Newberry to induct first school athletic hall of fame members

NEWBERRY – A work several years in the making is coming to fruition in Newberry at the end of next week.

The inaugural class will be inducted into the Newberry High School Athletic Hall of Fame on Saturday, Sept. 7, at American Legion Post 74 in Newberry.

Dinner starts at 6 p.m. with the induction to begin at 7 p.m. Tickets are $20 per person and can be purchased by calling the school’s athletic office at 293-3377.

Athletic director and varsity football coach Fred Bryant was one of those instrumental in planning out the hall of fame.

“We’ve been working on it for the last couple years, and it’ll be great now to have it,” Bryant said. “We have a spot picked out near the gymnasium for displays. We figured we’d start with an inaugural class of 10, then add another four or five each year.”

He said he thought this was also a good time to start a hall of fame, considering that eight of this year’s inductees are in the Upper Peninsula and/or college hall of fames.

Plus, two of the three oldest inductees are likely to make it to the ceremony – John Ludlow of the Class of 1942 and Burt Gustafson of the Class of 1943.

For those outside the immediate Newberry area, the most well known inductee is Rob Rubick of the Class of 1978, a multisport star who played a productive seven seasons as a wide receiver with the Detroit Lions and has been a notable TV color commentator for the Lions in the preseason and high school football in its postseason for nearly two decades.

Here are short biographies of the other inductees:

Morley Fraser (coach, 1949-51) – His football teams went 22-0-1 in three seasons a few years after he was a commanding officer on a U.S. Navy ship during World War II.

A notable athlete himself, Fraser earned state accolades as a football coach for the Indians and also U.P. honors as track coach at the school.

He later turned around foundering football programs downstate at Lansing Eastern High School and Albion College, where he coached for 20 years.

John Ludlow (Class of 1942) – He excelled in football, basketball, golf and track, then became running back and quarterback for several Army national championship teams.

He later headed physical education instruction at the Air Force Academy and was an assistant football coach at Northern Michigan University, including when the Wildcats won a national title in 1975.

Burt Gustafson (1943) – A U.S. Navy Seabee in the Pacific during WWII, he was the first 12-time letterman in NMU history after graduating in 1950. He played football, basketball and track. He went on to coach at NMU, pioneering such things as the first high school indoor track meet at Hedgcock Fieldhouse and the school’s men’s swimming team.

He later was a football assistant with the University of Wyoming and Green Bay Packers.

Tom Taylor (1952) – He earned 10 varsity letters at Newberry in football, basketball and track, and was the only player who was a member of all three undefeated football teams from 1949-51, earning all-conference, All-U.P. and all-state mention.

He earned similar honors playing football at Albion, including having his jersey number, 33, retired by the school. He later coached at Clarkston High School, Albion and NMU.

Tom Villemure (1957) – He earned all-state and dream-team selection in basketball as a senior, leading the state in scoring with 33.5 points per game and helping defeat powerhouses Negaunee and Marquette.

He was team MVP twice at Sault Tech (now Lake Superior State). Later for the University of Detroit, Villemure hit a buzzer-beating basket to defeat Indiana University and earn UD’s highest-ever national ranking.

He coached with great success in high school for nine years before taking the helm at Grand Valley State, where he was head coach for 24 years and retired in 1996 as the all-time winningest college coach in state history.

Len St. Jean (1959) – A farm boy from a rural area outside Newberry, he got a late introduction to football, but started three years for the Indians, played at NMU and was drafted by the NFL’s Packers and Boston Patriots of the AFL in 1964.

He spent 10 years with the Patriots as a defensive lineman and special teams player, playing in 190 consecutive games, and later joined the New York Stars of the World Football League.

Tom Watson (1966) – He earned all-U.P. honors twice in both football and basketball and was all-state in track. He then played football at NMU and was an academic all-American, team captain and team MVP there as a lineman.

Drafted by the Packers in 1971, he was later head football coach at Gladstone for nine years, earning several U.P. coach and team of the year honors.

Jeff Bender (1987) – He was all-U.P. in football, basketball and track and still holds nearly 20 records in total for those sports at Newberry.

He started 44 games as QB at Central Michigan University, earning league honors and setting school records there, too.

Bender eventually graduated from medical school and is an emergency room physician and owns his own ER physician company.

Chris Nance (1991) – The only woman honoree in this first class, Nance stood out in volleyball, basketball and track at Newberry and still owns a number of school records in basketball, including being the Indians’ all-time leading scorer.

She won four letters in basketball at LSSU and was an All-American there.