LUTHERAN NORTH HIGH SCHOOL
The Lutheran High School North athletic lore began with the 1954 Lutheran High baseball team’s run to the Missouri state high school finals against Cape Girardeau Central. While the Crusaders lost 5-4 at the old Sportsman’s Park, the team’s success helped put the school on the St. Louis sports map.
In football, running back/kicker Bill Leistritz (he practiced kicking field goals at light posts in Forest Park) later played for the great Mizzou teams in the early 1960s. While a variety of teams won ABC League championships during that decade, the first Crusader successes in state competition on the Lucas and Hunt campus came in 1971. Crusader grad Jim Manion mentored Dan Huber (a three-time individual champion) and his teammates to a second-place finish in the 1971 state tennis tournament. But it would be another decade before another Crusaders team would crash the Final Four in football and basketball.
In 1981, Mike Russell coached future NFL players Thomas Rooks, Bobby Joe Edmonds and Tony Buford and their teammates to the first Crusader team state championship, defeating the Marshall Owls, 14-6, at Busch Stadium for the Class 3A title.
Seven years later, Russell’s football coaching staff that included Carl Holschen and Rich Langefeld, completed an unprecedented run of three straight state titles. The most dramatic was the ’89 championship game in which the Crusaders overcame a 26-14 deficit in the last 90 seconds of the game, the biggest play being the quarterback draw to end the game.
During the mid-’90s, the track squads created their own string of successes. However, a precedent had preceded that success when in 1988, Robert Ross single-handedly guided Lutheran to a fourth-place finish, by winning four events.
High jumper Connie Teaberry was working her way to the Olympics when the ’94 squad sneaked into fourth-place finish at state. Coaches Barry Terrass, Kurt Bergdolt and Steve Tirmenstein were joined by Jim Prahlow and Derek Spears as the boys’ and girls’ squads completed the first “double three-peat.”
In 1995, the boys’ won by a half point over Palmyra while the girls’, victorious in three relays, eased to a 20-point victory over Valle-Ste. Genevieve. In ’96, the two squads won five relays, the boys winning the title by 30 points and the girls, with newcomers Melanie McDaniel, Shamica Buckley and Jana Tillman, set an all-class point mark. The ’97 teams carried on the tradition.
When Mike Russell retired from his football coaching duties, Manion returned to take over the program. After a “near miss” in ’98, the Crusaders captured the ’99 state crown behind the likes of future Robert Douglas, Lorenzo Scott and QB Aaron Mueller. That trio was on the field when Lutheran North toppled Kansas City- St. Pius in the Dome for the program’s fifth title.
Following a track runner-up finish in ’00, Darrion Branscomb, Andrew Tirmenstein and Micah Glenn led the boys’ track squad to another championship in ’01. Arguably the best track team in Crusader history, its members scored in 11 of the 12 events on the track. While the girls could not quite reach that level of excellence, the team built a string of eight state plaques in nine years.
When Kirk Mueller handed the basketball reins to Brent Rueter in 2002, multi-sport athletes Ryan Williams, Phil Williams and Jon Mueller teamed with Rebeil Durley-Petty and Tony Irons to win the first Crusader state basketball title. The ’05 squad, helmed by Matt Thurman, Jeff Leslie and Rolandis Woodland, defeated an undefeated Bowling Green squad and perennial powerhouse Charleston on the way to earning a second basketball state championship.