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Thursday, August 30th, 2012

New Bremen to celebrate 40 years of Cardinals' football

Last Curtain Call

By Robb Hemmelgarn
New Bremen needed something.
With basketball dominating the calendar through the winter and baseball and track taking over the spring, the autumn was far too quiet for many of the locals, and they were determined to make a few adjustments to that schedule.
It was the late-1960s and football in town hadn't been around since it existed sporadically at the turn-of-the-century before quickly dying out. Following three years of an abbreviated schedule against area junior varsity teams, September 8, 1972, marked the first true Friday night "under the lights" for a group of high school boys who had grown up without the special opportunity.
"It was a process that had been in the works for a few years, and it finally came to the forefront in 1972," recalled Craig Schnelle, who was a senior on the squad that season. "One thing that really stands out for me was how the entire community came together for something that not a lot of us really knew a whole lot about. The Booster Club literally built things from the ground up, and I remember a group of us going to the Ohio State Fairgrounds and helping to tear down some old bleachers. We arrived a little early and started taking it all down, and when the man in charge got there, he stopped us because we took more than we were supposed to! I also remember at practice we had lineman drills pushing the sled, and coach Fryberger stood on the back and smacked us on the helmets with his 'dummy-stick' - there are some memories that you can never get rid of!"
Guided by head coach Gene Brindise, the Cardinals hit the ground running at Ridgemont and fell to the Golden Gophers 9-0, after Ridgemont scored all of their points in the final period. They returned to Auglaize County in Week Two to host the Waynesfield-Goshen Tigers. The Cards initially cracked the scoreboard in the second quarter when Mark Kuenning's field goal flew through the uprights, but they relinquished their advantage in the third quarter before the monumental fourth quarter unfolded. Trailing 6-3, the Cardinals marched down the field in the closing minutes before sophomore running back Bob Staton's scoring plunge turned out to be the winning score as well as the first varsity touchdown scored in program history.
"On that final drive, I remember Coach Brindise calling for a fullback dive up the middle, and I picked up four or five yards," recalled Staton, who was a sophomore in 1972. "We did it again, and it worked just as good so we kept running it up the gut all the way down the field." He continued, "Finally was the moment we all had waited on for what seemed like forever. All of us had a touchdown dance planned for whenever we scored our first varsity touchdown. As we lined up, some of our offensive line was in a four-point stance. I got the ball and sort of walked across the goal line and then back toward the huddle because I thought there was absolutely no way we were not going to be called offsides. Just as I trotted back to the huddle everyone was screaming for us to get off the field so we could do the extra point. It was a touchdown, and I never even had the chance to do my dance - although that is probably a good thing!"
The Cardinals hoped to make it two in a row the next week when they headed south to face the state-ranked Minster Wildcats. In front of what was described in a local paper as an "astounded" crowd, the Cardinals clung to a 14-12 lead with under a minute to play. Just when victory seemed imminent, the Cardinal faithful encountered their first lesson in football heartbreak, as Corky Poeppelman's three-yard touchdown plunge prevented the upset and forced the Cardinals to start the Tri-County League part of their schedule with a 0-1 record.
A loss to Bradford the next week pushed the Cardinals to 1-3, but they quickly evened their slate with consecutive victories over St. Henry and Bethel.
"Football is definitely something that teaches you a lot of lessons you use later in life," Schnelle reasoned. "We lost a few games early on, but I really feel it made us stronger in some ways. We really wanted to win, don't get me wrong, but losing helped to show us that things don't always go how you want or as you plan."
In their final four battles, New Bremen lost to Parkway and then upended Ansonia before dropping their final two games to Sidney Lehman and Marion Local. In their rookie season of varsity football, the Cardinals wound up with a very respectable 4-6 overall mark.
"That first season was monumental in so many different ways," explained team historian and New Bremen resident Mike Staton. "The community came together and developed everything from scratch. Going in we had a lot of big kids, but we had no idea how all of the hard work was going to pay off. Coach Brindise was perfect for the situation we were in, and although we lost six times, it was still a very successful campaign for us in many different ways."
Friday evening on the east side of New Bremen, right off of state Route 274, the community will pay tribute to a group of men, who 40 years ago took the field as wide-eyed teenagers that unknowingly were making memories that would permeate for a lifetime.
"A few years ago, my daughter asked me what I wanted for my birthday," smiled Bob Staton. "In reality, I knew it was something she couldn't give me, but I told her anyhow - I wanted the chance to go out onto that football field for one final time."
Although their knees are a little shakier and their waist lines slightly more expanded, tomorrow night Staton and his comrades will bask in part of that birthday wish. They won't wear helmets, lace up any cleats, or suffer through a week of getting smacked with a dummy stick, but one thing is certain - no matter what, there is no chance this group of Cardinals will leave the field as anything but winners.
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