Bardwells have greatly impacted Southridge FootballAugust 10, 2021
By COREY STOLZENBACH
Editor’s Note: This is the first in a series of stories this week on the 50th Season of Southridge Football.
There’s been one constant, one name, that has been there nearly every step of the way during the first 50 seasons of Southridge football in some fashion: Bardwell.
Jim Bardwell wasn’t born here, but if the Raiders were playing on Friday nights, either Jim or his son, Brett, or both, were around the program in some capacity.
“I think there’s a deep love,” Jim said. “I think there’s a situation where Brett was a great player, performed, moved away, came back. This was his alma mater. He loves Southridge, he loves Huntingburg. I’d say with our family, we’ve been very fortunate to be able to see the growth in the program from those years — to see Cam (Brett’s younger brother and a 1987 graduate) and Brett go through the program at Southridge, 50 years of football, it’s awesome.”
“I guess 50 years of Southridge football is hard to believe, time flies,” Brett said. “I can’t believe it’s the 50th year and that I’ve been around for all of it (chuckles).”
Jim was raised in Arkansas, and when he goes back there, people will refer to him by his middle name — Gerald. It was when he was in the service that he was addressed by his proper forename.
“I joined the Navy right out of high school,” he said. “There was nothing else to do and there was no money down there. I joined the Navy, and my second duty station was Crane, Indiana of all places.”
He went back to Arkansas for a bit once out of the Navy, but he’s laid his ground here in the Hoosier State.
Jim served as head coach at the old Huntingburg High School. The Hunters attained success with a 9-1 record in 1970, tying South Spencer for a share of the Pocket Athletic Conference Championship. They called Municipal Park their home field.
Brett was a kid back in those days, but the memories of tagging along to football activities with his father are there.
“The games were played kind of in the outfield where League Stadium is now,” Brett said. “And the teams dressed at Memorial Gym, and the coach’s office was where the basketball coach’s office is now. I remember that.
“I remember going in early when two-a-days would start, and we’d go in there early in the morning,” he continued. “And I can remember LeRoy Berry, who was my dad’s assistant and then became the head coach later (at Southridge)…but I remember making hot chocolate. They would drink coffee, I would drink hot chocolate. Somebody would always bring cinnamon rolls (laughs), and going to the practices.”
The Hunters went 4-5-1 in 1971, but that would be the final season of Huntingburg football. Huntingburg and Holland would consolidate to form the newly christened Southridge High School in 1972, and Jim served as the first coach of the Raiders.
“My opinion for consolidation was I loved it,” Jim said. “I thought it was a step forward for the communities that we served. I felt like it was a step forward for all of our athletic programs, especially football.
"It’s numbers,” he continued. "I think Brett and Coach (Brad) Hanner and Coach (Scott) Buening and these people — they all have the same philosophy is get numbers, we have to have numbers. And you do need numbers for football, track, baseball, whatever.”
Brett was a kid at the time at consolidation, but he viewed it positively like his dad did. Holland didn’t have football, but he knew the Dutchmen had some good athletes that could only make the team better.
He felt the consolidation might’ve been controversial to some adults at the time, but for him being a kid, it was exciting.
The Raiders went 4-6 during their first season of existence. Southridge took a 35-0 loss to Jasper in its first game ever and didn’t fare much better the next week with a 25-8 loss to Tecumseh.
But on Sept. 16, the Raiders came away with a 12-7 victory over North Posey for the first triumph in program history, and another 334 have followed since then. It was thanks to a passing and rushing touchdown from Raven Broeker that put the Raiders over the edge, and they held off the Vikings after trailing, 7-6, at one point.
Jim stayed on as coach for another season, but he stepped down to focus on his duties as athletic director.
“It was more of a heartbreaker,” he said. “It was probably a dumb mistake on my part.”
Jim stayed on as athletic director until 1999 when Brett took over from his father. He got to play sports in high school with his dad as the school’s AD. Brett played quarterback for the Raiders, getting his time to shine during the 1978 season.
