The definition of a mentor: Remembering Coach Bill Ramseyer

Remembering Coach Bill Ramseyer

By Greg Oliver - Guest columnist

We brought a young family to Wilmington in 1973. Taking a teaching job at Laurel Oaks allowed me plenty of time for summer work and baseball.

For five summer seasons I coached a high school-age baseball team at Galvin Park. The park was overseen by Don Harte and Bob VanPelt at that time, and when they stepped aside, Dauna Armstrong took over; all three did a terrific job.

Oh, how those summer games were so exciting … Baseball was my passion, having played a lot in high school and beyond. I guess at age 24, I thought I was Sparky Anderson, but we had good, exciting baseball despite the young coach.

One late evening in the summer of 1975 I received a call after arriving home after a game. The voice on the other end said, “Hi, this is Bill Ramseyer, head football coach at Wilmington College.” He went on to say that he was searching for a coach for the upcoming football campaign. He further stated that he had visited the park that evening and watched me coach my Wixson 76 Service Station sponsored team.

He said that he was impressed with how I handled the young men on my team. It was the ultimate compliment. Coach Ramseyer then invited me to come to see him about the possibility of me becoming a part of the football staff for the 1975 season.

The very next day, I ventured over to Hermann Court to see Coach Ramseyer (Dr. Glenn William Ramseyer). In that very first meeting I could see something very clearly; this was a man of great character, vision, and passion for all that he did as athletic director and football coach.

I felt somewhat awkward accepting my role as a part-time offensive line coach; after all, I was no X and O genius. With his super positive attitude and guidance, he said “Don’t worry, I will teach you to be part of our coaching staff, you have what I’m seeking; everyone has a role to play.”

I was blessed to stay affiliated with the Fighting Quakers from 1975-1990. My role was limited, but it was a joy of a lifetime to be around this special man. Coach Ramseyer quickly became a mentor to me, and that mentorship lasted until his death, and will live on within me.

For 46 special years, Bill and Mary have been my dear friends. Believe me, no legendary football coach has success without a great support system at home. Counting high school coaching with college, Coach Ramseyer roamed the sidelines for 46 years. Mary missed two games in all those years — and one was while delivering their son, Randy! (The nerve of her.)

I watched Coach on the sidelines just before every kickoff; he would face the crowd and find where Mary was seated, and then it was game time: Play ball! What a beautiful and tender love they modeled for all. Ask any former player about Mrs. Coach — she is loved by all.

Coach was a brilliant motivator and strategist, I always felt his teams were 7 points up before the game started, just because of his intense, detailed preparation. His work ethic was second to none … many nights I would swing by Hermann Court and find him eating stale peanut butter and sandwich spread — Yuck! But his favorite — he was often on the phone recruiting, and he could sell a young man on coming to play football but also about getting a quality education. He was a fierce supporter of all academics and he demanded excellence in the classroom from all players; a professor himself.

Coming to WC, Coach inherited a football program which had experienced just one winning season and just 28 victories in the previous 15 years. His work cut out for him, he immediately brought in Bruce Wasem to be his chief assistant. Bruce had been a player for Coach while a student at Firelands High School in Northeast Ohio. Bruce had also played at Bluffton College, while Coach was an assistant on staff.

Coach Wasem was so instrumental in helping build WC as a powerhouse from 1972-1991. Together, they led the Quakers to a 114-58-4 record, including an NAIA National Championship appearance in 1980. Making the NAIA playoffs two more times (1982 and 1983) WC had, at that time, set a record of being ranked in the top 20 nationally for 57 consecutive weeks. What a ride!

In 1990-1991, it became quite apparent that the college, under a new president, was taking a different approach to collegiate athletics. There were real differences in philosophies and Coach Ramseyer simply felt it was time to move on. The late Paul Brown, founder of the Bengals and Hall of Fame coach, was a support network for Coach Ramseyer, and told him of a college in Southwest Virginia — Clinch Valley College (now UVA-Wise) — which was searching for a founding coach.

The rest is history! Coach Ramseyer headed for Virginia and took Bruce Wasem with him to start from scratch.

Quickly he found success, his winning record was 62-46, qualifying for the national NAIA playoffs twice.

After retirement in 2001, he and wife Mary would head to Winterthur, Switzerland to lead the Swiss Winterthur Warriors for two seasons — American football, a teaching gig — again giving back to the sport that he loved so much.

He never stopped serving, volunteering countless hours to the NAIA office and to the American Football Coaches Association. He wrote several football coaching books … always giving back to the sport he dedicated his life to.

Indeed, the Oliver family has been impacted by knowing Bill Ramseyer. All three of my adult children and their mother have truly been blessed by the Ramseyers. Both of my sons were “ball boys” at WC and Coach Ramseyer witnessed to all of us over the years. What a model for my young family.

When my son, Chris, kicked off his inaugural season as head coach at Lindsey Wilson college in 2010, Coach Ramseyer was right there on the sideline serving as a proud mentor. It was right and fitting!

Bill’s Mennonite faith — his father was President of Bluffton College for 27 years — was so visible in his daily walk. He had a moral compass that directed him on and off the field. In 46 years, I NEVER heard the man cuss! Pretty rare for passionate and excited coaches.

If he heard it from a coach or a player, you were certain to be corrected, and firmly! His favorite expression when annoyed was simply “Crap sake!”

After undergoing back surgery in 2015, Coach faced an upward battle with declining health. He had pretty serious mobility issues (drop foot) and spent the last several years with leg braces and limited mobility. Then came dementia and Parkinson’s disease.

Just as you might expect, he faced this like any other opponent — with a will to win! He never quit, and his attitude was always positive and optimistic.

Within the last year, as the Parkinson’s and dementia advanced, he was moved to an elder care center in Bluffton, not far from their home. My phone conversations and a visit were somewhat disjointed, yet he could talk about football and remember most every player he coached. Remarkable! His love for his family knew no bounds. Husband, father, grandfather, and great grandfather, he excelled at each.

Coach Bill Ramseyer was honored by being inducted into seven different halls of fame, all for his excellent leadership in the game of football. He will, however, be remembered most for his “molding of young men and women.”

For me, I can only say, that this man of God, served as a witness to all that is good and fair in life. He made everyone feel so very important, and he truly “walked his walk” … My guess, now, is that he is drawing up football plays in Heaven!

To me he would say, “Crap sake, stop crying …”

My heart truly aches!

Remembering Coach Bill Ramseyer

By Greg Oliver

Guest columnist