ELKHART — "It was one of the few times in my life I've been speechless.''
Those were the words of Hall of Fame football coach Bill Sharpe when he learned that the Baugo Township School Board had decided to name the new-look football stadium at Jimtown in his honor.
The stadium, which will be dedicated on Sept. 13 prior to the team's first home game of the season against John Glenn, will now be known as Sharpe Stadium and Knepp Field.
"I'm telling ya, you could have knocked me over with a feather when they told me because they did such a great job of keeping it a secret,'' Sharpe said on Monday. "It's obviously a great honor ... just a huge thing for (wife) Kathy and I. We love that township and we had a very unique situation going on at Jimtown for a number of years and I'm happy people remembered them. But this is just something I never expected.''
During his 28-year Hall of Fame career at Jimtown, Sharpe posted a career record of 288-54 (.842) with the Jimmies, which included four state titles and two state runner-up finishes. The Jimmies won 10 regional titles, 16 sectional titles and 19 conference championships under Sharpe.
As usual, Sharpe gave much of the credit for his success to everyone involved in the Jimtown program, from parents to fans and of course his family. But he saved much of the praise for an incredible group of assistant coaches, many of whom were with him for nearly all of his 28 years with the Jimmies.
"Of all the assistant coaches I had, only Dave Pontius wasn't a teacher in the system,'' Sharpe said. "But Dave was in a very unique situation too, because he would take his two weeks vacation during our three-a-day practices before the season. And nearly all those guys coached more than one sport, whether it was boys, girls, it didn't matter. Everyone was involved.
"The players were Jimmies ... they lived in Baugo Township and that produced a great deal of pride to athletics. Plus, I believe the attitude of the teachers at Jimtown wore off on the kids. Everyone was for everybody. I can remember (drama director Steve) Fleuderman producing a play that had Kyle Johnson dancing on a table a night before the basketball team was going to play in the regional. Can you imagine another school in the state where the team's best basketball player would be doing that the night before a big game? But at Jimtown, no one really thought it was extraordinary ... it's just what you did. As I said, it was a very unique place.''
Among the talented coaches that served under Sharpe were Mark Ward, Mike Hoskinski, Scott Bovenkerk, J.D. Russell, Gene Johnson, Ned Cook, Mark Kerrn, Doug Tombs, current JHS coach Mike Campbell and Sharpe's son David. Statistician Steve (Tree) Greenlee was also with Sharpe for the entire 28 years at JHS, while trainer Rick Yurko was there for all but three of the seasons.
"I was just so blessed to work with those guys,'' Sharp said. "Gene and I have always been great friends and it got to the point where I knew what he was thinking before he said it. And when Bovie (Bovenkerk) came over from South Bend ... I'll tell you he's forgotten more football than I ever knew. I always said our offense ran well because we had me in the middle between Ward being very subtle and Bovie being very robust. It just gave me the best of both worlds.
"The entire staff was just such great friends and we did things together as friends through the summer. We'd have all the kids running around everywhere. In fact, there was a season when we had 11 young managers and all of them were coaches kids. But we couldn't have done it without the wives buying in too. We all had just great families.
"I was lucky enough to be hired by Jerry Cook and I always said Jerry was one of those incredible guys. He was in it for Jimtown and Jimtown kids, which is why he went into education. He lived in the community and loved it, and everyone loved him for the time he put in with our school system.''
Despite all the accolades that have come his way, Sharpe knows luck can play a part in most teams' success. He'll quickly point to the Jimmies first state title team in 1991 and a late-game decision against arch-rival Bremen in a Class A regional game.
"We had a fourth-and-17 late in the game and had a play called to try and get a first down,'' Sharpe remembered. "But then we lined up wrong and had to call a timeout. So Ward is in the box and he calls down telling me we could get Greg (Vitali) on a one-on-one screen play. So we change it up, run the receiver screen and Greg takes it down to the three or four. It took us three plays to score and we made the two-point conversion by about a foot to win 8-7. Plus, (All-State back) Bo (Hundt) never had another chance to touch the ball. But if we had lined up right the first time, we may never have gotten the first down and lost the game.
"During my career, we never had a lot of superstars, but we did have a lot of good players. I don't think I realized the success we had until I retired and could look back at it. We had some very good teams that didn't win state titles for one reason or another ... sometimes because of the Jimmies' head coach. But it really was a great time.''
While the rivalry with Bremen was always one of the state's best, Sharpe recalled a time after he retired, but returned to watch a game while former Lions' head coach Marty Huber was serving as an assistant for Bremen and Hundt was part of the Channel 46 broadcast team covering the game.
"We were down on the field talking before the game and a player stepped back and got me right on the shin ... and I was bleeding through my Dockers,'' Sharpe said with a laugh. "When I came up from the field, everyone was asking me what happened and I just told them that Marty and Bo were still mad and did it to me on purpose.''
While he's no longer coaching on Friday nights, Sharpe admits he would love to see more athletes playing more than one sport, much as they did during his time at Jimtown.
"Honestly, if a football player wasn't playing basketball or wrestling, his teammates would ask him what was wrong with him,'' Sharpe said. "And in the spring, I can't remember a kids that wasn't playing baseball or running track. It was a different time I know, but there were times where our entire football team would go to the tennis court after practice to cheer those kids on. That's what I mean about the closeness of the school district.''
Retired now and living on Dewart Lake, Sharpe still keeps in close contact with Baugo Township.
"I'm a very fortunate guy that Kathy and I have made so many lifelong friends at Jimtown,'' Sharpe said. "To be honored this way is humbling and I can't imagine what that night will be like.