December 20, 2008

Van Wert alum still a part of Mount Union football legacy

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When the Mount Union Purple Raiders take the field at 10 a.m. Saturday in Salem, Virginia the football program will be attempting to secure its record 10th national championship. And on the sideline, as he has been for years, will be Ken Wable.

Wable, a 1945 Van Wert High School graduate, is one of the founding fathers of America's most prolific Division III college football program. The head football coach at Mount Union from 1962 until 1985, Wable is the second winningest mentor in Raider football history. In his 24 years at the head of Mount Union, Wable led the Purple Raiders to a 123-95-2 record. He was also the first coach to ever lead the Raiders to an Ohio Athletic Conference championship and a Division III playoff berth.

In Wable's last season at Mount Union the Raiders recorded an 11-1 record (8-0 in the OAC) and made it to the second round of the playoffs before losing to Augustana (IL) 21-14. Though it was his final season at the small liberal arts college in Alliance, OH that season set into motion much of the success the school has experienced over the last two decades.

"We have a very good program here," Wable said from his home in Alliance, Monday. "The head coach (Larry Kehres) was one of my quarterbacks and then was my backfield coach until I retired. He's smarter than I am right now. He's a great coach, and a couple other coaches on the staff are the same way."

Kehres, a Wable disciple, took over the program in 1986 and has led the Purple Raiders to 19 OAC titles, nine national titles and has been named the American Football Coaches Association Division III Coach of the Year seven times. He is just one of numerous coaches that have sprung from the Wable tree.

When Wable started coaching football at Mount Union back in 1962 national championships and OAC titles were but distant dreams. In his first year at the school his squad went 3-6. The following year they were 1-8. In year four his program recorded a 7-2 record (5-2 in the OAC), and the local paper declared it the pinnacle of Mount Union success. After all, the '65 season was Mount Union's best since 1916's 8-2 (6-1) mark.

"When I came to Mount Union College they were in dire need of upgrading their program and it took me quite a few years to upgrade it and get it up to par," Wable said. " ... It was very tough from a recruiting viewpoint to recruit guys to come to a school that has not been noted for its winning."

But slowly, over time, Wable was able to build that program. By 1970 the team was 8-1 and 4-1 in the OAC. Over the next 15 years the program began to amass more and more one- and two-loss seasons. That winning helped fuel belief in the program and the school. And Wable notes that the hard work he put into the program and the dedication that he gave the Mount Union was in direct correlation to his days at Van Wert High School.

"Playing for Gil Smith at Van Wert, why, we were used to having a lot of wins in a season," Wable said. "We didn't have very many bad season back in my day. ... Coach Smith was my high school mentor and then coach Ed Sherman was my Muskingum College head coach and they were both teachers and they were both coaches. My goal was to be a teacher/coach. That's the direction that I wanted to go in."

And that's what Wable did.

Wable stayed close to his former Van Wert coach. While in college he often came home during the summer to help with the Van Wert football team. Through teachings from men like Smith, Wable garnered a lot of respect for the teacher/coach.

Still, to this day, Wable enjoys talking about the academic aspects of Mt. Union. Since showing up on campus in the early '60s he's watched the school's enrollment more than double and the campus, as well as student life, become richer. He's seen the school take on more and divers majors and has seen the college's physical education program become highly regarded.

Wable is still very close to the football program. Coaches come to his house to watch replays of the most recent Raider game on SportsTimeOhio. He still attends practices and games and travels around the country with the team. And he'll be in Salem come Saturday watching the Raiders take on Wisconsin-Whitewater in the Stagg Bowl (game is on ESPN2).

There's no way he'd miss it.

"That's the epitome of what you can do in Division III," Wable said.

Source: Times Bulletin

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