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Chapter History

Twelve years ago, Joe Tiller, Purdue's head football coach at the time, presented a challenge of forming one of the largest chapters in the National Football Foundation here in Northwest Indiana. Since receiving its charter in Tippecanoe County, the Northwest Indiana Chapter (which was renamed in 2007 the Joe Tiller Chapter of Northwest Indiana) has enlisted more than 700 members, becoming the largest chapter in the state and the second largest in the nation at one point.

As a group of football-loving enthusiasts with the purpose of advancing amateur football at the local, state and national levels, the Joe Tiller Chapter of the NFF provides grassroots support in a many ways.

As a non-profit organization, this chapter has awarded more than $270,000 in grants, scholarships, honorariums and donations since receiving its charter in 2004. Awards nominations must be submitted to chapter director Jim Vruggink each year by the end of March.

‚ÄčThis chapter offers scholarship opportunities for scholar athletes at 70 high schools in 17 Northwest Indiana counties (Benton, Carroll, Cass, Clinton, Fountain, Fulton, Howard, Jasper, Lake, LaPorte, Miami, Newton, Porter, Pulaski, Tippecanoe, Warren and White). Selection of the Scholar Athlete of the Year is based 40% on academic achievement, 40% football performance and attitude, and 20% leadership and citizenship. In addition to seeking donations and sponsorships to support the scholarship program, the chapter also receives money ($500 for every 50 dues-paying members in the local chapter) from the national office in Irving, Tex. In its first 12 years, this chapter has recognized 224 scholar athletes, awarding scholarships ranging in size between $200 and $5,000 individually.

In addition to the scholarships, the local chapter has been involved with youth programs such as the Dream Season (providing experiences for kids and young adults with disabilities) and the Lafayette 56ers, Attica Youth Football, Little Gridiron, and West Side Flag Football, helping to provide opportunities for elementary school-aged players in the area. The chapter also helps to support the Indiana Football Hall of Fame.

The NFF chapter is one of 120 nation-wide. Other Indiana chapters are in South Bend, Fort Wayne, Evansville and Indianapolis. Nationally, the NFF has more than 12,000 members and awards more than $1.3 million in scholarships each year.

June 11 NFF Honors Dinner Features Indiana Hall of Fame Inductions

Celebrating the inductions of three former Boilermakers into the Indiana Football Hall of Fame will be the main focus of the National Football Foundation’s Joe Tiller Chapter of Northwest Indiana at its 13th annual Honors Dinner. It will happen on Sunday afternoon, June 11, at the Purdue Memorial Union Ballrooms in West Lafayette.


The new Indiana Football Hall of Fame members are: high school coaching legends Vince Burpo and Jim Davis and former Purdue players Bernie Flowers and Rod Woodson while Otis Armstrong will be given his induction plaque of 2015.

The chapter awards slated for presentation this year are:

Gold Medallion Award – Morgan Burke

Drew Brees Mental Toughness Award –  Roosevelt Barnes & Caleb Swanigan 

Bernie Flowers Award for Outstanding Contribution to Football – Darren Hicks

“He Played Football”Award – Mike Berghoff

Legends Award – Roy Johnson

Patrick Mackey Courage Award – Riley Lowder

Scholar-Athlete of the Year Award – To be determined and announced as a surprise on June 11

For the 13th straight year, the top scholar-athletes of Northern Indiana, who were nominated by their schools for the NFF’s scholarships, will be featured during this marque event. 

Those 15 scholar-athletes are all high school seniors who are headed to college next fall. Academically, it is an outstanding group. Eight of them have 4.0 grade point averages or better, eight are ranked among the top five in their senior classes and four are on course to be valedictorians at their schools. Their collective grade point average is 3.94.

Six of those young men have been singled out by judges as finalists for the Scholar-Athlete of the Year Award and the winner will be announced June 11 making him a candidate for the Indiana Scholar-Athlete of the Year Award. The “competition” is based 40 percent on academics, 40 percent on athletics and 20 percent on citizenship, leadership and character.


