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Pirate who loved Bluffton football the most?

By Bill Herr, Bluffton Icon Columnist

In all the years of Bluffton Pirate football, which person loved it the most? Was it a player? Was it a coach? Was it an administrator or teacher? 

My choice is Curtis Habegger, one of my former students. Curtis graduated from Bluffton High School in 1976. One of his classmates, Bob Herr, told me "Curtis was a great guy, had an outstanding personality." After graduation, Curtis worked for Lugibihl Spray. David Lugibihl said that Curtis was very quiet, didn't say much until you got to know him. He had a good personality. He was slow, but a good worker, very particular. Curtis told David he wanted to clean out his barn floor. He insisted on doing it by hand with a pitchfork rather than using an available tractor loader. David said it took him three days, and afterward, the barn was so clean You could have eaten a meal on it."

Curtis played football for the Pirates. The Pirates were the best team in the Northwest Conference for a few years when Don Hamilton was the coach. In 1975 they were undefeated at 10 and 0. In 1976, they lost their first game to Cardinal Stritch, but won the next 9 games. Dave Hoffer was a good running back on the 1976 team. He said, "Curtis was a good classmate. In football he was a defensive end or tackle. He wasn't gifted athletically, but he tried his hardest, tried his best. I think Coach Hamilton knew that and kept him. If we all tried as hard as Curtis, we'd all be better."

 I remember Curtis as being a quiet and humble student. He was in my geometry class. For fun, every Friday I asked the students in all my mathematics classes to write down what they thought would be the exact score in that night's game. On Monday I would tell who came the closest to the actual score. Incredibly, Curtis predicted the exact score in three consecutive games. When word got around, Curtis became kind of a celebrity. Many students began to ask this shy, quiet young man what he thought would be the score in the next game. I never asked him but I think Curtis appreciated the attention. One Friday after the last bell, an assistant coach, Sam Bello, came up to me and asked, "What does Curtis say about tonight's game?"

I didn't find out until after he graduated because it wasn't noticeable, but Curtis got Multiple Sclerosis while he was still in school. I also didn't know that Curtis had strong faith until I recently talked with his minister, Reverend Dave Thompson, who was the preacher at County Line Church of the Brethren. Pastor Thompson said Curtis never missed coming to church on Sunday night. Even in bad weather Curtis would drive an old station wagon to church.

The MS in Curtis' body eventually wore him down. In the last month of his life, Pastor Thompson visited him every day. He said, "Curtis was great. I never saw him down. He was never discouraged." In bed, Curtis had a football. To pass the time as he lay, he tossed the football up and caught it, time and time again. Curtis Habegger died at age 33 on April 22, 1992.

After graduation, Curtis would come to home games at Harmon Field. When his health declined, he would sit on the first row near the ramp. The last time I saw him I went down and sat and visited with him for a while. Before leaving, I said, "I have to ask you, Curtis, what do you predict about tonight's game?" He didn't give an exact score, but he said the Pirates by a certain number of points.

I loved Curtis Habegger. And now you know why I think he loved Pirate football the most.