Long-time BHS football coach honored by former players
As they watched the Baldwin High School football game Friday night, Baldwin City residents Merle Venable and George McCrary debated who won a game for the Bulldogs in 1976.
The former BHS coach was certain Baldwin resident Scott Lauridsen caught the game-winning touchdown against Louisburg, while McCrary believed another Baldwin resident by the name of Mike Craig won the game.
"He argued with me about who scored the touchdown all night," McCrary said. "The next day I went and checked the archives at the library."
After researching the answer, McCrary came to find out he was correct. Craig caught the pass to defeat Louisburg, which was undefeated and a heavy favorite in the game.
It was Baldwin's homecoming game in 1976, but the Bulldogs fell behind 20-0 at halftime. They battled back to win 24-20, even though the Wildcats were heavy favorites.
"It was one of the greatest upsets in Baldwin High history," Venable said of the game he coached. "It was an unbelievable win."
That game and many others were reminisced and joked about all Saturday night, as more than 100 former BHS players came back to honor Venable.
"It was one of those big games," Lauridsen said of the upset over Louisburg. "Everybody had their big games that they talked about that night."
Late Saturday afternoon, approximately 150 people gathered at the Baldwin City Municipal Golf Course for a reception in honor of Venable. McCrary (1984 BHS graduate) and Lauridsen (1979 BHS graduate) planned the event that was special for their former coach.
"I was absolutely overwhelmed," Venable said. "It was one of the proudest moments in my life. It was a really well-planned deal."
McCrary said his reasoning for holding such an event was simple.
"I did it to honor a great coach and teacher," McCrary said. "He taught us life lessons and he cared about us all. He is one of the greatest men I know still walking this Earth."
One special surprise at the reception was the arrival of Venable's daughter, Suzy Venable. She came from Chicago to be in Baldwin Saturday.
"My wife set it up," Venable said. "I had heard she (Suzy) might be here for Maple Leaf. But then she was there in the doorway when I got there. I had no idea she would be there."
After dinner was served at the reception, the former players and coach began reminiscing about old times.
"I was surprised at the memories they all have from the games and practices," Venable said. "It got me that they could remember all of that."
Lauridsen remembered one point in the night where about 30 players were huddled around Venable and he was telling stories.
One memory McCrary had came from his senior year. It was the first year of the Frontier League and Paola was projected to win Class 5A, but the Bulldogs beat them in the season-opening game.
"It's amazing that we can remember games and plays like that," McCrary said. "That's what is really neat."
Venable coached at BHS from 1966 to 1985. During his 19 years at the helm, he compiled a record of 154-49.
Venable loves Baldwin and feels lucky to be around such great people.
"The best place to coach and teach in Kansas is Baldwin," Venable said. "There's no doubt in my mind about that. I am a very fortunate man to be around these successful people."
Although many of the former players were there, Venable said he wishes a few more would have known about it in time. But he was happy to be with the players who were there.
"I keep in touch with a big share of them," Venable said. "What got me more than anything was to see their children. That was very special."
Lauridsen enjoyed the reception as much as his former coach did.
"I had as much fun as coach did," Lauridsen said. "We just talked about Baldwin football. It was a blast."
McCrary said the reception was successful.
"It was a great weekend," McCrary said. "It was great to honor him. He has touched so many peoples' lives. He was a man's man and he cares."