Three Cheers for the Tabor College football alumni

It was worth going to Tabor’s homecoming football game on Oct. 19, if for no other reason than seeing the large number of football alumni who returned for the 40th- and 50th-year anniversary of Bluejay football.

The game itself was fine. Tabor played well enough to beat St. Mary 24-7.

What made the day fun, though, was running into so many former players. I didn’t see all of them, but those returning included Henry Berry, Marc Sandall, Kerry Denison, Dennis Fast, Ken Fast, John Buller, Ralph Heinrichs, Don Wohlgemuth, Marvin Tajchman, Walter Wolff, Kelley Wahl, Myron Harms, Gordon Mohn, and my brother-in-law Ron Klaassen, among others.

Former athletic director Del Reimer and former professor and coach Richard Kyle also attended the gatherings. Kyle helped coach for more than 20 years under nine different head coaches.

At the homecoming game, I also had the privilege of running into former Tabor men’s basketball coach Steve Kimery. I was in middle school and high school in the mid-to-late 1960s when Kimery was a neighbor. What a nice blast from the past.

All of those who played football in 1969 vividly remembered the first football homecoming game against Bethany, won by Tabor 12-7. Bethany was driving for a possible winning touchdown late in the game. All of the former players shared interesting viewpoints from that first varsity homecoming win.

The group also recalled a time when Tabor was pinned at the 2-yard line with time running out in the first half against Friends University. Bay Lawrence was the quarterback, and he called timeout. Coach Stu Brynn was not happy.

Reimer shared that Bay told him that he believed he could score and “take it to the house.” Sure enough, he ran a quarterback sneak and scampered 98 yards to score.

Before Tabor had a full-fledged varsity team, the Bluejays traveled to play the Ottawa University JV team. Tabor was doing its pre-game warmups on its end of the field. Ottawa had about 25-30 guys about the same size and number as Tabor on the other end of the field.

Tabor’s players thought they might have a chance to compete. About 10-15 minutes later, it almost seemed as if the ground rumbled as a single line of 30 of more Ottawa linemen trotted in single file on to the field. They looked menacing in their black uniforms and gold numbers. It turns out the earlier group of Ottawa players was only the running backs and wide receivers.

Needless to say, Ottawa rolled over the Bluejays 63-7. Ottawa ran team after team at Tabor, while many of the Bluejays played both offense and defense.

The Bluejays lost a lot of games in the beginning, but Tabor may have had its best defensive backfield in history with Ron Klaassen, Dennis Fast, Don Wohlgemuth and Bay Lawrence. They may have led the nation in pass defense one year, although that should come with an asterisk because the defensive backs also led the team in tackles because teams ran at will.

What’s most telling though about the group who returned is the number of former players who gathered to reminisce about the good old days, even though most of the days weren’t good in terms of wins and losses.

The best team in the early years of Tabor football was in 1979 when the Bluejays finished second in the conference.

That year, wide receiver Denison had 64 receptions for 1,303 yards, the most in the NAIA. He had 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.

Denison is conspicuous by his absence from Tabor’s Hall of Fame. He may be the only first-team All-American at Tabor not to be in the school’s Hall of Fame. Please correct me if I’m wrong. You’d think anyone who made first-team All-American in a sport at Tabor would be in the Hall of Fame.

This isn’t the first time he’s returned to campus to join with other former football players. He clearly appreciated his time in Hillsboro. He still looks like he could play.

Here’s hoping that Denison someday gets the recognition he deserves.