James "Butch" Pedersen has been the head football coach at West Branch since 1983. His tenure at West Branch High School is the longest of any head coach in the history of the program. It is also the most historical, both in the regular season and postseason.
Coach Pedersen took over the head coaching position from Tom Nosbish following the 1982 season. In his first season, the Bears finished 8-1. On the '83 team was Marvin Cook, who would go on to be a two-time All-Big Ten and All-American performer. He would also be drafted into the NFL by the New England Patriots in 1989, and become a three-time NFL All-Pro tight end.
The Bears have had many great players during Butch's time as head coach, but he will always stress to each of his players, "Football is a tough sport that is played by tough people. Not everyone is tough enough to play it."
In 1988, the West Branch football program earned its first Iowa High School State Playoffs berth. Butch would go on to say, "that team (1988) is what started everything. It gave kids confidence and belief in what we are doing here." And, he was right as the following year (1989) brought West Branch its very first state football championship. His oldest son, Lance, was the center and a team captain on the squad. The Bears used a stout defensive effort to defeat Logan-Magnolia, 20-14. The program would go on to a semifinal berth in 1990, and then complete two consecutive undefeated seasons in 1991 (42-13 over West Bend-Mallard) and 1992 (28-13 over Ogden). It also claimed two additional state championships. That brings the total of state championships for Coach Pedersen to three. Only nine other football coaches, at any level, in the history of Iowa High School football can say they've led a team to more.
Coach Pedersen has had the pleasure of coaching 80 players who have been recognized as all-state performers (over 200 all-conference, all district performers). He has also coached 28 Iowa Shrine Bowl players. Teams have earned 25 playoff berths in his 35 seasons , and have won 37 of 59 playoff games played. The Bears hold the second longest regular season win streak in state history (62), achieving that feat from 1990-1996. The Bears have won 18 conference or district championships since 1983, including the final Eastern Iowa Hawkeye Conference championship in 1991.
Off the field, Coach Pedersen has accomplished a great deal as well. He has been a teacher in the West Branch school district since 1975. He was an elementary teacher, a junior high teacher, and moved on to West Branch High School where he currently works. His first season as part of the West Branch football program was as a junior high coach in 1975. He was head Fresh-Soph coach in 1976, and a varsity assistant in 1977. In 1978, Pedersen was named varsity defensive coordinator (a position he still holds to this day).
Butch is the assistant head coach for varsity basketball in West Branch. He teaches at West Branch High School on a part-time basis. Coach Pedersen enjoys watching the Iowa Hawkeyes in Kinnick and Carver, as well as the Green Bay Packers.
Coach Pedersen understands that none of this would be possible with the love and support of his wife, Jennifer. The former Jennifer O'Neil, is a West Branch High School graduate and recently retired after 42 years of working at the Herbert Hoover Library and Museum in West Branch. On Friday nights, Jenny can be found at all West Branch football games. At home games, she is the press box music director and chief of the welcoming committee. The couple has three children: Lance, who is now a teacher and head football coach in Mount Vernon; Kari (Dan) - a teacher in the West Liberty School District; and Kip (Alisha) - who works as an Administrative Specialist at the Iowa River Landing Facility of the University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics. They also are the proud grandparents of Dominic, Dakota, Xavier, Kooper, Taylea, Kason, Myah, and Peyton.
Other accomplishments by Coach Pedersen:
- 1994 Inductee in to the Iowa HS Football Coaches Association Hall of Fame
- 1991 Iowa HS football Coach of the Year (all classes)
- 12 times named Conference or District Coach of the Year
- 2009 Inductee on the Cedar County Historical Society Wall of Fame
- 2017 National Coach of the Year by the NFHSCA
- Named head coach of the South Squad for the 2019 Shrine Bowl
Career Record: 321 wins, 79 losses (80.25% winning percentage) [through 2020 season]