Jim Van Scoyoc
Norway High School Assistant Coach 1968-1971
Norway High School Head Coach 1972-1988, 1990
The history of baseball in Norway, Iowa, would be extraordinary even without any of the twenty state high school championships the school won between 1965 and 1991. The town team’s achievement and the individuals that played and starred in professional baseball would – alone - classify Norway baseball as an unqualified success. When the accomplishments of the high school program are added to the mix, however, the performance transcends excellence and approaches the boundary of legend.
The mere notion of such a tiny community not only playing with, but defeating, the largest schools in Iowa, and doing so regularly for almost three decades, borders on absurdity. Yet it happened. ‘Pinky’ Primrose re-invigorated the program in the late 1950s and early 1960s, and Bernie Hutchison led seven squads to state titles, but the dominant legacy of Norway was cemented by the twelve titles won under the guidance of coach Jim Van Scoyoc between 1972-1990.
James Allen Van Scoyoc was born on March 13, 1943, to James and Blanche (Jindrich) Van Scoyoc of Ladora, Iowa. His parents owned and operated a 24-hour truck stop near Ladora and, later, a roadside diner, so Van Scoyoc was exposed to all manner of people before he had turned eighteen. Growing up, he played baseball at the HLV School (Hartwick, Ladora, Victor) near Victor, and was sufficiently talented to attend a three-day tryout camp sponsored by the St Louis Cardinals, in 1959 in Cedar Rapids.
At the tryout, despite being only sixteen at the time, Van Scoyoc’s height, strength, and talent impressed the scouts sufficiently that, after the first day, that he was invited back to play games for the next two. At the end of the tryout, despite his solid performance, Jim was not offered a contract, so he returned to high school and, in 1961, entered William Penn University in Oskaloosa.
While there, he continued playing baseball and basketball, and graduated with a degree in education in 1965. During his career at William Penn, he excelled as a four year letterman, and was named “All-conference”, in both sports. As a senior, his baseball performance was so superior that he was voted “Most Valuable Player” in the Iowa Intercollegiate Athletic Conference.
Upon graduation Van Scoyoc reached a career fork-in-the-road. On the baseball side, although undrafted, the Cardinals had expressed renewed interest in the pitcher. Aside from his aptitude for machinery and engineering, and his training as a classroom teacher, baseball was something Jim loved, and the opportunity to play professionally, at any level, represented achievement of a goal he’d chased almost as long as he’d been playing the game.
Complicating the decision, however, was the United States’ expansion of the nation’s military presence in South Vietnam. In 1965 Congress approved a $2.5 billion increase in defense spending to draft more soldiers and insert them into the tiny Asian country. Without any sort of student deferment, the local draft board told him, it was a cinch that he’d be drafted if he signed a baseball contract. As a teacher, however, the draft was still likely, but not guaranteed. Regardless of the choice, he decided, there was little chance of playing baseball for a living.
Van Scoyoc declined the Cardinals’ offer, but was soon drafted by the Army, and then rejected for unspecified medical reasons. After being drafted two additional times, he was permanently rejected for military service due to those same medical reasons. As of 2010, he still has no idea why he wasn’t allowed to serve. “They never told me why”, he said in an interview, “and for the life of me I still don’t know today.”
By the time the military bureaucratic process produced their final answer, the Cardinals had lost interest in signing Van Scoyoc to a contract. This unanticipated chain of events allowed him to settle on a job that embraced both his talents and his interest. He was hired as an Industrial Arts teacher and head baseball coach at Amana Community School, just ten miles south of Norway.
Van Scoyoc taught at Amana for three years, and coached both the baseball and basketball teams against their traditional rivals like Newhall and Atkins. On the baseball diamond, however, his teams could never best the Norway Tigers, regardless of how well he prepared his squad.
“I got tired of them (Norway) beating us.” So, following his marriage to Norway’s Sheryl Boddicker (sister of former major league player Mike Boddicker, and of Norway baseball icons Bob and Butch Boddicker) on August 12, 1967, Van Scoyoc jumped at coach Bernie Hutchison’s offer to join the Tigers as assistant baseball coach and Industrial Arts teacher in 1968.
Over the next few years, Van Scoyoc established himself as a Norway resident. In addition to his coaching and teaching, he played baseball for the Norway town team.
In July 1969, while pitching against Watkins, he felt something pop in his pitching elbow. That was the end of throwing as he’d known it, but in forcing him to change his approach, the accident may have helped him become a more effective pitching coach of his players.
At the end of Van Scoyoc’s first school year with Norway, the Tigers graduated several key cogs from their early championship runs, including future major leaguer Bruce Kimm and athletic phenom Dick McVay (signed by the Cardinals in 1968). The school won only one state title in 1970, the Fall championship, and in 1971, amid ongoing rumors of school consolidation, coach Hutchison stunned the tiny community when he announced that he was leaving.
