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Redhawk Country recognizes their Most Valuable Coach

October 21, 2018
CJ Eilers - Editor ( , Traer Star-Clipper

Coming from a family of educators, it was no surprise that Tom McDermott decided from a fairly young age he wanted to become a teacher and a coach. Even in the seventh grade growing up in the northern Iowa town of Britt, several of his coaches had already made an impact on his life he feels to this day.

"I always thought it was something I wanted to do with my life," McDermott said. "Athletics were something I've always loved and teaching gave me a chance to continue doing something I loved and is meaningful."

That chance came after graduating from Upper Iowa University and taking his first job as a math instructor and assistant coach in several sports at Bishop Garrigan in Algona. While the position was a great first start in McDermott's long, storied career, there was one thing the young coach wanted still: to be a head coach. Another position opened in the city of Traer in 1973. The football program was in need of a head football coach. McDermott and his young family had connections to the town. His wife's parents both graduated from then Traer High School and were still natives of the city. Traer and Britt had similarities in terms of size and the people living with its limits. Best of all, it would be come to be a great place place to raise a family. The McDermotts moved to Traer and Coach would become a staple in the community as fixture on the football field, the classroom and as an administrator for North Tama.

Article Photos

Jay Whannel Jr of Whannel’s Cellular presents Coach McDermott with the $5,000 check.

"For me, football is a passion; a way I can reach young people and help them become young adults," McDermott said. "There's a lot of different ways to do that for different people like our teachers, our administrators and our local newspaper. It's important we all help these students become better people."

During his tenure as head coach from 1972 to 1987, McDermott would posting an 87-48 record before becoming Principal and later Superintendent of North School County Community Schools from 1998 to 2008, later retiring and coaching football as an assistant for the 2010 State Champion team.

In 2006, McDermott was named Assistant Coach of the Year by the Iowa Football Coaches Association and was inducted into the same organization's Hall of Fame in 2017 during halftime of the Class 3A State Championship game. Then in May of 2018, former head coach Austin Pink left North Tama to take a position at Liberty, leaving a vacancy open and many players feeling uneasy about their future.

"Having Coach Pink leave really did hurt all of us and left the athletes wondering what was next," assistant coach Brent Billerbeck said. "I started hearing rumors later that Coach McDermott was going to take it and I thought that was all they were: rumors. The day I heard it for myself, I couldn't stop smiling. I tried to keep it a secret from the kids, but I honestly couldn't. A lot of them were nervous because of McDermott's background, yet they were more excited than nervous. When he was announced as the next head coach, they were ready to go for him."

Now the head coach of the current 7-1 Redhawks, McDermott can add being a finalist for U.S. Cellular's Most Valuable Coach contest to his long list of accomplishments at North Tama. McDermott was voted into the top 50 in September, when voting again opened to narrow down the field to 15. Those select few coaches each received a $5,000 check for the school and the oppurtunity to award their schools more for third place ($10,000), second place ($20,000) and first place ($50,0000 and a Samsung prize pack). Long before voting is scheduled to end on November 13, McDermott and his team was visited by U.S. Cellular and their partner, Samsung, to record a video that will be used as a promo tool for the contest. The oppurtunity also was a chance to hold a recognition rally for McDermott to receive the $5,000 check. A gym packed with students and community members awaited the man they see as the "Most Valuable Coach" on Tuesday, Oct. 16.

"I told the crew interviewing me I'm basically a shy person and don't like attention drawn upon myself," McDermott said. "I'd rather have the attention on the team or the school. In some ways it makes me uncomfortable, but I also feels it's a tremendous recognition for me and more importantly the community. I see this as an award for everyone, not just for me. When you have good players, it makes you a better coach. You have to have the talent to make it happen. The awards are nice, but right now this a recognition I feel our school and our community have achieved."

Those same players also get plenty of attention from McDermott, a strict and disciplined coach who has seen many players go through his program. Some even have come back to coach alongside him, including Billerbeck, a standout player for the Redhawks from 2009 to 2012. After playing at Buena Vista University, Billerback came back to Traer as an assistant coach to work under his former coach.

"Right away, I was a little nervous coming back as a former player," Billerbeck said. "I didn't know if he was going to take what I was thinking or listen to me. Coach was very understanding and when I gave him an option, he ran it through his head and gave them a try. Every year I've been with him, it's been more fun to work with him."

Another former player in attendance for Tuesday's recognition was Dylan Youel, a 2010 graduate of North Tama that saw plenty of success with McDermott as an assistant. Youel was contacted to make a short speech at the rally, an honor he gladly accepted.

"I just wanted to give my perspective and interactions with Coach and how he's always had the same mentality of wanting his student-athletes to be the best they could be," Youel said. "He exemplified the characteristics they should have on and off the field with determination, hard work, accountability and doing the right thing."

Billerbeck attributes those characteristics to why the North Tama Redhawks are currently back in playoff contention after years of struggles. In fact, the current senior class went 0-9 as freshman pushing for minutes on varsity that season.

"He brought something this program hasn't had in recent years and that's tenacity," Billerbeck said. "He brought work ethic to our kids and I've never been more proud of them. "Coach McDermott has always been a big role model for me and one of the biggest reasons I went on to play on in college and am coaching today."

Youel would also go on to play college ball, taking his talents to Coe College in Cedar Rapids as a middle linebacker. Getting their, however, would have been another story, according to Youel, without Coach McDermott and believes the recognition is not only deserving but also great for North Tama.

"This is great for the community and the school just to get this type of recognition," Youel said. "Coach McDermott is a humble individual and doesn't like taking credit, but there's a little bit of life being breathed back into the football program. It was great to come back to talk about him and great for the community."

From coaching North Tama into relevance in the 70s and 80s to being an adminstrator for 20 years to coming out of retirement to ensure the seniors have the season he believed they could have, Coach McDermott has impacted countless North Tama students as evidence by those around him. Ever humble, he again throws the credit to the Traer community for its support this season and many seasons before.

"Thank you to everybody for everything they have done through our community," McDermott said. "This is heartwarming."

To vote for the next round in the Most Valuable Coach, head over to to vote once every day per email address.



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