Seated from Left to Right are: Bill Chesbrough, John Giardino, Gus Stuart and Dick Sinnett.
Standing from L to R are: Jerry Mills, John Morton, Roger Weichmann, Dan Parks, Don Johns, Joe Cerasa, Frank Lee, Ralph Kallenbach, Jim Stowell, Bob Prigge and Arnie Dauksavage.
By George Rawlinson
SPECIAL TO THE COURIER NEWS CARPENTERSVILLE - Memory is a work of art, free of irrelevancies and loose ends,
It's infinitely precious, a relative to truth, though not its twin. More than a dozen members of Elgin High School's 1953 football team gathered together for a reunion dinner Friday night. Theirs was a championship season. Led by head coach Emery Ebbert, now deceased, and All-State running back Ralph Kallenbach, the team finished atop what was then the Big Eight Conference. Arriving at Floyd's Restaurant, many of the former EHS players hadn't seen one another for 40 years. For others, it had been even longer than that. "We were the smallest school in the state's toughest conference," said Joe Cerasa, who coordinated Friday's reunion. "We played as a team, each one of us filling a role. And because we were a team, tonight's event seems more like a family reunion than anything else."
They sat together Friday as they must have sat together then. In their long lives, almost nothing has stayed the same, yet they talk about Kallenbach's 99-yard touchdown run against a conference rival as if it were yesterday. The meaningless plays are forgotten. Gone are the incomplete passes and the missed tackles. At this reception, Dick Sinnett - the Maroons starting fullback - has just busted free for a long gain. Quarterback Wayne Larson, now deceased, has hit a receiver streaking toward the goal line. Guard Arnie Dauksavage has leveled an opposing defensive lineman. Most of the former players went on to college after high school.
A number of them still live in Elgin, though others are scattered across the country. Jerry Mills came in from New Jersey for the event. After his playing days at EHS, he went on to Northwestern University, graduating from there, becoming a successful businessman on the East Coast. "I love these guys," he said, looking around the room Friday night. "You make friends in college and in the business world, but you never forget the guys you grew up with. We were a band of brothers then. High school friends who thought we would stay young forever." Like other former players attending the reunion, Mills spoke lovingly of Gus Stuart and Bill Chesbrough, coaches who led the football team when its players were freshmen and sophomores, respectively. Stuart and Chesbrough, both in their 80s and both of whom attended the reunion received Elgin pocket watches from their former players. Stuart also coached freshmen basketball at the old Elgin High School. Chesbrough coached basketball on the varsity level. While he retired in 1985, he remains one of the winningest high school coaches in Illinois history. "Let me tell you a little bit about that man," Mills said, pointing to Chesbrough, a Sleepy Hollow resident. "He's the very definition of what it means to be a 'living legend.' In a quieter way, so is Gus Stuart. They set the foundation for everything this team became. Not just on the football field, but in life, too. A lot of us, we were working class kids. Some of the guys didn't have it easy at home, but out on that practice field our coaches treated us all the same way... They became father figures." Chesbrough was said to be a tough taskmaster, though his grandfatherly look certainly contradicts that image. "Don't let the sweet smile fool you, Bill Chesbrough was one hard-nosed coach," Mills said. "He hated to lose. He was all about commitment and giving that extra effort. He'd tell us that no player ever drowned in his own sweat. They were hard lessons, but important ones. And like it or not, we learned each one. Bottom line, though, somehow you knew coach was looking out for you, thinking about your future. We were his boys ... I think he really loved us.
"Requests are many, but Chesbrough said he doesn't attend reunions very often. "There's something about these men, this team tonight, that made me want to attend," he said. Kallenbach, the All-State sensation who would attend the University of Wisconsin on a football scholarship, then transfer to the Illinois Institute of Technology, became an engineer. He weighs the same 165 pounds he did in high school. Teammates say he has the same quiet confidence he had more than four decades ago - a player who led by example, a fleet-footed runner who was like a guided missile. In game after game, Kallenbach's target was the other team's end zone. "We weren't a big team, but we were extremely quick off the ball," he said. "No one weighed more than 195 pounds. My own success came from being part of a great group. Dedicated players came overcome almost anything. To us, back in our day, just having a uniform made you feel like a professional." Kallenbach averaged 9.3 yards per carry that season, in which Elgin shared the Big Eight title. He was named first team All-State. Ray Nitschke, the great Green Bay Packer middle linebacker, a Hall of Famer, was a fourth team state selection that same year. No one from the 1953 EHS team went on to become an All-American or play in the NFL. And sitting together Friday, they looked much like many other men their age. But their stories, their obvious affection for one another and for the game they loved, set them apart. John Morton, who came in from Colorado for the event - which he also helped coordinate - carried a video recorder through the evening, interviewing his former teammates and their wives. "I'm going to make a copy for them, a souvenir of our time together, past and present," he said. One former player called it a "night to remember ." Dan Parks, now a Florida resident, said that his high school days were among the best of his life. "Playing football was something special for us," he said. "It's been too darn long since I saw these guys. You get busy, then the years sort of pass you by." For one night, though, the arthritis and fading vision gave way to a communal rejoicing of a commonly held memory. They were champions once. Not even age can erase that.
Athletes in Attendance:
John (Jack) Morton - Parker, Colorado
Joe Cerasa - Byron, Illinois
Frank Lee - Morris, Illinois
John Giardino - Elgin, Illinois
Arnie Dauksavage - Elgin, Illinois
Ralph Kallenbach - Elgin, Illinois
Jim Stowell - Crystal Lake, Illinois
Dick Sinnett - Elgin, Illinois
Jerry Mills - Bedminster, New Jersey
Bob Prigge - Elgin, Illinois
Jim Steele - Elgin, Illinois
Dan Parks - Cape Coral, Florida
Art Green - Elgin, Illinois
Roger Weichmann - Elgin, Illinois
Don Johns - Hampstead, North Carolina
Deceased Team Mates:
Barry Puklin, Wayne Larson, Gerald Moser, Jim Schuldt, Carl Teets,
Max Cramer, Buster Leach, Don Heine, Frank Kniezek, Gary (Whitey) Smith, Jack, DeFulvio, and Art Haynes.
Coaches/Teachers in Attendance are:
William (Bill) Chesbrough - Sleepy Hollow, Illinois
Gus B. Stuart -- Elgin, Illinois
Coach Unable To Attend: