Hawks every bit as talented off the court as on it

South Hamilton basketball starters (left to right) Conner Hill, Cade Balvanz, Cole Berg, Logan Peters and Quinton Grove pose around a table inside the school’s library prior to practice earlier this week. All five carry a strong course load and a plethora of extra-curricular activities off the court. DFJ photo/Troy Banning

Quinton Grove chuckles as he attempts to remember the last time he did nothing. That might not sound like a hard assignment, but for someone who is on the go from the moment his alarm shrieks to the time his head once again hits the pillow, it can be a challenge.

The South Hamilton junior competes in four sports — cross country, basketball, track and field and baseball. He’s also a member of the school’s Future Farmers of America (FFA) where he serves as the treasurer. He’s the treasurer for the local 4H chapter as well. Throw in the student council, a number of volunteer activities at his church and, oh yeah, his class work where he holds down a 3.9 grade point average, and he carries more than a full plate.

Being lazy simply isn’t an option. And that’s just the way he likes it.

“All of that stuff, we do that because that’s what we’re truly made of,” Grove said of his mountainous load of extra-curricular activities. “I don’t know if I could put a number on it, but there are definitely a lot of hours that nobody knows about. Sometimes it can be tricky, but that’s all part of it. School comes first though. It’s student before athlete.”

Grove will be in the starting lineup for South Hamilton when the third-ranked Hawks (21-1) travel to the state basketball tournament for the third consecutive season on Monday. They’ll open up against Rock Valley in the Class 2A quarterfinal round at 6:30 p.m.

South Hamilton junior Quinton Grove (15) puts up a 3-pointer from the corner during the Hawks’ 63-31 win over New Hampton in last Saturday’s Class 2A substate game in Mason City. DFJ photo/Troy Banning

Basketball is the game these kids play and it’s quite obvious they do it very well. It’s poetry in motion at times, the way they can move around the court at breakneck speeds while maintaining control. They shoot, they defend and they win. A lot.

But at the end of the day, it is just the game they play. It’s not who they are.

They’re students first.

They’re citizens second.

And they’re athletes third.

The eight players that get the bulk of the minutes for South Hamilton pose during the team’s media day leading up to Monday’s Class 2A state tournament quarterfinal against Rock Valley. Pictured are (front) Conner Hill, (back, left to right) Cole Berg, Quinton Grove, Sam Lewis, Cade Balvanz, Logan Peters, Doran Lutjen and Carter Hewitt. The Hawks take a 21-1 record into state and are the No. 2 seed. DFJ photo/Troy Banning

“These kids are always going, always working, and they embrace that grind,” South Hamilton vocational agriculture teacher Carlton Ness said. “Whether it’s school activities or personal passions, they take a lot of pride in what they do. If they’re not going to put everything they’ve got into it, they’re just not going to participate and that’s kind of neat.”

Ness interacts with a number of the South Hamilton basketball players on a daily basis, whether it’s in his classroom or with the FFA, where he serves as the advisor. Growing up in rural Iowa, kids learn the value of an honest day’s work at a young age and Ness thinks this group embodies ideals such as work ethic, commitment and leadership.

“A lot of those kids have huge backgrounds in agriculture with family farming, and some others might not farm but their grandparents do,” he said. “So these kids are not just basketball players. From band to speech to FFA to all sorts of extra-curriculars outside like 4H and churches, they’re student-athletes. They do everything, and not just a handful of them. They all do.”

Cole Berg, a senior starter in the backcourt, plays four sports. He’s also a member of the FFA and National Honor Society thanks to a 3.8 GPA. And he’s worked on his family farm his entire life.

Sports are Berg’s passion and yet he knows they cannot be his No. 1 priority.

South Hamilton junior center Cade Balvanz (30) shoots over New Hampton’s Dillon Roberson (35) during last Saturday’s Class 2A substate final in Mason City. Balvanz is a three-sport athlete, a member of the band, participates in quiz bowl and is a standout student, just par for the course on a team of accomplished individuals. DFJ photo/Troy Banning

“Growing up my parents have prided me on academics and that comes first,” he said. “It can be really hard. I stay up late at night sometimes to get homework done for the next day even though I have stuff that same night, but you’ve got to do what you’ve got to do.”

Cade Balvanz, the Hawks’ starting center and a junior, takes a backseat to no one when it comes to an overloaded schedule. He’s a part of South Hamilton’s jazz band as a percussionist, he participates in quiz bowl, he’s a member of the Salem Lutheran Church youth group, and he plays three sports.

His GPA: 3.925.

“You can’t just be focused on sports 100 percent of the time, otherwise you’ll drive yourself crazy,” Balvanz said. “I love music and I love playing the drums, so I’m willing to wake up early in the morning to practice the drums just like I am basketball.

“Being an athlete is great, but not everybody is an athlete. If you can show people you can be a good student, or be a part of the band, or do other things, it shows people you can do anything you want.”

Team captain Conner Hill, South Hamilton’s leading scorer at 17 points per game, cut his teeth on his family’s turkey farm. Today he’s a 3.95 student who is the vice president of the student council, a National Honor Society member and a leadership award winner from the local Rotary Club.

And you can go right on down the roster and find similar resumes.

Sam Hill, a senior and the first player off the bench, is in the National Honor Society and in FFA while playing four sports and living on the honor roll.

Logan Peters, Doran Lutjen, Aaron Hegland, Cade Flaugh — it goes on and on and on.

“It’s a very unique time right now in this school district to have so many sports and other activities at such a high level,” Ness said. “It’s because they’re willing to work.”

To a player, they all acknowledge the community and it’s pride in their achievements. It can’t always be easy, but they understand they’re ambassadors for their school and their communities every time they step onto the court, deliver a speech or play music.

Is that a point of pride? You better believe it.

“We don’t just represent our team, but our community as a whole,” Hill said. “You want to do what’s best for your community.”

Said Berg: “This is all part of growing up in a small town. People are always really friendly around here. You drive by people and they wave at you, that’s just how it’s always been around here.”

There’s no doubt that South Hamilton will bring a large contingent of fans with it to Wells Fargo Arena Monday night. They’ll be screaming at the top of their lungs for a Hawks’ victory, something that hasn’t happened at the state tournament since 1991.

But more importantly they’ll be rooting for the kids they’ve watched grow into first-class young men. When all is said and done, that’s more important than what any scoreboard says.

Boys State Basketball Tournament

Wells Fargo Arena

Des Moines

Class 2A Schedule

Monday, March 4


4:30 — (3) Boyden-Hull (22-2) vs. (6) Iowa City Regina (20-2).

6:30 — (2) South Hamilton (21-1) vs. (7) Rock Valley (18-7).

8:15 — (4) Van Meter (21-2) vs. (5) Dike-New Hartford (21-1).

Tuesday, March 5


9:30 a.m. — (1) North Linn (23-0) vs. (8) Des Moines Christian (17-6).

Wednesday, March 6


6:30 — Boyden-Hull/Regina winner vs. South Hamilton/Rock Valley winner.

8:15 — Van Meter/Dike-NH winner vs. North Linn/DM Christian winner.

Thursday, March 7

Consolation Final

11:55 a.m. — Semifinal losers.

Friday, March 8


4:10 — Semifinal winners.