“I will prepare and some day my chance will come.”

“I will prepare and some day my chance will come.”

Abraham Lincoln said that.  Lincoln had lost the election for the U.S. Senate twice, but he was still preparing for success.  He didn’t lose sight of his goals.

In 1864, President Lincoln signed the bill into law giving the Columbia Institution for the Instruction of the Deaf and Dumb and Blind in Washington, D.C. the authority to award collegiate degrees.  The school would be renamed Gallaudet University after Thomas Hopkins Gallaudet, the founder of the first school for deaf students in the United States.

President Lincoln’s signing of Gallaudet’s charter has always given him a special connection to deaf people, in particular those who have attended Gallaudet University.  Some people say that Lincoln Memorial shows the seated Lincoln’s hands forming the letter “A” on his left hand and the letter “L” on his right hand of the manual alphabet.

It makes sense.

Daniel Chester French, the sculptor of the famous Lincoln statue, also created a statue at Gallaudet University, “Gallaudet and Alice” depicting the school’s founder and a young deaf girl.  French also was the father of a deaf son.  This interesting part of the Lincoln Memorial is not documented, but as noted, seems intentional.

This year, Gallaudet University’s football team will be in the NCAA Division III football playoffs for the first time in school history.  This also marks the first time that any men’s athletic program at Gallaudet has made it into a NCAA championship playoff.

At 7-0, on Nov. 2, the Gallaudet University Bison played Becker College (MA).  With two seconds remaining in the game, Becker College was set to kick the winning field goal breaking a 34-34 tie.

The Gallaudet Bison were prepared, knowing their chance had come…

Bison player, Chris Papacek blocked the field goal attempt, teammate Ryan Bonheyo scooped up the ball and ran it 79 yards for a touchdown and victory, keeping the perfect season intact.

The Bison finished the season 9-1, losing their final game of the season to Maritime (NY) 7-6.   The 9-1 record and first place finish in the NCAA Division III Eastern Collegiate Football Conference gave the Bison a resume that assured the 2013 Gallaudet football team made history.

On Nov. 23, the Bison will travel to New York to take on the seventh ranked Hobart College Statesmen in the first round of the NCAA Division III football playoffs.

As folks bicker and complain about who has the best team between Alabama, Baylor, Florida State or Ohio State, the Gallaudet Bison can truly claim to be number 1 when it comes to records at their historic university.

I scanned through the Gallaudet roster looking for players from my home state of Alabama and my adopted home state of Florida.  I found two players from each state.

One of our football rivalries, when I played in high school, more than 30 years ago in Alabama, was the Alabama School for the Deaf (ASD).  I distinctly remembered a fall night in 1979 when a giant of player for ASD, I simply remembered as “Walter” made mincemeat of my teammates and me.

In doing a little research, I found out that the current Athletic Director at ASD’s name was “Walter Ripley.”  I sent him an email asking if he was “Big Bad Walter.” 

He was not.

After finding out that Walter (Ripley) played for the Kansas School for the Deaf, we laughed about it and he fired back another message saying, “You’re talking about Walter Draper – they say he was 6’4”, 300 pounds.”

I thought to myself, “He was at least 6’6”.”

I do remember this about Big Walter; every time he would knock you down, he would help you up.  He helped you up with the biggest smile that seemed to say, “I’m sorry I had to do that.”

Walter Ripley, the ASD Athletic Director, turned out to be a great guy with a lot of connections to Gallaudet University.  His nephews, Ryan and Todd Bonheyo, both play for Gallaudet.  Yes, the “Ryan Bonheyo” who scooped up the blocked punt and ran it back for a 79 yard game winning touchdown against Becker College.

Ryan’s brother, Todd, is the quarterback for the Bison.

What Walter Ripley didn’t tell me was that he was quite a famous quarterback at Gallaudet also.  He was a quarterback that truly epitomized President Abraham Lincoln’s quote, “I will prepare and some day my chance will come.”

It was 1979 and Gallaudet University listed five quarterbacks on their depth chart - #1 Mike Paulone, #2 Jerry Belew, #3 Ken Clark, #4 William Lush and #5 Walter Ripley.  With four fellows in front of you, you would think that your chance would never come.

The first two quarterbacks on the depth chart suffered season-ending injuries in the first game of the 1979 season. Two games later, the third quarterback went down for the season, then quickly afterwards, the fourth.  All season-ending injuries, leaving Gallaudet with the only quarterback left on the depth chart – Walter Ripley.

Ripley finished up the season and established a proficient passing attack with rookie tight end Andy Bonheyo.  I think the passing attack must have been really a great combination – Walter married Andy’s sister.

Ripley and Bonheyo had good careers as Gallaudet football players. As noted, Walter Ripley is currently the Athletic Director at the Alabama School for the Deaf.  Andy Bonheyo is the Athletic Director at the Maryland School for the Deaf.

I’ll be pulling for the Bison this Saturday and you can bet I’ll have this story ready to pull out if anyone needs a good story about being prepared and never knowing when their chance may come.

One other tidbit of trivia, you might not know about.  The circular football huddle you see the NFL players use, college players use and peewee players use to strategize and call plays was invented by Paul D. Hubbard in 1892.  Hubbard was a quarterback for Gallaudet University and was rightfully concerned that the other team was stealing his hand signals.

They circled up to hide the “words” Paul was signing.

They still do – so does every other team from Pop Warner to the NFL.

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