by Ron Pesch
After 60 plus years of additional living, memories can become hazy. For some of the participants, the events of Fremont’s undefeated football season in the fall of 1957 have been reduced to brief highlights and snippets of individual moments of success and/or failure. However, names of teammates and opponents remain fresh. Their skills on the playing field, as well as their future accomplishments, still stick.
“I can remember only bits and pieces,” said Carl DeKuiper.“We had a good team, won a couple close games, won quite a few games the previous year. “We (also) had good basketball teams when I was there. We were in the quarterfinals when I played…”
“Not many of the guys are still around,” continued DeKuiper. “My senior teammates, most of them died younger than they should have. A few juniors are around. I’m 81, so what does that mean?”
“Jim Bultman, he (became) president of Hope College, he’s around.”
Bultman was a junior on the 1957 team and served as third string quarterback, behind DeKuiper and Steve Dawe.
“I didn’t play all that much,” recalled Bultman with a bit of a laugh. “I kicked extra points and I didn’t do it very well.”
Things did ultimately work out for Bultman. He was the team’s starting quarterback a year later. Bultman says DeKuiper was the real deal.
“I think Carl DeKuiper was the best athlete to ever go through Fremont,” he said. “If not the best, Carl was certainly one of the very best. He was a great quarterback…a superb athlete in every way. He went on to Calvin and played primarily basketball and started as a freshman.”
At Calvin as a junior, DeKuiper was a key component of the 1961 team, the only undefeated men’s basketball team in school history. That Knights squad finished 20-0 overall, 12-0 in the Michigan Intercollegiate Athletic Association and were ranked 10th nationally in the Associated Press Small College Poll. Only a ban by the MIAA on post-season play prevented them from accomplishing more.
Established in 1876, Calvin has never sponsored a football team.
“If he had come to Hope,” said Bultman, “he would have been a star quarterback. He was that good.”
“We had some good athletes at Fremont, some juniors and some seniors, plus a good coach, Duane VanDuzen,” said DeKuiper.
“Jim Czanko was his assistant,” added Bultman, recalling the name and spelling with ease. “He turned out to be my brother-in-law. He married my sister. (She) had graduated and was a little bit older. He came from Eastern Michigan (University – previously known as Michigan Normal College).”
Incredibly, at 93 years of age, VanDuzen is still going strong. He spoke highly of his former assistant.
“Before our season started, I found out he had been hired,” remembered VanDuzen. “I was going down to Detroit (to visit family), so I called him while I was down there (to introduce myself.) He said, ‘Duane, I’ve got two tickets to the Tigers baseball game tonight, and one of them has got your name on it’…So we went to the ballgame at Tiger Stadium and that was our introduction to each other. It went well.
“Jim was a great assistant…He contributed a lot to our ball team. He, of course, was itching to be a head coach too. I only had him for a year.”
(Czanko left Fremont to coach basketball at Carson City, then at recently-opened Orchard View before coaching at Calvin College. He later served as athletic director at East Kentwood.)
A member of the Ken-New-Wa League, Fremont won the conference title in 1954 under new head coach John Forsten, previously an assistant. However Forsten left after one season in charge, for a job outside public education. Fremont hired VanDuzen, who assisted Terry Carey at Benton Harbor St.
Johns, then at Niles, to guide the Packers in May of 1955. Fremont could muster only a 2-3 mark in the loop, and 3-4-1 record overall, that fall.
“In my first year, I didn’t have too many ballplayers,” VanDuzen explained, “so I (went) to the JV football team and I brought five kids up. I brought them up as sophomores, so they would play three years (of varsity ball).
Bob Vandenberg was one of them. He began as a pulling guard and was moved to tackle in his senior year.
“Duane, quite frankly, changed my life. I was just a bashful farm boy. I met him on the street one day and I told him, ‘There are only three men in my life that made a difference and you were one of them.’ But he was. He was the maker of men.”
The move by the coach paid dividends. In 1956, the Packers won their second conference title in three years with a flawless 5-0 league mark, but the overall season was tarnished by early losses to Whitehall and North Muskegon, both members of the West Michigan Conference (WMC).
It paid off in full the following year.
Fremont opened the 1957 season with three straight victories over WMC teams. The Packer defense was lights-out in the first two games, notching shutout road wins over Hart (13-0), and Whitehall (34-0). Influenza was beginning to sweep the state and a siege had reduced the Hudsonville varsity squad to only five players. The game was rescheduled for the end of the season. Fremont allowed only a single touchdown in their next contest, a 20-7 Homecoming win over North Muskegon.
The battle for the conference crown commenced the following week with an easy victory over Sparta, 32-6.
“We had a very close game with Comstock Park, where, as I recall, we scored at the end of the game.” said Bultman.
Fremont had quickly disposed of the Panthers a year previous, 35-6, but the 1957 contest was much more challenging.
Trailing 7-6 at the half, and 13-6 after a bad snap from center set-up a second Comstock Park touchdown, the Packers scored on a fourth down pass from DeKuiper to Phil Olson to pull within one in the third. However, the extra point went wide right, and Fremont still trailed, 13-12.
“I was the one that missed the extra points kicking,” noted Bultman. “That was a very bitter pill for me.”
