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With ETSU football back, BFFF closes it doors

Trey Williams • Jul 9, 2014 at 10:25 PM

Jerry Robertson made sure the dormant East Tennessee State football program maintained a pulse for 10 years by establishing the Buc Football & Friends Foundation.

And now that Buccaneers program is up and running, Robertson’s decided the BFFF has run its course.

The BFFF, which was established shortly after the football program was discontinued in 2003 in an attempt to bring back football and the marching band, will close up shop with an unspecified donation to the ETSU Kick-Off Fund.

Robertson, who concluded his 43-year career as an athletic trainer at ETSU when football was halted, didn’t want to disclose the donation amount.

“I didn’t want a figure released,” Robertson said. “It’ll buy them a helmet or two.”

ETSU senior associate athletic director Scott Carter suggested the gift would do a bit more than that.

“We want to thank BFFF President Jerry Robertson, the BFFF’s leadership, and all of its members for the loyalty they have shown over the last 10 years, and the generous monetary support that they have provided for our future Buccaneers,” Carter said in a release from the school. “The passion of the BFFF kept hope alive for ETSU football, and we will always be grateful for those efforts. Now, we are looking forward to having members of the BFFF join our Kick-Off Fund so that we can work together to make Buccaneer football successful.”

Robertson had a golf outing and banquet each June after football’s demise. The late Ron Mendheim, a colorful character who helped John Robert Bell’s Bucs sack Terry Bradshaw 12 times in a Grantland Rice Bowl rout of Louisiana Tech in 1969, spoke passionately at the initial organizational banquet at the Farmhouse Gallery and Gardens in 2004.

“Mendheim was quite a player and quite a presenter, I’ll call it,” Robertson said with a chuckle. “He could present the information in a dramatic way. I’m just sorry that he’s passed away and he won’t be here for that first game in 2015.”

Entertaining BFFF speakers through the years included Atlanta Falcons coach Mike Smith, Dallas Cowboys defensive back Gerald Sensabaugh, former North Carolina State/Furman coach Dick Sheridan, former Major League Baseball umpire/state representative Dale Ford and Jonathan Godfrey, a kicker on ETSU’s outmanned 2003 team that went out victoriously with helmets held high.

Robertson was quick to thank numerous BFFF regulars, many of whom met monthly for 10-plus years. C.M. Boggs, A.B. Clevenger, Ray Parlier, Jim Roberts, Jim Slagle, Richard Dykes, Frank Hawkins, Ted Hughes, Kim Reece and former athletic director at Tennessee Tech Dr. David Larimore were invaluable.

“There were a lot of people that wanted to see football come back, and labored at it until things changed,” Robertson said. “Over a 10-year period we had a lot of people that wanted to be a part of it. There were some real faithful people that hung in there and did a lot of things that kept us going.”

BFFF attendance was steady, though it was clearly an uphill battle after then-ETSU president Dr. Paul Stanton said he wanted to bring back football, but then put it to an ill-fated vote from students who would be paying for a program that wouldn’t field a team until many of them had graduated.

Robertson had a hunch Stanton’s successor, Dr. Brian Noland, was football friendly when he came to the BFFF golf tournament at Elizabethton in 2012.

“I just wish that we had been a little more financially able to help Dr. Noland in his efforts,” Robertson said. “But it was hard because so many people always said, ‘Well, why should I give? You don’t have it (a football program). You’re not gonna get it. It’s dead, forget about it. Put your efforts somewhere else.’”

Robertson said he wished the late Ken Simonds and George Bill Smith were around to see football’s resurrection. Simonds, who died in 2009, was prepared to give a significant donation when the progam’s potential reboot was discussed in 2007.

“Ken Simonds was an outstanding athlete at Dobyns-Bennett growing up and he was an outstanding athlete for the Bucs and went on to be a very successful businessman,” Robertson said. “He was instrumental in helping us get an audience with Dr. Stanton. ... George Bill wasn’t an athlete. He was a student. … But he loved the Blue and Gold.”

Robertson continued bleeding blue and gold while heartbroken about football.

“I won’t say that it was easy and all that,” he said. “Sometimes it was tough paddling, I guess you’d say, to keep going after, you know, people keep shooting you down and all of that. But it worked out. ...

“I was out there altogether for 43 years and a lot of people got to go to school (because of football and the marching band) that would not have gotten to go to school and got a college degree. A lot of people that you see around this area today are those people — judges, lawyers, doctors, entrepreneurs, band directors, teachers, coaches.”

One of the former players is Carter. If he turned out to be ETSU's athletic director for the next 20 years, that'd suit Robertson.

"Well, if he is, the Bucs will be in good shape," Robertson said. "Scott Carter, when he was in school there he was everything you’d put down for a person that you’d want on a scholarship. He was an athlete. He was dedicated. He worked hard. He was a good student. He worked hard at that. He was model citizen. I don’t think you could sit down and write a job description that you wanted for a student-athlete better than Scott Carter. ... ... The best thing for us to do now is to get behind the Kick-Off Club or the BASA Club and the university."

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