When it comes to boys’ golf in Missouri, it would be fair to say the program at Helias Catholic High School in Jefferson City has in many ways set the gold standard.
Just look at the numbers since the program began in the late 1950s.
The Crusaders have earned four state titles (1958, 1983, 1993 and 1994) and five runner-up finishes (1984, 1986, 1997, 1998 and 2018).
For enduring prowess on the course, the program was inducted into the Missouri Sports Hall of Fame in Springfield in early February of this year.
“This was a great honor for the program,” said Helias’s current boys’ golf coach, Jay Higgins.
The school was well represented at the induction ceremony, with three full tables of golf aficionados.
“Helias was well represented with current players and a lot of alumni who came back,” said Assistant Principal and Athletic Director Dwayne Clingman.
Coach Higgins and Mr. Clingman both noted that at the heart of this program was retired Coach Ray Hentges.
Mr. Hentges led the boys’ program for 34 years, ending his coaching career in 2004. Under his leadership, the program won three state titles and produced a PGA golfer by the name of John Daley.
Mr. Hentges is no stranger to awards and honors, as was inducted into the same hall of fame in 2013 for his legendary football coaching career at Helias Catholic.
“The success of this program is due to the fact that our kids grow up playing golf,” he told The Catholic Missourian. “Many of them belong to local country clubs and start out with their dads at age 5. So, by the time they get to high school, they know what they are doing.”
Coach Hentges added that during his tenure, he would have 20 to 25 students come out for golf.
There were no cuts, but he did institute a rigorous qualifying system for matches.
“Before a match, we would have a qualifying match in which the top five golfers would compete at the varsity meet and the next five at the (junior varsity),” he explained.
“We would do that before every meet. I did this because I knew it would push the kids to work hard to hang onto their spot on the team. They had to keep working.”
Mr. Clingman agreed that golf is a generation-to-generation tradition at Helias and credited Mr. Hentges for setting high standards on and off the course.
“Ray is a great man,” he stated. “He embodies everything that Helias Catholic has been and is supposed to be. And at age 83, he’s still golfing — very impressive.”
Mr. Clingman added that good leadership did not stop at Mr. Hentges in terms of preaching excellence at school and on the golf course.
“Year after year, we have excellent coaches who put in the time and effort throughout the year, and not just during the season,” he added. “We are also blessed with great access to local courses such as Oak Hills, Meadow Lake and Jeff City Country Club.”
At the induction ceremony, Mr. Hentges spoke of the past glories, and Mr. Higgins talked about the present and the future of the program.
“The future is bright for us,” Mr. Higgins stated. “We’ve won districts and sectionals all eight years (I’ve been here) and qualified for state five of the past eight years. I don’t see that changing as we move forward.”