If Harold ‘Pinky’ Primrose re-invigorated the baseball program at Norway High School, Bernie Hutchison ignited it.  In 1958, Primrose had taken over a moribund team and brought it to the brink of excellence by focusing on what would later be called “Norway baseball”, centered on solid defense and pitching.  The school had been poised on the cusp of state postseason play for several years, and when Primrose departed for Cedar Rapids in 1964, the team needed a strong leader to replace him. 

Bernie Hutchison was born in rural Iowa in December 1935, one of eight children in his family. He grew up playing both baseball and basketball, and on the diamond, he was a catcher for the Martensdale high school team, the St Mary’s town team, and the Des Moines Junior Legion squad, among others.  Upon graduation from high school in 1954, he worked for two years at the Des Moines Coca-Cola plant before entering college, where he played third base and catcher in addition to his work in the class room.  His formal education was put on hold for two years while he completed his Army service, a stint that included both baseball and duty in Panama, before he graduated from the Iowa State Teachers College (now the University of Northern Iowa, in Cedar Falls) in 1962. 

As with Pinky Primrose, Hutchison’s first teaching/coaching position was in Lisbon, Iowa.  When Primrose left Norway, Hutchison was quickly hired as both head baseball and basketball coach.  To call his debut season in Norway ‘auspicious’ would be a profound understatement.  That first year, he had only seven players (the minimum allowed), and often would “draft” boys – literally – off their bicycles to round out his team.  The team lost over twenty games that first year, but from such beginnings, dynasties arise.  Shona Frese, a director of the Iowa Baseball Museum of Norway, wrote in 2010:  “The clock started ticking in 1964 with the hiring of baseball coach Bernie Hutchinson.”

Prior to the 1965 baseball season, however, Hutchison made a brilliant move.  The day after his first Christmas at Norway, on December 26, 1964, he married Ruthie Ann Malli from nearby Cedar Rapids.  That decision has given the Hutchisons a full house: three children (daughters Jackie and Jami, and son Landon), and eight grandchildren; as of mid-2010, a ninth grand-child is on the way later in the year). 

It did not take long for Hutchison’s team to reach the next level of excellence.  Once Bruce Kimm and Dick McVay and Terry Brecht, and others, became eligible, the talent level on the team rose exponentially.  Once the boys began to buy-in to coach Hutchison’s attitude that ‘winning a game in the tournament was fine, but winning the entire tournament was the goal’, history started happening.  In the 1965 state tournament, Norway’s Rick Ryan tossed a three-hitter to pace the 2-1 win over Ottumwa in the district finals, and followed that with a two-hitter in a 2-0 defeat of Cresco in the state semi-finals. 

On October 8, Ryan shut out Granville-Spalding 2-0, and the team captured the first state baseball title in school history.  Hutchison had talent in his lineup – both Ryan and Dick McVay would later sign minor-league contracts, and freshman right fielder Bruce Kimm eventually changed positions and enjoyed a long career in professional baseball that included four seasons as a major league catcher – but it was the coach’s deliberate emphasis on pitching and defense that helped Norway’s three hits stand up in the win.  Those traits, pitching and defense, became the philosophy for Norway High School baseball over the next twenty-five years.

Coach Hutchison was the right person to take advantage of Norway’s baseball culture.  He even noted after that first title in 1965:  “Baseball is a fever here.  Our town team won the Iowa Valley Summer League and both our Little League teams won their conferences.  When I get the boys, they have quite a baseball background.”

In 1966, Hutchison adopted a three-pitcher rotation, and the team compiled a record of 30-1 over the year.  Leading up to the team’s state titles in the 1966 tournaments (4-1 over Goldville, and 4-2 over Mason City), Norway pitcher Dick McVay made headlines all over Iowa when he struck out sixteen and allowed only one hit against Thomas Jefferson High in Council Bluffs.  This was the first of Norway’s David-versus-Goliath stories (as the population of Norway was 516, while Council Bluffs had over 55,000 residents), but certainly not the last. 

Those titles, which earned the team the moniker “Giant Killers” by the Cedar Rapids Gazette,  were followed by others in the Fall 1967 tournament (4-0 over Stacyville), and Spring 1968 (18-6 over Decorah).  As a result of the improbable successes, Hutchison was named Coach-of-the-Year by the Iowa High School Coaches Association, and as one of seven national Baseball Coaches of the Year (District II) by the National High School Athletic Coaches Association.  The latter award marked the first recognition of Norway High School baseball on the national stage and, as an encore, the coach led the team to another championship that fall (1968) with a 3-0 win over Bancroft-St. John.
Hutchison also had the foresight, that year, to accept an application and resume from the young head coach at nearby Amana High School, Jim Van Scoyoc.  Coach Van Scoyoc moved to Norway in 1968 as Industrial Arts teacher and assistant baseball coach.  It was a move that – three years later – would save high school baseball in the tiny town. 

That same year, Bernie joined his predecessor, Pinky Primrose, in creating the Iowa High School Baseball Coaches Association, and also served as the first treasurer of the organization.

Off the diamond, Hutchison’s basketball teams played extremely well, too, although not in the same class as the baseball squad in terms of tournament victories.  Still, two of his teams posted 30-win seasons, and their success at the state level was perhaps even more unlikely than that of the baseball team. 

Despite the success, or perhaps due to the access it granted, the coach became aware of the subtle, persistent threat that some of the smaller schools in Iowa would eventually be closed or consolidated into larger, regional institutions.  He knew he would be better positioned to adapt to a potential job change with a graduate degree, so he enrolled in a Masters program at the University of Wyoming, and spent summers earning his graduate degree while Bob Boddicker, Lowell Ryan (the school superintendant), and Jim Van Scoyoc took turns coaching the team through those seasons.

In 1970, Hutchison’s Tiger team won his final state title with a 5-1 victory over Our Lady of Good Counsel in Fonda, Iowa.  In 1971, however, Hutchison stunned the town and the team when he abruptly announced that he was leaving his job, and that coach Van Scoyoc would be taking his place.  When asked in 2010, Coach Hutchison flatly states that he was convinced that Norway High would soon close, and he did not want to be caught without an income.

In all, Bernie Hutchison’s record at Norway High was a staggering 301-43 (nearly half of those coming in his first year), and included seven Iowa state titles.  The number of his boys that later played baseball professionally would dwarf the output of many colleges, and while he is the first to admit that the players, and not the coach, won those trophies, it is a matter of record that he was the best possible coach to shape and lead those great teams.  And, in doing that, he helped cement the identity of an entire town.

After twenty years coaching junior high school sports and operating a restaurant in Red Oak, Iowa, where he coached high school baseball, posting a record of 198-61, and basketball. From there, the Hutchisons moved to Connecticut, and today Bernie works for Pierce-Eislen, a specialized technology company that provides market research to the commercial real estate industry.  He and Ruthie have traded the Midwestern and East Coast winters for the warmth of Scottsdale, Arizona.  He is far removed from the glory years of Norway High School baseball, but his shadow still falls over the local baseball diamond, and his teams stand tall in the collective memory of the community.