When Tabor Athletics started its Hall of Fame in 1999, the initial inductees were easy: Rolland (Bay) Lawrence and Leroy Dick.
Lawrence was a great football player who went on to star for the Atlanta Falcons in the NFL. He also was a good basketball player and great track star at Tabor.
Dick, who attended Tabor in the early 1960s, is considered a superstar in the history of Tabor College basketball, but he was a good all-around athlete, playing soccer, baseball and track as well.
Many other outstanding men and women have joined the Hall of Fame, including Tyson Ratzlaff in 2013. Ratzlaff may be the greatest wide receiver to play football at Tabor.
As a sophomore, he had 54 catches for 1,132 yards, an average of 21 yards per catch. As a senior, he averaged 21 yards per catch and 93 yards per game, while scoring 14 touchdowns. He was an honorable mention NAIA All-American. He also was a basketball honorable mention NAIA All-American.
Twice he earned the prestigious title of being named Tabor’s Male Athlete of the Year.
There’s another wide receiver who may be Ratzlaff’s equal. I saw both Kerry Denison and Ratzlaff play, and I’d hate to pick one over the other. They were both that good.
In 1979, Denison had 64 receptions for 1,303 yards, the most in the NAIA. He scored 11 touchdowns and averaged 130.3 receiving yards a game, second-best in the nation.
Denison was a first-team NAIA All-American, second-team AP Little All-American and Academic All-American.
In 1980, Denison was named Tabor’s Male Athlete of the Year.
“I know when I attended Tabor, I gave as much as I could, both as a student and athlete, but Tabor developed me through the grace of God into the man I am today,” Denison said.
Tabor football coach Dan Thiessen convinced Denison he could make a difference in the football program if Denison would come with him from California. Instead of going to Fullerton State, Denison came to Hillsboro with tight end Marc Sandall and quarterback Rod Wallace. The three student-athletes came to be known as the California connection.
Denison also contributed to Tabor’s basketball success. He played hard and was relentless in going after rebounds.
“Both Dan Thiessen and Don Brubacher instilled and believed in us that we could win,” Denison said. “When we started to win it was unbelievable how the school and town’s support grew, which made it fun and exciting to play on Saturday in Hillsboro.
“The people of Hillsboro made me feel welcome from day one, and were always so good to me during my stay,” Denison said. “Lastly, through the grace of God, I believe I did make a difference, just as Dan had promised.”
After graduating from Tabor, Denison played one year in the USFL and one year in the Canadian Football League.
For the past 18 years Denison has taught and coached high school football at Westminster High School in Denver.
He took over a struggling football program at Westminster in 2010. With Denison at the helm, Westminster made the state playoffs for the first time in 20 years, and they’ve made it every year since.
Last season he was named Coach of the Year, Denver Broncos High School Coach of the Week and was honored at halftime of the Denver/San Diego game.
When I saw Denison play football, he made catches like no one before or since, at least until Ratzlaff came on the scene. They’re arguably the two greatest receivers in Tabor history.
“Everyone knew the ball was going to him,” said coach Tim McCarty of Ratzlaff. “They did all they could to stop it, but he still made the catch.”
The same could be said about Denison.
About the only difference is that Ratzlaff is in Tabor’s Hall of Fame and Denison is not. Until Denison gets in, the Hall of Fame is incomplete.
I hope he’s not forgotten.