In his first season as coach, Bob Westermann has turned Gallaudet's football team, once rag-tag and forlorn, into a rallying point for the school.
Gallaudet is 5-4. Going into its last game today at Williamson Tech in Media, Pa., it is assured of its best record since 1930, when it finished 6-1.
"Having an exciting campus is more than just having an exciting math and English department," Westermann said. Last year (and for many of the 53 years before that), what happened on the football field was dreadful, as Gallaudet finished 1-4. This year, many students actually are spending Saturday afternoons at the game instead of the library.
Westermann, 34, has brought about the transformation at Gallaudet, a Division III liberal arts college for hearing impaired students, with a three-point plan.
First, he set up a weight room. Next, Westermann, who had a 59-16 record in eight seasons coaching at Model Secondary School, began informing hearing impaired players around the country that he was offering a football program they would be proud to participate in.
Then, at the first team meeting back in August, he promised the players they could shave his head if they finished with a .500 record. "I wanted to give them something that would be an incentive over the long haul," Westermann said. "I knew there would be hard times. I knew we'd get thumped pretty well."
The long haul ended last week, when Gallaudet beat St. Francis, 17-13. James Gardner, the center, brought in the sheers, razors and shaving cream and started cutting away. "He shaved it clean," Westermann said, "just like a cue ball."
In addition to Westermann's initiatives, he says there have been a few other components for success -- his players, his assistant coaches and the outlook of Dr. Jerry Lee, Gallaudet's president.
"Previously, there was very little emphasis put into the athletic programs," Westermann said. "There wasn't enough administrative support. Since Dr. Lee has been president, he's made it clear that he wants athletics to be an integral part of the college experience."
To fulfill that goal, the coaching staff has been expanded from three to eight, although Westermann is the only full-time coach and serves as athletic director as well. The roster also has grown. "We started the season with 80 athletes," Westermann said. "We have 64 guys in uniform now, injuries have taken a toll, but last year they were in the 30s."
The majority of the players in uniform are freshmen, including quarterback Oscar Valencia and Robert Wilkens, the leading rusher, who has gained over 500 yards and is averaging 4.7 yards per carry.
Gallaudet's experience is on the offensive and defensive lines. Sophomore Junius Taylor, a defensive tackle, has seven sacks, and the captains: nose guard Ken Killian and offensive tackle Dave Call, have had good years.
"I think that athletics in general and football in particular provides deaf athletes with an opportunity to prove to themselves they can compete on an equal level with the hearing athlete," Westermann said.