Past Gridiron Heroes Keep Memories Alive in Club
By Matt Soppelsa ’14
Before the days of the bulky shoulder pads, players wore no padding in football. Before mesh jerseys, players wore long-sleeved cotton ones. Before hard plastic helmets protected their heads, players wore leather helmets. Those odd-looking soft and scruffy helmets, with their comical earflaps and lack of sufficient protection, are still a symbol of the glory days for many football fans. But what if you were one of those guys in the cotton jersey with the thin piece of leather strapped to your head?
Ask Bud Yoest ’53. To him, that’s just how the game was played. Although the game has changed, Yoest has not lost his love of football, nor have his teammates. Yoest still is in touch with many of the men he played with here at Otterbein. Together they make up the “Leather Helmet Club,” a social group of players from the 1940s, 1950s and 1960s. The club was founded in the ‘50s by Yoest and Ted Benadum ’52.
“We meet twice a year in the “O” Club room. It’s really open to anyone,” said Yoest. “I’m mainly in charge of getting the guys together, and pretty soon we’re going to have to start inviting the guys from the 1970s. We want this thing to go on.”
The name of the club was somewhat obvious. The traditional headgear is brought to each gathering and placed at the center of the table by Kenneth Zarbaugh ’50. The social club’s meetings bring together a wide range of people, from Harold Wilson ’40, who is 90 years old, to new Athletic Director Dawn Stewart ’98.
“It really gives the University a chance to talk to the alumni as well,” said Yoest. “But a lot of the time we just talk about old times. It’s a good way to get the fellas back (together).”
Many of their lives still are centered around athletics. Some are coaches at schools, others are participants in the Senior Olympics. But the talk always goes back to football. They all agree that the game has changed. The equipment is different and so are the sizes of the teams. With Otterbein bringing in 70 new freshman players this year, it is quite a change from the 18- to 20-man teams Yoest remembers. The style of the game has changed as well.
“There weren’t as many passing plays. And no substitutions either,” said Yoest. “The only time people left the field was when they were helped off.”
Looking at the upcoming year, Yoest had a few predictions of his own about Otterbein football. Between solid players, enthusiastic coaches and a strong senior group, his hopes are high. He and the rest of the Leather Helmet Club will be sure to come back and see how the game they cherish is played at the school they love.