The end of the regular high school football season is near, and it annually signals the time for former East Aurora Tomcat gridders to assemble and share their spirit and fraternity at the EA Old Timers Association meeting and dinner.
In the past few years, the association has also become a support group for the current East program. It has awarded several scholarships to deserving graduating seniors, and also supports the Tomcat Youth Tackle Football League established in 2012.
In keeping with tradition, the group recently met to induct the Tomcats of 1989 who were coached by Don Williams. Each year sees the official addition of the squad which played 25 years previously.
Members of the 1989 squad in attendance were Jeff Thomas, Soukthavy Heminthavong, Sam Schmidt, Fred Shead, Ruben Salgado, Hector Saldana, Kurt Kollwelter, Matt Keller and Bob Watermann.
“It was fast (in 1989) as I didn’t officially get the job until the beginning of July,” Williams said. “It was so exciting to become the head coach and try to make a difference. I have good memories and just wish we could have done better on the field.”
Several former Tomcat head coaches were in attendance, including Del Dufrain, who annually makes the trip from Stone Lake, Wis. He is the dean of all East coaches, having patrolled the sideline for 18 seasons.
He led some spectacular teams in the 60’s, but his imprint on the program transcended victory totals. His quiet demeanor belied his competitive spirit and love for the players and school.
“I always figured the game was supposed to be fun, and left the yelling up to my assistants,” Dufrain joked. “I had chances to coach elsewhere, but the Tomcats always won out. We had a great staff and I never coached a bad kid.”
But Dufrain’s influence has continued on the East Side as Dick Schindel (1983-87), Williams (1989-91), and current coach Kurt Becker (2012-14) all followed their mentor to become head coach of the Tomcats.
By the end of Williams’ tenure, almost all of a 30-year window was shaped in a way by Dufrain’s classy style.
“Maybe more than anything else was Del’s being calm and deliberate,” Schindel said. “I respected Coach very much and he definitely influenced how I approached things.”
“He had an impact on me as a player and then as a coach,” Williams added. “It was his composure, the way he spoke to us, and his rarely getting upset. Weather permitting, I would wear a blazer with a tie, which he was famous for. It was my way of honoring Coach Dufrain.”
Becker, the former Michigan All-American and Chicago Bear, is in his third season of working to bring East back to prominence.
“We have 30 seniors on this year’s team and 50 kids total,” he said. “These 30 seniors are great kids — they have figured it out and will be successful men in their lives.
“I refer to them as Team 122 — the 122nd year of Tomcat football. East Aurora football is going to survive and get better. We have to continue to grow and work.”