Brett simply felt he waited his turn, as he played on junior varsity his sophomore and junior years. But his time came, and so did the ups and the downs.
He suffered a knee injury on Sept. 12, and the knee injury took its Sept. 15 against Tecumseh, when he left the game. Brett was sidelined the next week against North Posey, too.
Yet, he came back on Sept. 29 against Springs Valley, and Brett went 6-of-8 passing for a then-team record 188 yards passing in a single game. That broke the record of 141 yards set by Jeff Sibrel the year before.
“We had a 92-yard TD pass, I threw it to Jeff Williams, who was a great football player — four-year starter at Southridge,” Brett said. “And he caught it in the flat. It was like a five-yard pass and he caught it and ran the distance. And so, I got credit for a 92-yard pass and I only threw it about 10 yards.”
The glory would be short-lived. He briefly played the next week against Heritage Hills, but tests showed Brett's right knee contained partially torn cartilage, and he couldn’t quarterback the Raiders again. He finished with 529 passing yards that year, just shy of the 660 Sibrel set the year before.
Dennis Benson would take over the quarterback duties from Brett.
“Dad came and called me off the practice field…He said, ‘Listen, the doctor just called, you’re out, you’re done for the season, they’re going to put you in a splint for six weeks,’” he said. “And I remember where I was when he told me. I was standing right there where the old concession stand of Raider Field is now. And I remember throwing my helmet, going in the locker room, crying while the team was still out on the field practicing. I had a good cry and went home.”
It took him a few days to adjust, but he went to every practice and every game and stayed a part of it all. He feels for athletes who get hurt, especially as seniors, because they invested so much, want to play, but can’t.
Brett stayed a fan through it all. He played quarterback at Hanover College, and the 1979 graduate earned honors as Second-Team Hoosier-Buckeye All-Conference.
Shortly thereafter, Southridge made a historical run by winning its first sectional championship in school history and made it all the way to being named the 1982 Class A State Runner-Up.
“They had great talent, amazing speed if I remember correctly with that team,” Brett said. “But it was really fun to follow, kept up with it. Of course very proud to be a Southridge Raider when you’re in college and knowing that Southridge is making a run. They had some great players — Joe Bartelt was a great quarterback, First-Team All-State on that, and they had a lot of other good players, too, on that team.”
When Brett took the reins from Jim, he tried to support Hanner, who was coaching the team at the time, in any way he could.
“I was ready to get out,” Jim said. “I was there for a lot of years and seeing Brett come in, it meant a lot to me. I thought that he was the kind of guy that you really needed. He loved Huntingburg, he loved Holland, he loves Southridge. He was a team player. I knew that he would do a great job, and he did."
Yet, Raider Field had its problems when Brett came over.
“In terms of the grass we had, it just was not well taken care of,” Brett said. “We didn’t have a watering system and tried to improve that, just improve the facilities. I tried to give that to Coach Hanner and to Coach (Kelly) Murphy and Coach Buening as well.”
He thought to himself how Southridge had one of the best football programs in the PAC, but the worst facilities.
Yet, things slowly improved with renovations, as did the program itself. The 2002 team had a runner-up finish in Class 2A at state — it was also the first sectional championship team since the 1982 runner-up team.
The Raiders went to state in football three times while Brett held the position. He’ll say, though, he was just along for the ride, even though his job had heightened responsibilities whenever a team went to state.
“But man, it’s worth it,” Brett said. “It’s fun, it’s really, really fun.”
It was also fun, and meant a lot to him, when the Raiders won the Class 2A State Championship in 2017, and the pride there was in being a Raider. That was a moment he got to revel in with his dad.
“It was a culminating moment for both of us — both just so proud to be a small part of Raider football history,” he said in a text message on Tuesday. “I was happy for him and he was happy for me. For me, it was such an honor to follow in my dad’s footsteps, although I could never fill his shoes. Like a lot of sons of great dads — he is my best friend and in my eyes, the greatest man I’ve ever known. I am so thankful to have had a dad like him. Our relationship goes way above sports.”
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