My first fall of covering sports in Creston was in 1985, when the Panthers made their first playoff appearance under coach Dick Bergstrom.
Also that fall, we ran a photo of a promising eighth-grade running back scoring a touchdown in a junior high game at Panther Field. His name was Dennis Shaw.
He would go on to become the school’s all-time leading rusher at the time, with teammates such as current elementary principal Scott Driskell at quarterback and Panther assistant coach Chad Briley at defensive back and wide receiver. It was the fateful “coin flip” team that lost a shot at the 1989 playoffs after an upset loss to Shenandoah and defeat to Harlan. It’s still one of the most explosive Creston teams I’ve ever watched.
Shaw’s eighth-grade coach that year was Gary Wimmer, who died Sept. 7 in a tragic tractor rollover accident. Later, when Shaw was a junior in high school, he lost his father. People like Wimmer, Bergstrom and track coach Dick Skarda were like father figures to him at a tough time.
Fast forward 32 years on that same field, and Shaw drew upon the lessons from some of those influential people in his life as he served as associate head coach and defensive coordinator for Winterset playing Friday night on Creston/O-M’s homecoming. And, a member of the Huskies squad was his own son, junior Kaden Shaw.
Before the game, Shaw told the Huskies he was carrying the funeral program for Wimmer with his defensive play card that night, and would be working hard to coach in the manner Wimmer did on that same field. Shaw had reached out to the Wimmer family — wife Janene and daughters Benjie and Ashley — to tell them he wanted to do that.
Ashley Scott had lived in Winterset for a time and her son’s teacher there was Shaw’s wife, Kim. That was also a circle of life moment for Kim, who felt Gary Wimmer had also been a father figure to her as a youngster growing up in Creston before moving to Alaska with her mother. Kendra Shaw, daughter of Dennis and Kim, babysat Ashley’s young children in Winterset.
There were many tentacles to this family bond, which made it so hard for Dennis when he got a text from a former teammate at practice last month that Mr. Wimmer had died. Last Friday, the emotions were still running strong, especially when he stepped on that familiar field.
“We talked about how he coached me in junior high,” Shaw said after the Huskies’ 35-19 victory. “I told them I would coach them the way he coached us, and I would love them a little bit more. Gary was always a guy who looked at us and said, ‘I’m proud of you,’ no matter how well we played. I wanted to honor that family. It’s the real deal.”
Huskies head coach Zach Sweeney was all for it. He’d experienced his own tragedy with the loss of his wife Billie from gastroparesis last June. On Friday, Shaw was wearing one of those green Husky Nation shirts that were part of the remembrance of Billie’s fight and the program’s annual Green Out night to bring awareness for research and funding.
Shaw was also able to have his son meet Bergstrom, who had done so much to inspire his own coaching career and leadership style. It was a special night in his hometown.
Wimmer’s family was appreciative of the gesture, which came less than 48 hours before the family burial service in Jerusalem Cemetery on Sunday.
“We thought it was so cool,” Ashley said. “That is exactly what Dad would want you to do, inspiring kids to be their best, and seeing the best in those kids and making them believe it. Dad was helping Clint and Adam Travis with a youth football team. The night before his accident he told the boys one of those speeches that brings everybody together. He had asked Clint and Adam if he could do that. So, it was one of the last things he did, helping kids like that.”
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