Bill Ramseyer may have been on track to become a Division I college football head coach.
A small-town kind of family man, Ramseyer opted for the dimmer lights of Division III football and became a legend on and off the field because of it.
Ramseyer, the long-time football coach and father figure to players and students alike at Wilmington College, passed away Thursday afternoon.
“I don’t know what my life would be like if coach hadn’t recruited me,” said Marque Jones Sr. “Coach and I have always had a great relationship.”
Ramseyer came to Wilmington College in 1972, following a four-year stint as a football coach at the University of Missouri. He was 114-58-4 in 18 seasons at WC and never had a losing record in any single season.
After leaving Wilmington, because of a much publicized situation with college president Neil Thorburn, Ramseyer and Bruce Wasem began the football program at Clinch Valley in Wise, Virginia.
Ramseyer has been inducted into the sports hall of fames for Clinton Clinton, Wilmington College, Bluffton University, the NAIA and Bluffton University again as a player on the 1956 team.
If there was a Human Being Hall of Fame, he’d been on the docket for that as well.
Paul Sparling, a Wilmington College graduate and head athletic trainer for the Cincinnati Bengals, didn’t play football for Ramseyer but his life — a successful life that has lasted well beyond WC — was directly driven by Ramseyer’s influence.
“The mark he left on the lives of those who interacted with him will not be forgotten and I sincerely appreciate the small step he took for me by passing my name on to Roger Tewksbury which ultimately led me to the successful career I have personally had with the Cincinnati Bengals,” Sparling said in an email to the News Journal in Wilmington.
As a high school senior, Sparling’s name was included by the football coach at his high school among a list of students who could play football for Ramseyer at WC.
But Sparling’s name was clearly noted as a “student athletic trainer” and not a player. Ramseyer could have bypassed Sparling’s name, crumbled that list, disposed of it in the trash and began the recruitment of the guys who were going to play on Saturday afternoons.
Instead, Ramseyer sent Sparling’s name on to Tewksbury, who was in the process of establishing an athletic training education program at WC.
“Roger invited me to come visit Wilmington College and the rest is history,” Sparling added. “(Ramseyer) was a great leader, teacher and dedicated to the success of everyone he worked with. Coach Ramseyer welcomed me as an athletic training student with open arms and even taught at least one of my classes (physiology of exercise). He had a drive and ambition to be successful and worked tirelessly to reach that goal.”
Scott Parrish remembered attending a Ken Anderson summer football camp at Wilmington College in the late 1970s. After the camp, Ramseyer said he’d like to talk with Parrish about attending WC, but would wait until Parrish completed his high school senior season, some four months after the Anderson camp.
Sure enough, the Saturday after Parrish’s Friday night finale he received a phone call at 9 a.m.
“It was coach Ramseyer,” Parrish recalled.”I want you (Parrish) to come here (WC).”
Parrish said he had not talked with Ramseyer or anyone from Wilmington, nor had he received a letter from the college in the aftermath of meeting Ramseyer at the summer camp.
“How did he remember me?” said Parrish, who started as a freshman on WC’s national runner-up team. “I went on all my visits but I couldn’t get that (phone call) out of my head.
“You respected him because of how he carried himself. He never demanded yes sir or no sir. You just did it. The guys just knew he was that kind of person. He’s like a father figure to everybody. And, of course, there’s Mary (Ramseyer’s wife). She is just an amazing person. Great human beings. You don’t find many like them.”
Greg Oliver joined the Wilmington College football staff in 1975 as a part-time coach. His relationship with coach became more than, and lasted much longer than, part-time.
“He was a giant of a man, a terrific football mind and a hall of fame coach,” said Oliver. “But, more so, he was a leader of men. He influenced so many here in Wilmington. A tremendous man of character and integrity. A model husband with wife Mary for over 65 years, a terrific father, grandfather and great grandfather. He will be sorely missed. His legacy will live on in those who he touched. My heart aches.”
Jones went to high school in Miami. Though he had family roots in Wilmington, Jones was looking to play football at Florida A&M. At 140 pounds, he quickly learned that wasn’t going to happen.
So through his father’s friendship with Hammy Graham and Graham’s friendship with Ramseyer, Jones came to Wilmington College. That was in 1973. And following a playing and coaching career with Ramseyer, Jones remains on the WC staff today.
“Coach was larger than life to us,” said Jones. “We didn’t always feel that way back then, we were 17 or 18 years old. But as time has gone on, we know how much he meant to us on the football field and in our lives. Everybody’s feeling the pain.”
Reach Mark Huber at 937-556-5765, via email [email protected] or on Twitter @wnjsports