With less than four minutes to play in the game, Art Rottman picked off a Panther pass. Operating from their own 38 yard line, DeKuiper went to work. The Fremont QB connected on three passes, one to Marlyn Shell to advance to midfield, another to Rottman, who carried the ball to the 27. The third was to Olson on his knees at the five. After two rushing attempts by DeKuiper and a sweep right by Rottman, junior Mark Anway capped the drive on fourth down with a 1-yard run with less than one minute left in the game. The Packers escaped with an 18-13 victory.
Fremont was in for another road battle the following week against Zeeland.
The contest was marred with turnovers – three interceptions and three fumbles by Fremont, and two interceptions, a fumble by Zeeland, as well as a blocked Chix punt. The teams were knotted at 13-13 at the intermission.
The coach’s halftime rant is a vivid memory for VandenBerg. Players went both ways back then. Zeeland had a huge lineman that was dominating Dan Weirich, Fremont’s other tackle. About mid-way through the first quarter, Weirich asked VandenBerg to change assignments.
“He said, ‘Trade with me, I can’t handle this guy.’ So I did.”
Zeeland’s tackle continued to dominate throughout the rest of the half.
According to VandenBerg, at the intermission, VanDuzen lit into Weirich about how he couldn’t handle this Zeeland guy.
“Duane was into kicking the garbage can or the wastebasket across the room, when he came in.” He continued to rant, demanding that Weirich do a better job.
“Coach was kicking the wrong guy’s ass,” laughed VandenBerg.
Fremont’s defensive line, guided by Czanko, dominated second-half play, preventing the Chix from moving past their 40 yard line. Still the game remained deadlocked well into the fourth quarter.
With less than two minutes remaining, the Packers again turned to their quarterback. DeKuiper, who had earlier tossed a 49-yard pass to Rottman to tie the game.
For the second straight week, the Packers escaped with a victory when their QB notched his second touchdown pass of the day, this time connecting with end Ed Longcore from eight-yards out. While the kick for the extra point was wide, it wasn’t necessary as the Fremont defense stayed strong. An interception by Dawe at midfield allowed Fremont fans to count down the remaining seconds to a 19-13 victory.
The season-ending game in 1956 with Coopersville, a 7-0 upset victory over the unbeaten but once tied Broncos, was played before 3,000 at Coopersville under near ideal conditions. The 1957 game with the Broncos was much different.
“We played Coopersville in a snowstorm,” remembered VanDuzen.
The game featured 35-mph blistering wind and steady snow, and only “the most rabid fans” showed up at Pine Street Field in Fremont. This time the Packers walloped Coopersville, 27-0, ensuring them at least a share of another conference title. An 85-yard kick return for a touchdown by Rottman to open the second half was the highlight of the game. The reserves played much of the third and all of the fourth quarter.
Their season-ending, rescheduled contest with Hudsonville was played on a Thursday in mid-November at home. “Driving rain and wind made game conditions difficult,” stated the Chronicle. According to VanDuzen, the field was a mess. A 33-0 win for the Packers, the contest was called at the end of the third quarter.
“I had just informed the whole bench that they would play the whole 4th quarter, recalled the old coach. “They were all disappointed.”
It was the final Ken-New-Wa contest for Hudsonville, as they departed the league at the end of the school year. (The league itself would dissolve following the 1959-60 school year.)
Post-season honors flowed freely into Fremont. The Packers finished the year ranked No. 5 in the final United Press International week poll and 7th in the Associated Press rankings, tied with Lake Orion. Shell was named to the Detroit Free Press Class B All State team at right end, the school’s first All-State football player since Walter Derby was named a second-team pick by the Free Press in 1939 and Cedric Sweet was a third team selection in the Detroit News in 1931.
The 5-foot-11, 156 pound DeKuiper, “Fremont’s cool quarterback” who “pitched passes for eight touchdowns and legged it for four others” was named to the 11-man Ken-New-Wa All-Conference 1st team, along with Shell, VandenBerg, and “flashy halfback” Rottman. Both Rottman and VandenBerg were repeat selections from 1956. “Breakaway specialist,” Anway was picked for the 2nd team. He led the Packers in scoring with eight touchdowns on the year.
Fremont ended the 1958 season at 6-2. Anway and Bultman both earned All-League 1st Team honors. It was VanDuzen’s final season as a coach. He left coaching to accept a job in private industry, but after five years, returned to Fremont schools as business manager – in effect assistant superintendent. He stayed for 24 years.
VanDuzen, DeKuiper, and VandenBerg are all still in Fremont.
Bultman played four years of football and four years of baseball at Hope College, then joined the faculty in 1968. He then took charge of the Dutchmen as head baseball coach and joined the football coaching staff as a varsity assistant in the ’70s and 80s. He later became college president at Northwestern College in Orange City, Iowa in 1985, and then returned to Hope College as the school’s 11th president, serving from 1999 to 2013. He remains in Holland.
Anway headed for the Air Force Academy after high school. Today, he lives in Texas. Weirich is in North Carolina.
They remain the most recent, and quite possibly, the only unbeaten and untied Fremont gridiron squad in school history.
“I’m not sure. There might have been one back in the 30s,” said VandenBerg.