Anyone who doesn’t believe in real-life heroes has never heard Tom Kurth address a football team.
The man can hold an audience.
There are days in my working world where I simply get lucky, when timing was everything.
I ventured to Central for some interviews at Rice Field Thursday and arrived just as practice ended. Perfect.
As the team gathered at midfield and took a knee, a familiar face with a crew cut and a Blue Blazer football shirt stood off to the side.
Kurth, the Elkhart icon and legendary Blazer coach, was invited by head coach Levon Johnson to give the Thursday night pep talk.
It’s been more than a decade since Kurth stalked northern Indiana sidelines, but he hasn’t lost his touch.
He had the Blazers — and me — in the palm of his hands.
Kurth talked about coming to the “City with a Heart” and massive Elkhart High in 1966, six years before the “The Split” into two schools. He noted how current ECHS assistant and former Blazer All-American Garvin Roberson was all of 15 years old.
He chided Johnson, a man who Kurth referred to as “like my second son” and how he taught the current coach how to drive.
Kurth then turned to “Blazer tradition.”
“Every time we went on the field, we expected to win,’’ Kurth said, his voice jumping a few octaves. “And when we didn’t, we wanted to play the next day so we could get that bad taste out of our mouths.”
With Goshen coming to Rice Field tonight and Central coming off a 48-point win over rival Memorial, Kurth took a moment to storytell.
He recalled a 1969 game in Goshen when Elkhart’s dominant defense hadn’t allowed a point or any team across the 50-yardline in the first five games.
“We’re up 56-to-nothing and I’ve got the third string in with eight minutes to go in the third quarter and they get across the 50,” Kurth bellowed. “They called a timeout and celebrated! My guys were mad at me because we had the third string in.
“I could tell you story after story about how I love being a Blue Blazer and we’d be here until 9 o’clock. Not everybody can be a Blue Blazer.”
If I didn’t have bad knees and a deadline to make, I would have grabbed a helmet myself.
When Tom Kurth looks you squarely in the eye and tells you something, you believe it without hesitation.
“For the first time in 10 years, guys, I feel like I’m a Blue Blazer again,” Kurth said. “Can you do better?”
A hearty “yes, sir!” came from the team.
“Darned right you can,’’ Kurth said. “Believe in your coaches, believe in yourselves, but most of all, believe in being a Blue Blazer.”
Put me in, Coach. I’m ready to play.
Now just a Minute(men)
Concord was forced to struggle before knocking off pesky South Bend Washington last Friday. Tonight, coach Tim Dawson’s club welcomes Memorial to “The Jake.”
Dawson warned his club about letting its guard down.
“This is a conference game and there are seven other schools gunning for us. Everyone is rooting against you,” he said of his two-time defending NLC champs. “Memorial will be giving us their best effort. When you don’t keep improving, that’s when you get beat,” Dawson said. “You have to stay hungry.”
Concord flashed moments of quality play in all phases of the game, but its win over the Panthers was hardly a work of art.
The Minutemen are expected to be good. The Crimson Chargers are rebuilding.
Let’s see if that Week 1-to-Week 2 improvement which coaches pray for comes true for everybody tonight.
The rust should be gone.
Bill Beck is The Truth’s sports editor. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org