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Commentary: Fan gets town's special tribute

  • Story Highlights
  • Bob Greene: Bill Sauer was a dedicated fan of his small-town football team
  • He says Sauer had cerebral palsy and a challenging life
  • Greene: Sauer wasn't a football star, a millionaire or a politician
  • He says town paid him extraordinary tribute by naming stadium after him
By Bob Greene
CNN Contributor
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Editor's note: CNN Contributor Bob Greene is a best-selling author whose new book is "Late Edition: A Love Story."

Bob Greene says Logan, Ohio, paid an extraordinary tribute to its most dedicated football fan.

Bob Greene says Logan, Ohio, paid an extraordinary tribute to its most dedicated football fan.

(CNN) -- "Yes, it's all gone now," Craig Dunn told me the other day. "If you're not from around here, you'd never know it was ever there."

Dunn is the sports editor of the Logan, Ohio, Daily News, a paper with a small circulation (around 4,000) and a small news staff (five people put the paper out, covering the entire county). Last fall, when I was crisscrossing the country on the CNN Election Express, I spoke with Dunn about the town's high school football stadium, which was being demolished.

Bill Sauer Field, it was called.

The story I wrote appeared briefly on the Political Ticker and then went away quickly; there was so much rapidly breaking news coming out of the presidential campaign that the story was little more than a blip.

Yet I found myself, during the last year, thinking about Bill Sauer Field, and Logan, Ohio, and how it's possible for all of us, if we make the effort, to find the best in ourselves -- to find the best in each other. I find myself thinking about Bill Sauer, and about what that little town did for him, more than I think about almost anything else on which I reported during our long journey through America.

And so, with a new football season beginning all across the United States, I spoke with Craig Dunn again the other afternoon.

"When I drive by the place where it used to be, it's not with a sense of sadness," he said. "It's with pride for what this town once did."

Bill Sauer Field was the core of public life in Logan. The town, population 7,300, gravitated to the old stadium on Friday nights in autumns to watch the high school team, the Chieftains, play their games.

And who was Bill Sauer?

A self-made millionaire from the community who had bestowed the stadium upon the town? A prominent local politician? A long-gone Logan football hero?

No.

Bill Sauer was born in Logan more than 100 years ago -- in 1908. From the time he was a little boy, he could not walk. He spoke with great difficulty. His parents, desperate, searched for answers. Logan was and is a rural community, and back then sophisticated medical diagnoses were not easy to come by. His mother and father were eventually told that the boy had cerebral palsy.

He attended public school in Logan. It was not easy, of course. He was 23 by the time he graduated from Logan High School.

Then, as now, the boys who were strong and swift and athletically graceful were the ones most celebrated. Bill could not even take a step on his own.

But he loved the Logan sports teams, and he took pride in supporting them. Football, basketball, track and field -- he never missed a game, and he seldom missed a practice session. He would be there on the sidelines, sitting in his wheelchair, cheering for his classmates.

His life didn't get any less arduous after he graduated. His father died. It became incumbent upon Bill to support himself and his mother. He sold Christmas cards; he sold magazine subscriptions. At the town's swimming pool, he ran the concessions stand.

His philosophy of life, Craig Dunn told me, was basic: However often you get knocked down, you get back up one more time.

Bill Sauer grew older. New generations of healthy and talented young athletes played for the Logan Chieftains on Friday nights. No matter the weather, no matter how he was feeling, Bill was always there.

The Logan football stadium had been constructed in 1925. It was the heart of the town; it was what made the community feel like a community.

In 1975, there was a ceremony commemorating the 50th anniversary of the stadium. On that night, it was renamed.

For him.

For Bill.

The whole town had fallen in love with him. All of the quarterbacks who had ever thrown touchdown passes in that stadium, all of the linebackers who had ever made jarring tackles, all of the field goal kickers who had ever won games for Logan as the scoreboard clock ticked down ... and the place was renamed for the boy who could never run a single stride.

As the years went by, when visiting teams would come to town, few of the opposing players would have any idea why the stadium in Logan bore the name that it did.

That didn't matter.

Logan knew.

Bill knew.

He never married or had a family. He kept going to the games, sitting on the sidelines, right up until his death in 1988. The town, by honoring him the way it did, had given his life meaning, and contentment, and joy.

The decades after his death passed; the stadium grew too old, too outmoded. Finally, by last year, there could be no more delay. It was time to tear down Bill Sauer Field.

It has vanished now. The new athletic complex -- Logan Chieftain Stadium, it is called -- has risen out near State Route 328. Craig Dunn, the sports editor, spends his Friday nights in the fall covering the games there. Plans are in the works, he said, to erect a plaque at the new stadium in memory of the lifelong fortitude of the town's most faithful fan.

"They want the plaque to be in a place where the Logan players can see it as they run onto the field for every game," Dunn said. "They want to make sure that Bill is never forgotten."

This can be a mean old world sometimes. But other times, when you least expect it, it can light you up.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Bob Greene.

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