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Thursday, May 5, 2016

South Putnam legend get his due

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Hall of Fame football coach Mark Wildman stands with his wife June in the new archway to 'Mark Wildman Field' Friday. [Order this photo]
GREENCASTLE -- When one speaks of legends, there's perhaps none greater for Putnam County than that of former South Putnam head football coach Mark Wildman. His reach is felt well beyond the field in the lives he has touched and continues to touch today.

On Friday night, the South Putnam community, as well as fans from throughout Putnam County and the state, converged at South Putnam High School to honor coach Wildman. An arch now welcomes football fans that read "Mark Wildman Field".

The Eagles fittingly won the game, and following the contest, current head coach Troy Burgess sang the praises of the man whom he replaced.

"I've said all along, it is very well deserving," Burgess said. "Look around tonight. I'm going to venture to say not everyone here tonight is from South Putnam. There's people from Putnam County and there's people from around the state. Mark meant a lot to South Putnam, but he also meant a lot to Putnam County and he meant a lot to this Wabash Valley.

"I say it every day, I just feel very, very fortunate to be here and have the opportunity to take over a program that has had the tradition that Mark has built," he added.

Wildman's career as the Eagles' head coach spanned 20 years and produced 140 wins, including a state championship in 1986 and was runner-up in 2002. In addition, Wildman's Eagles captured eight sectional, six regional, two semi-state and three West Central Conference titles along the way.

In 2007, Wildman was inducted into the Indiana Football Hall of Fame and was named to the Wabash Valley Football Coaches Association Hall of Fame the year prior.

In attendance for the dedication were superintendent Bruce Bernhardt, high school principal Kieth Puckett, athletic director Matt Griswold, IHSAA commissioner Blake Ress and former player and Quarterback Club President Dave Varvel.

Friday night proved to be an evening of sharing memories, laughs and even a few tears.

Bernhardt opened the event and stated he, along with those in attendance, had great memories of Wildman stalking the sidelines and believes that the new arch will honor the man in a fitting way.

"Like many of you, I have some very fond memories of football under the direction of Mark Wildman over the years and memories that will stick with me all of my life. I know his legacy will be with us for years to come," Berhardt said.

Former player Dave Varvel dons his football jersey in honor of coach Wildman Friday night.
After Bernhardt, Puckett spoke briefly and expressed his gratitude for the people involved in making the moment happen. He singled out David Bombei for his efforts in leading the way to obtain funding for the arch.

Varvel took to the podium and made sure that everyone knew what color flowed through is veins -- Eagles' red, white and blue.

"I only think it's fitting that I put this on before I start," he said donning his old football jersey.

Varvel spoke about the honor he felt playing for his former coach and noted the opening of Wildman's profile for the Hall of Fame read 'he became an assistant coach at South Putnam in 1977 and he's been there ever since.'

"Coach Wildman was still in the learning phase of his coaching career when I played, but he soon become a master of his craft," Varvel said. "At the time, South Putnam wasn't a hotbed for football; heck the best record we had put together was 5-5. But in 1985, the IHSAA reorganized classes in football and redid the playoff system that gave everybody a chance."

He continued to speak of the teams' success in the following years and how he was sure the chance to move on to bigger and better situations came knocking at the coach's door. He also acknowledged Wildman isn't your average coach.

"You can always judge a man's character by the decisions he makes in his life," Varvel commented. "Does he sacrifice personal gain for the betterment of others? In the case of South Putnam football, Mark Wildman stayed. Thus securing the stability a strong football program needs.

"When I'm asked where I played my high school ball, I always say 'South Put' and the first thing that comes out of everyone's mouth is "You must have played for Wildman." I say, "Yeah, Wildman was there," he said as laughter rose from the crowd.

Varvel said he, head coach Troy Burgess and many others know the name Wildman is synonymous with South Putnam football. In closing, he spoke for the community as well as himself.

"So on behalf of the players that have come after me and all the booster that came before me, I was to say thank you. Thank you for your commitment to the game, thank you for your commitment to the players and thank you for your commitment to this community," he concluded.

Ress too was quick to single out the attributes that make a coach successful. The same attributes describe the coach so many were there to honor -- honesty, integrity and good work ethic. A person would be hard pressed to speak of Wildman without those three things coming to mind.

Ress spoke of how schools have a gauge of success and how Wildman soared well beyond those expectations.

"Mark went beyond that and as you all know, he architect some excellent teams here and even got to the state championship game on two occasions and brought home that state championship in 1986," he said.

"I want to congratulate the school, community and the people of this school district for recognizing Mark for his accomplishment and I think it's a special honor to have a field named after you. And certainly, I want to congratulate Mark for his dedication and tireless effort to the students at South Putnam High School," Ress commented.

Introducing Wildman was his longtime assistant and current athletic director Matt Griswold. Griswold spoke of traversing through the crowd and the flood of memories he had as the hour approached for the dedication.

"What happens is it becomes difficult to keep the generations straight? Who played with who played with who," he said. "It's been an amazing walk through here tonight and seeing everyone. It really brings back a lot of memories.

"The impact he's had on our youth is demonstrated through what we've heard over and over again -- he's been here for us the whole time," he said.

Wildman took to the podium to a ripple of applause and true to form, disarmed the crowd with some humor and pointed out the contributions others had given to South Putnam.

"First of all, thank everybody for coming out here and I guess it would be appropriate that I thank God that the word 'memorial" doesn't appear up there. I appreciate that," he said with a smile.

He spoke of how he remembered Butch Alexander driving his lawnmower across U.S. 40 to mow the field before much of what is there today existed.

"This field has always been important to the South Putnam community," Wildman expressed. "If I'm in the hallway and I see trophies, I think of all of these players out here that helped us win those trophies. But when I look at the field, I think of everybody that was involved. I think our parents, our community, our school and especially the quarterback club that has had so much to do with the field.

"They've had a lot of pride in it and so I think that's one thing that gives me a lot of pride for this honor is because our field has always been a special place for South Putnam," he said.

Some of the memories the coach shared was the championship games that had taken place on the field. The field has hosted 10 sectional championships, three regional games and two semi-state games.

"They were great games and great for South Putnam to have that," Wildman commented.

In attendance for the dedication were Wildman's three sisters, Teresa, Cheryl and Pam, as well as his brother Drew. His mother was also there and had on her 1987 "coach's Mom'" sweatshirt. Wildman noted he thought the night was special for them, too.

Up to its final moments, the dedication has been welcomed with smiles and laughter, but as Wildman began to wrap up his speech, his voice began to crack.

"I remember my Dad," he said looking up at the arch. "He not only gave me the name we have up there right now, but he was the one who gave me the passion for coaching, so I think I'll always remember that."

"I've always been real proud of my family. My wife June, my daughter's Ashley, Tessa and Lindy and I hope this kind of returns some of the honor to them for the pride that they've given me," he said with a quivering voice.

"Whenever I walk through these halls, I'll remember my family and I'll remember all the people who've had so much to do with the football field and the football program. It's a great honor. Like I said, I appreciate everybody for being out here," Wildman concluded.