The scholar-athletes’ names and high schools are: Joshua Benson (Lake Central), Jonathan Cieslak (Munster), Jacob Clouser (Delphi Community), Patrick Davis (North Newton), Jack DeGroot (Winamac), Trenton Howard (Caston), Austin Lawrence (Winchester Community), Matt Marley (West Lafayette), Jacob Page (Lafayette Central Catholic), Ross Pearson (Rochester), Jake Quasebarth (North White), John Ragan (Eastbrook), Dylan Spesard (Carroll), Adam Sturgeon (Harrison) and Kellen Woods (Tipton).

In addition, the Honors Dinner crowd will pay tribute to the high school players and managers chosen from Regions 1 and 4 to compete on the North Squad in the annual North-South All-Star Game this summer in Indianapolis.  

New Purdue Head Football Coach Jeff Brohm will be part of the program and Miss Purdue Mary Tremaine, who will compete later that week for the title of Miss Indiana, will be on hand to welcome our guests.

Also, Karli (Edging) Spesard, a recent Purdue graduate and vocal star from nearby Delphi, will perform for the fifth straight NFF Honors Dinner. 

All previous award winners are being invited back to take part in the 13th Annual Honors Dinner. A VIP Reception will follow the program in a separate location.


The highlight of the event, in conjunction with the Indiana Football Coaches Association, will be the Hall of Fame Inductions.

Burpo coached three different high schools in our area (Frontier, Frankfort and Delphi) between 1985 and 2008, posting a combined record of 112-83 in 18 seasons as head coach. He was also an assistant coach for seven years. Burpo graduated in 1977 from Martinsville High School and 1982 from Franklin College before earning a master’s degree from Indiana University in 1989. During his career, his teams won six conference championships, five sectional titles and two regionals. Vince coached six Indiana All-Stars and served on the coaching staff of the Indiana North-South Shrine Bowl in 1989. He held several positions in the IFCA, including four years as regional director. He has retired from coaching but still teaches at Delphi.  

Davis compiled a 38-year coaching record of 212-198, mostly at North White High School since 1979 after getting his start at Northern Wells in 1976. Highlights of his career were winning the state championship in 1994 and finishing runner-up in 1998. Davis graduated from Payne High School in 1971 and played at Manchester College where he graduated in 1975, before earning a master’s degree at St. Francis College prior to his move to North White. Jim was named Midwest Conference Coach of the Year six times and has been active in the IFCA as a class coordinator for many years. He is retired from coaching and teaching but remains a loyal Viking supporter.

Flowers, a 1953 Purdue grad, will be inducted posthumously, with his son Kerry Flowers receiving the award. Bernie is one of the all-time great Boilermaker receivers, having caught 82 passes for 1,015 yards and eight touchdowns in an era when passing the ball was not nearly as common as it is today. Bernie was a Consensus All-American in 1952 and was drafted by the Baltimore Colts. He returned to the Lafayette area in the early 1960’s and had a very successful career in insurance while raising five children with his wife Adella. Bernie was inducted into the Purdue Athletics Hall of Fame in 2003. He was a long-time member of the John Purdue Club and an integral part of the formation and development of the NFF’s Joe Tiller Chapter.

Following a stellar high school career at Fort Wayne Snider where he was a two-time USA Today Prep All-American, two-time Indiana All-State choice and the 1982 Indiana Mr. Football, Woodson became a four-year starter, three-year first-team All-Big Ten star and Consensus All-American at Purdue, playing 1983-86. He went on to become one of the greatest defensive backs in NFL history, playing 17 years with Pittsburgh, San Francisco, Baltimore and Oakland. He played in the Super Bowl with three different teams, was named to 11 Pro Bowls and was picked for the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2009, followed by the College Football Hall of Fame in 2016. Like Flowers, he went into Purdue’s Hall of Fame in 2003. He is now an assistant coach for the Oakland Raiders.

Armstrong was actually selected and inducted in 2015, but was unable to travel to Indiana due to surgery, while Leroy Keyes accepted his plaque, and then had a family emergency that caused him to miss last year’s dinner. Otis, a record-setting back and Consensus All-American for Purdue in the early 1970’s, now lives in Centennial, Colo., near Denver where he played professionally for the Broncos. He was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame in 2012. 

Another highlight of the program will be the presentation of the Drew Brees Award for Mental Toughness to Barnes, a former Boilermaker football and basketball player, who adopted Swanigan and helped him overcome a difficult personal situation six years ago to become Big Ten Player of the Year in basketball this past season, leading Purdue to an outright conference championship.

