Baldwin City — It took a marketing genius to take an idea from nowhere and turn it into one of the most special nights of the year for an entire town. Baker University basketball coach Rick Weaver is nothing if not a marketing genius.
Weaver made it a personal mission to get junior high football started in Baldwin City. He raised the funds by starting an event called "The Bulldog Bash," now in its eighth year.
He made it work by selling purple T-shirts that scream "Da Bash" on the front of them. He charged $10 for one T-shirt and $5 for two T-shirts. Naturally, everyone bought two, which right away doubled the number of people giving the event free publicity.
Then family tickets were sold, good for admission to the pregame party, where bratwursts and hot dogs were consumed in mass quantities and '60s and '70s tunes played, and the game.
As game time drew closer, fans lined both sides of the portion of Fremont St. shut off by roadblocks. As the Baldwin High football players came off two buses and, in two rows, walked down the street, fans gave them the Beatles treatment, screaming wildly, snapping photographs, shooting videos.
It marked the beginning of another football season. Just like that the excessive heat of summer vanished.
The party then moved from outside Liston Stadium on the campus of Baker University to inside. Men, women and children wearing purple T-shirts pointed to the sky at four dots near an airplane. Parachutes popped open. The first sky-diver to land on the field removed the official game ball from a pouch on his belt.
The 2,500 seats were not enough to hold the crowd, so many watched from the track.
The world of contract disputes, dogfighting rings and Pacman Jones seemed so far away.
Too good a time was being had by all for the outcome of the game to define their evenings. Gardner-Edgerton, a deeper team, was the opponent.
The Bulldogs hung tough. Players as small as 5-foot-3, 125-pound Alan Callahan and as large as 6-6, 220-pound Jared McCall made positive contributions. (You just know a gym teacher or an assistant coach let Callahan know somewhere along the line that it's not the size of the Bulldog in the fight that counts, rather the size of the fight in the Bulldog.)
Adding to the entertainment value was the unorthodox offense favored by Baldwin High coach Mike Berg. The quarterback stood behind the center, and behind him were three running backs lined up horizontally. The center snapped it to any of the four players, depending on the play. You won't see that on Sunday afternoons.
Still, it seemed as if Gardner-Edgerton, which didn't have to rely on nearly as many two-way players, would pull away. It never did. Scoring the winning touchdown with 40 seconds remaining to break a tie, G-E won, 14-7. A year ago, Baldwin trailed the same opponent 30-0 at the half.
At halftime Friday, a school official declared it was "Rick Weaver Day" in Baldwin City. His son, Luke Weaver, was the game's leading tackler. Weaver's child nearly led the Bulldogs to an upset victory and his brainchild, "Da Bash," raised another bushel of money for various school activities.
Cool town, Baldwin City.