|Bears-Comets rivalry revived by alumni game
by Gregory R. Norfleet · Sports · June 15, 2012
Practice gear for the West Branch High School alumni team varies from T-shirts to muscle shirts, basketball shorts to torn sweats, gym shoes to well-worn cleats.
Players range from 20 to 41, and there are 27 of them altogether. Some have the beginnings of crows feet at the eyes, greying hair and “some have a little extra poundage” Coach Butch Pedersen said.
“The look a little ragged,” Offensive Coach Larry “Lurch” Rummells joked. “They’re a little out of shape. Probably drinking too much.”
But Adam Fair, a 2006 graduate, sported at Sunday’s practice an old West Branch football spirit shirt, and on the back is the definition for “slobberknocker”: The Ultimate Bear Hit.
That seems to sum it up, said the coaches.
“Some are not as fast,” Pedersen said. “But the heart’s still there.”
They have practiced half a dozen times getting ready to take on West Liberty 7 p.m. Saturday in a football fundraising game, a first for both towns.
Do not worry too much about their age, though, as the Comets alumni seem to be more in their “late 30s and early 40s,” said Team Coordinator Casey Hack, who is organizing the event for Alumni Football USA.
And who is back to play for West Branch? Check the roster for a whole list, but know that the Bears will have half a dozen all-state players, including quarterback and 2006 graduate Caleb Walter. And their kicker is Lyle Gardner, twice an all-district player who set a school record for field goals (nine against Van Buren on Sept. 28, 2007) and never missed a field goal that season.
“A lot of these guys remember things pretty quickly,” Pedersen said. “I was surprised. There are a number of them who, if you call out (a play) they remember it. It’s gratifying.”
Randy and Rick Sexton, brothers who retired from coaching a few years ago, are both back to help as well.
Pedersen and Rummells have coached for nearly three decades, and almost everyone on the team has played for them. The rules allow non-WBHS grads if they have other strong ties to the school, like marrying a graduate, Pedersen said.
The players will pick up their pads and jerseys three hours before game time Saturday. They have to provide their own mouth guards and cleats. And while they plan to play clean, solid and tough West Branch ball, the emphasis is “to have fun,” though the goal is to raise money for the high school team, the coach said.
Chauncey Farmer, a 2001 grad, said each player put up nearly $100 to play, but West Branch was a bit slower to build up its team than the Comets.
“West Liberty is pretty darn excited,” he said. “They got (their team) within a week. West Branch was taking more time.”
Each town signs up at Alumni Football USA and then players vote on who they want as their opponent. West Branch was their No. 1 pick, due to the rivalry between the teams back in the 1990s. And West Liberty was the top pick for the Bears, so a match was made, Hack said.
“This is potentially a big money-maker,” Farmer said.
The trick is to sell as many tickets in advance of the game as possible, because then half of the proceeds go to Bears football. Anything sold at the gate goes to Alumni Football USA.
Robert “Rudy” Rood, a 1997 graduate, said that he’s back for one more run.
“One last highlight reel, I suppose,” he said with a shrug and a smile.
Zack Zousel, a 2001 graduate who spearheaded the West Branch team, said he heard about Tipton and Marion playing alumni games and started doing some research.
“We’ve got an awesome (football) tradition,” Zousel said, so he made a few phone calls to garner some interest.
Zousel said he remembers Pedersen as his third-grade teacher bringing Bears football players into the classroom.
“He could have brought the Hawkeyes, but he brought high school kids, and they signed autographs,” Zousel said.
Now he has a chance to play side-by-side with football stars from when he was a child.
“It’s special,” he said.
Pedersen agreed, encouraging the players to have fun.
“You’ll remember this game,” he said. “You really will.”
Asked if the alumni team has scouted the Comets, Rummells chuckled that there’s been “a lot of traversing the bars (in West Liberty) and at work.”
Players and coaches who know people tied to the West Liberty team say the Comets and their fans are pumped up about the game, hoping for another shot at their rivals; the Bears traditionally beat West Liberty.
“I think it’s great,” Rummells said. “Though I’m glad I’m standing on the sidelines instead of participating. It’s a chance to get out there and have some fun.”
While players tend to remember plays, they do need some brushing up on their techniques he said.
“The team with the younger guys has a huge advantage,” Rummells said.
Jayson Madsen, a 2010 graduate, has a younger brother, Michael, who still plays high school football.
“I just want to get back in it,” he said.
He said he is not quite as in shape as he was in high school, but he still works out and stays busy.
“I’m excited,” Madsen said.
Advanced tickets sales benefit West Branch High School. Tickets purchased at the gate do not. Fans may purchase tickets from anyone on the team (see roster) or at Herb & Lou’s Pizza, Indulgence Hair Salon or Main Street Sweets. Half of each $10 ticket purchased in advance goes to West Branch High School. Proceeds from tickets purchased at the gate go to Alumni Football USA.
Team roster, by graduation year:
1990 — Chris Stokes*
1992 — Terry Williams
1995 — Rob Rushton
1996 — Mike Cassabaum
1997 — Robert Rood
1999 — Pat Gates, Cory Kessler
2001 — Jay Shultz, Randy Seydel, Grant Jipp, Chauncy Farmer, Zach Zousel
2002 — Matt Shultz
2003 — Josh Moon*, Chad Meisner
2004 — Keelan Arn, Glendon Klein, Rick Beattie, Jesse Shultz, Michael Jennings, Joel Rocca*
2005 — Dave Wageman, Matt Cismar
2006 — Adam Fair
2007 — Caleb Walter
2008 — Lyle Gardner
2010 — Jayson Madsen
2011 — Logan Lukavsky
* Did not attend West Branch, but does have ties to the school.