“I asked him if he had a better offer, but he said he didn’t have anything lined up” Van Scoyoc recalls. On coach Hutchison’s recommendation, however, Jim was promoted to head baseball coach. The team, under his auspices, won the 1972 Fall championship by defeating Bancroft St. John 1-0 in the title game held in Boone, Iowa, and the 1974 trophy by beating Spalding Granville in another one-run ‘squeaker’, 3-2. For the next five years, however, the team did not win a state title in either fall or summer.
It was an unexpected drought. Coach Van Scoyoc still believes that “the sixties arrived late in Norway”, that the pervasive mindset that embraced the questioning of authority finally seeped into eastern Iowa. Van Scoyoc’s squads, and Norway’s high school baseball teams in general, had succeeded largely due to disciplined pitching, defense, and unselfish hitting. Without total commitment to “Norway baseball”, the championship run ended.
1975 brought Van Scoyoc another brush with professional baseball. After pitching a game for the Norway town team in the “Stan Musial Amateur Bicentennial World Series” (sponsored by the American Amateur Baseball Congress), in Battle Creek, Michigan, he was approached by a scout from the New York Yankees. The scout had been watching Jim pitch, and offered him a professional contract on the spot. Van Scoyoc was stunned. As they talked, however, Jim determined that there was a error in the scout’s information. His age wasn’t twenty-one, he pointed out, but was actually ten years older. The scout, saved from potentially grave embarrassment, thanked Van Scoyoc and quickly departed.
Jim had been hired as a scout a year earlier, and was working as a part-time ‘bird dog’, or recommending scout, for Cincinnati Reds’ area scout Bill Clark. The relationship lasted nearly twenty years, with Van Scoyoc following Clark to the Atlanta Braves’ organization when the latter changed jobs. Clark, Van Scoyoc says, is the man he respected most in professional baseball, both for his candor and for his integrity. Van Scoyoc, Clark noted in a 2010 interview, is a close friend precisely because they share those traits.
So Van Scoyoc scouted, and coached his players, consciously choosing to conduct himself in a way he could respect, rather than try to adapt to a passing fad. In 1979 the Norway High School baseball team, due to the persistence of the town’s youth baseball programs and to coach Van Scoyoc’s perseverance, re-emerged, and claimed the Fall Iowa State championship by shutting out Prescott 9–0 at Boone.
With the fog lifted, Norway baseball exploded in the 1980s. In the 1981 Summer championship, Norway topped Cardinal Stritch of Keokuk 5-2. That fall the Tigers placed second in the state, but won both Summer and Fall titles in 1982 and 1983. They followed those with Summer championships in 1984, 1987, 1988, and 1990. Van Scoyoc did not coach the team in 1989, instead turning the reins over to coach Kim Muhl
In 1983, the American Baseball Coaches Association voted Van Scoyoc as the national high school Coach of the Year. Earlier that season, it had been announced that he was a finalist to take the assistant coaching job at the University of Missouri.
In 1987, his alma mater, William Penn University, inducted him into their Athletic Hall-of-Fame. He is also a member of the Iowa High School Baseball Coaches Association. He was also selected as Baseball Coach of the Year three separate times by the Iowa High School Athletic Association, and is a member of the Iowa High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall-of-Fame.
As described in the movie “The Final Season”, the periodic threats to close Norway public schools, and consolidate under Benton Community, were finally carried out in 1990. The school would close at the end of the 1991 academic year. With no offer to coach at the new school, Van Scoyoc recommended assistant coach Kent Stock to take the helm for the last year, just as Bernie Hutchison had done for him a generation earlier, and then accepted a position as a pitching coach in the Detroit Tigers’ minor league system.
The baggage he carried to Niagara Falls, of the Class A New York-Penn League, included the 796 wins (against 239 losses) amassed by his Norway teams. His overall high school coaching record, between 1965 and 1990, is a remarkable 850-254, and his seven Iowa Summer championships are more than those won by any other prep coach in state history. Five of his players played professional baseball, and several were named to national All-American teams. The team he assembled won the Tigers’ final state title, under coach Stock, in 1991, but Coach Van Scoyoc, was a thousand miles away, teaching his craft to young major-league hopefuls.
After a successful season with Niagara Falls, Detroit management assigned Jim to their Bristol team in the ‘rookie’ class Appalachian League. During two seasons there, he was tasked to help future major league hurlers Clint Sodowsky and Willis Roberts, and others, with the art and science of pitching.
Not wanting to move his wife, and begin a new career by accepting an offer to become a full-time scout in the Southeast, Van Scoyoc retired from the profession of baseball. He worked at Cedar River Paper, in Cedar Rapids, and then served as pitching coach at Kirkwood Community College in Cedar Rapids between 2000 and 2004, until retiring for good in 2008. He lives in a home he built in Norway.
Jim and Sheryl Van Scoyoc have three children. Eldest son Chad is married, and with their son and daughter lives in Boulder City, Nevada, while son Aaron (drafted by the Yankees in 1988) is married with two boys and lives in Cedar Rapids. Daughter Jean is also married with two children (one boy and one girl) and lives in Norway.