an established sport in Williamsburg and Williamsburg took home its first state title.  (see the Cross Country section of The History of Williamsburg, Iowa - Volume I, 2009)


The wrestling and boxing exhibition debut in November 1938 drew a large crowd at the grade school auditorium.  In the interest of this sports infancy, the results were as follows:

  1. Everette Schlesselman, 87 lbs. defeated Dave Reader, 95 lbs.
  2. John Roberts, 131 lbs. defeated James Haverland, 138 lbs.
  3. Hayden Jones, 113 lbs. defeated Paul Roberts, 118 lbs.
  4. Eugene Shannahan, 128 lbs. and George Stahl, 132 lbs. wrestled to a draw
  5. Delbert Jones, 138 lbs. defeated Keith Bean, 128 lbs.
  6. Joe Shannahan, 118 lbs. defeated Richard Keil, 114 lbs.
  7. Henry Zimpleman, 146 lbs. defeated Curtis Landa, 150 lbs.
  8. Wayne Mullnix, 136 lbs. defeated Leighton Peirce, 148 lbs.
  9. Dale Nash, 240 lbs. defeated Dean Goodman, 180 lbs.

Interesting to note that in the “novelty” event, Dale Nash pinned Dick Keil and Joe Shannahan while wrestling both at the same time, but lost when another wrestler, Haydn Jones was added to the mix.  Dean Goodman was pinned in a specialty match by the same three boys.

In boxing:

  1. Charles Reader, 60 lbs. and Lloyd Klever, 75 lbs. boxed to a draw
  2. Keith Peterson, 92 lbs. defeated Bobby Claypool, 100 lbs.
  3. Vernon Witte, 73 lbs and Karl Winborn, 92 lbs. boxed to a draw
  4. Bobby Yoder, 70 lbs. and Oren Peterson, 92 lbs. boxed to a draw
  5. Bill Blythe, 65 lbs. defeated Joe Rush, 65 lbs.

In February of 1939 inter-school matches were held for qualification to the district wrestling tournament.  Winners were:  Cliff Querl, Eugene Shannahan, John Roberts, Henry Zimpleman, Wayne Mullnix and Dean Goodman.  Preceding the wrestling and boxing matches, the Drum and Bugle Corps performed, presenting new formations in precise synchronized actions. 

In March of 1939 Drury took the Williamsburg Tumbling Team to a gymnastic meet at the University of Iowa.  The boys were impressed and immensely proud, when in the first event of the horizontal bar, Robert Parry, Williamsburg graduate, won first place.  After the meet was over, a short exhibition given by the visiting Illinois squad inspired all those attending.

In June of 1939 Francis Drury was elected as the new basketball coach, succeeding C. W. Lytle, who had been very successful in coaching his teams to county titles.  At this time he was also chosen to be Williamsburg athletic director.

Cross country was into its second season by the fall of 1939 and defeated Iowa City, University High by taking all places third through eighth in the one mile race.  This meet decided which five men would run in the state meet for the one mile championship.  Those who qualified were Richard Keil, Charles “Barney” Fetzer, Robert Mahan, Gene Shannahan and either Delaine Bryson or Dale Gahring to be chosen later.  Gahring was chosen for the state meet.  In the two mile race against University High, Barney Fetzer led by a wide margin to win first place.

The newly formed wrestling team, which competed only in inter-school matches in 1938, had a schedule of five meets in 1939.  Coach Drury arranged to take his wrestlers to Iowa City to wrestle the University of Iowa’s team under the coaching of Mike Howard.  New strategy and techniques were learned at this session.  Coach Drury would coach Pat Vercande in 1941.  Pat was the first Williamsburg wrestler to qualify for the state tournament.  Vercande finished third at the 1941 state meet.  (see the Wrestling article in The History of Williamsburg, Iowa - Volume I, 2009, for a complete history of wrestling)


It is interesting to note that Drury coached basketball, wrestling, gymnastics/tumbling and co-directed the Drum and Bugle Corps all at the same time.  He was the AD, the “W” Club sponsor and taught science and P.E.  Baseball and track were the fall sports and Drury coached both.  In February of 1940, the Williamsburg basketball team won the Iowa County Championship, beating Parnell in the final.  They won games from North English and Belle Plaine to win the sectional.  The first game in district play was easily won against Vinton.  The second game against Muscatine ended Williamsburg’s hope for state tournament play.  Coaching in 1941, Drury led Williamsburg to its fifth straight Iowa County Championship.    

At the 1940 senior class day, varsity letter’s, or “W’s” were awarded for the first time for outstanding skill in sports other than basketball and baseball.  New qualification standards were set by Drury and letters for cross country, wrestling and track were awarded. 


At the Iowa County Schoolmasters Club organizational meeting, Francis Drury was elected County Athletic Conference President in September of 1940.  Also decided at this time was Williamsburg having the county baseball tournament.  Drury would be director and also the Williamsburg coach.  George “Scotty” Ahrens would bat .500 for the year and lead the team in pitching.  A new bat was bought by Bill Wallace on a Wednesday of tournament week and by Friday, Bill Worth, Williamsburg outfielder, had collected two home runs and four singles in eight at bats before the bat was broken.  Williamsburg beats Parnell 9-4 to win the Iowa County Championship.  In October Williamsburg qualified for the state tournament held in Adel.  In the first round of play Williamsburg defeated Wiota 6-1.  Bill Wallace pitched, allowing only three hits.  Scotty Ahrens allowed three hits in the semi-final game and Williamsburg defeated What Cheer 10-1.  Walt Harris had three hits to his credit.  Wallace pitched in the championship game and Williamsburg lost to Bancroft by a score of 5-1.  At the close of the tournament the team received a trophy and each player received a medal.  A highlight of the tournament was a talk by Bob Feller, star Cleveland pitcher, native of Van Meter, Iowa.  Team members were:  “Scotty Ahrens”, Bill Worth, Delaine Bryson, Donald O’Donnell, Charles Quinn, Bill Wallace, Walter Harris, Wes Cranston, James Butler, Keith Bean, George Stahl and Allan Hinrichs.


In June of 1941, a new playground supervision program was officially opened on the grade school grounds.  Two softball diamonds, a tennis court, an archery range, an outdoor basketball hoop and a horseshoe pit was established.  A summer recreation program was established with times slots set for different age groups.  Coach Drury supervised the boys programs and Cleo Smith, Williamsburg native who had just completed her freshman year at Iowa, supervised the girls.  Mr. Drury was available for tennis lessons for children and adults and organized horseshoe tournaments for locals.

In July of 1941, Francis Drury resigned from the Williamsburg Schools to accept a position of physical education director at East Waterloo High School, then one of the largest schools in the state.  He went on to become the Athletic Director at Louisianna State University.  His work in the Williamsburg School had been far above average.  He introduced a number of programs to the athletic department which won wide recognition.  Certainly his personal goal of involving all students in some kind of physical activity was met in this town.  A toast to the man who coached it all -- baseball, basketball, gymnastics, wrestling, track, cross country, summer recreation and director of the Drum and Bugle Corps.  Let him be an inspiration to all who choose to work with youth.

Author & Contributor: Rita McDonald on behalf of the Williamsburg Historical Commission
Published: Iowa County IAGenWeb Website, 22 Nov 2008; The History of Williamsburg, Vol. I, 2009. Copyright © 2008 by Rita McDonald. All rights reserved.
Sources: The Williamsburg Journal-Tribune, Williamsburg, Iowa County, Iowa (1938-1942); supplemented with verbal history from George Stahl, Hank Zimplemann and Joe Shannahan who were coached by Drury.