Basketball was always about more than wins and losses to Dave Wessel.
Whether leading the program at the largest high school in the state, as he did for 37 years at Davenport West, or coaching the team at the smallest basketball-playing school in the state, Rivermont Collegiate, Wessel welcomed the opportunity to help young people and teach lessons beyond those that were part of the curriculum in his history classroom.
Wessel died Friday at the age of 81 after battling leukemia, but the coach known for his meticulous scouting reports and insistence on an attention to detail left an imprint on generations of players he coached.
He won 437 games as a head coach during a career which covered 44 seasons as head coach. His resume included stops at West Branch, North Scott and Rivermont Collegiate in Bettendorf in addition to his 37 seasons at West, where his teams won Iowa state championships in 1971 and 1994.
It was with the Falcons where his greatest success occurred. He led the Falcons to eight state tournament berths, a number topped by only 19 coaches in Iowa history.
In a 2009 interview shortly before Wessel was inducted into the Quad-City Sports Hall of Fame, Iowa State women’s basketball coach Bill Fennelly credited Wessel with creating his desire to enter the coaching profession.
A member of Davenport West teams which reached the state tournament in 1974 and 1975, Fennelly said, “Coach Wessel really gave me the idea to think about what I’m doing today — coaching basketball,’’ Fennelly said. “I learned at an early age how to be successful in coaching.’’
Tony Brus, a member of the Falcons’ 1994 state championship team, recalled prior to Wessel’s hall of fame induction that the scouting reports players received at West were better than the ones he had during his collegiate career at Northern Iowa.
“Besides basketball, he taught us about life experiences and prepared us how to be a man,’’ Brus said.
Wessel’s coaching career began at West Branch High School, shortly after he graduated from Coe College in his hometown of Cedar Rapids in 1959.
He was hired by the Davenport Community School District one year later when West High School opened its doors and became the head boys basketball coach at Davenport West in 1967.
Wessel won his first state title at West in 1971 and led the Falcons to another crown 23 years later.
He considered those experiences as some of the highlights of his coaching career.
“They were two completely different types of teams,’’ Wessel said.
“The ’71 team was 7-11 when we started the tournament series, but we caught fire down the stretch. We were a hard-nosed team that won seven straight games, including knocking off two unbeaten teams of the three (Waterloo West, Mason City and Ottumwa) we faced in Des Moines.’’
The team finished the season with a 14-11 record — the most losses at the time ever for an Iowa state champion — but when the Falcons won their next state title they were flying high before they took the court at Veterans Memorial Auditorium in Des Moines.
Wessel’s 1994 squad finished the season with a 24-0 record and from start to finish, Wessel showed a little superstition in wearing the same green sports coat to coach in every game that year.
“The ’94 season was wonderful, and it was such an athletic and unselfish team,’’ Wessel said. “I can truthfully say I never thought about our team being unbeaten until we beat Cedar Rapids Prairie in the final.’’
Wessel retired from coaching at Davenport West in 2004 but didn’t stay away from the game for long.
He was a member of Brett Riessen’s staff at North Scott during the 2004-05 season and when Riessen left North Scott the following summer for an administrative post, Wessel agreed to spend the following season as the Lancers’ interim head coach in 2005-06.
He did sit out the following season, but returned the next year as a volunteer assistant under Ed Knupp at Rivermont Collegiate. A year later, Wessel was named the head coach at the Bettendorf school, a position he held until January.
Knupp saw the same energy and work ethic that Wessel put into the job at West, scouting Rivermont Collegiate opponents with the same detail he put into preparing his teams across town at West.
In addition to being selected to the Quad-City Sports Hall of Fame in 2009, Wessel was named to the Coe College Athletics Hall of Fame in 1995 and the Iowa High School Athletic Association Hall of Fame in 2004.
Davenport West named its basketball court in honor of Wessel in 2016 and this fall, Wessel will be inducted into the Davenport Schools Ring of Honor.
He was preceded in death by his wife of more than 58 years, Kathy, who passed away on March 6.
Services for Wessel are scheduled for 11 a.m. Tuesday at St. John Vianney Catholic Church, Bettendorf. Visitation will be from 4-8 p.m. on Monday at Halligan McCabe DeVries Funeral Home, Davenport and at the church beginning at 10 a.m. on Tuesday.