Other honorees at “Celebrating Our Legends XIII” will include Hicks, a 25-year coach and director in the Lafayette Central Catholic Little Gridiron Program as he receives the award that was created to recognize outstanding contributions to amateur football and appropriately named in honor of Bernie Flowers.

Burke is retiring in June after 24 years as Purdue’s Director of Intercollegiate Athletics and Vice President, receiving the chapter’s Gold Medallion Award. Berghoff, a former walk-on player at Purdue, is now Chairman of Purdue Board of Trustees and is receiving the “He Played Football” Award. Johnson will be recognized with the Legends Award after his 43 years as the “Voice of the Band” at Purdue. Lowder will be honored for exhibiting outstanding courage in overcoming his physical difficulties as a child and teenager to become a football player at Delphi High School.


Table prices are the same as last year for a table of eight ($400 for general public, $320 for NFF chapter members and honorees’ families, and $280 for students). Single tickets are $60 for public, $50 for members and $40 for students. VIP Reception tickets are $50 each for general public and $25 for NFF members.

Since receiving its charter in the fall of 2004, as a non-profit organization, this chapter has awarded more than $200,000 in grants, scholarships and honorariums to students plus another $65,000 to other charities in the region. 

In addition to seeking donations and sponsorships to support the scholarship program, the chapter also receives money ($500 for every 50 dues-paying members in the local chapter) from the national office in Irving, Tex. In its first 12 years, this chapter has recognized 228 scholar athletes and awarded them between $200 and $5,000 each.

The NFF’s tax-deductible membership dues are $40 per year or $99 for three years, payable to the National Football Foundation. The NFF has 120 chapters and more than 12,000 members, nationally, and awards more than $1.3 million in scholarships each year.   

For more information, contact Vruggink at 3672 Farnsworth Drive, West Lafayette, IN 47906; (email:; phone: 765-427-3303).   

Four events are planned for 2017 that you and your business can help support. 

NFF Chapter Launches Scholar-Athlete Endowment


    Greetings! Members, Sponsors and Friends

    of the Joe Tiller Chapter of Northwest Indiana:

Success stories fill our chapter’s history. Among them: the scholar-athletes supported by our chapter who have become doctors, dentists, CIA agents, engineers, businessmen, coaches, graduate students and outstanding members of their communities.

They have made their families, their schools and our chapter members and supporters proud.

Our Scholar-Athletes of the Year are chosen using this criteria:

  • Academic achievement:                    40%
  • Football performance and attitude:     40%
  • Leadership and citizenship:               20%

A few highlights of our scholarship program:

  • We offer scholarship opportunities at some 70 Indiana high schools.
  • These schools are in 17 Northwest Indiana counties, from Tippecanoe to Lake.
  • In the 12 years since our chapter’s founding, we have honored 228 scholar-athletes at our annual NFF Honors Dinners
  • Scholarship awards have surpassed $200,000 total.

That’s what we call a touchdown! The money has come from chapter revenues, member contributions and sponsorships. Now, we’d like that score to reach even higher, and we’d like to ensure the permanence of our scholarship program.

To do that, our chapter is kicking off a campaign to raise funds for a scholarship endowment. We need your help. Money raised will be placed in the endowment and held forever, making your gift a lasting one, indeed. The money will be wisely invested by our national organization, and proceeds earned will help fund chapter scholarships. This way, we create an ongoing source for scholarship assistance.

Please consider making a lasting investment in our student-athletes. You believe in them, and helping them achieve their potential is a big win—for them, for our communities, for you as a donor and for our chapter.

Questions? Email or call  President Kelly Kitchel (; 765-412-7215) or  Executive Director Jim Vruggink (; 765/427-3303).

Please send your most generous contribution today. Make your check payable to the National Football Foundation, noting in the memo line: NFF Tiller/NW Indiana Chapter Endowment. Mail it to:

  Jim Vruggink

  NFF Joe Tiller/NW Indiana Chapter

  3672 Farnsworth Drive

  West Lafayette, IN 47906

With great gratitude,

Kelly Kitchel, President

Jim Vruggink, Executive Director