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 $275,000 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.
This 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.
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:
A few highlights of our scholarship program:
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 (email@example.com; 765-412-7215) or Executive Director Jim Vruggink (firstname.lastname@example.org; 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:
With great gratitude,
Kelly Kitchel, President
Jim Vruggink, Executive Director
Jack DeGroot of Winamac High School was named the 2017 Scholar-Athlete of the Year at the NFF Honors Dinner on June 11 at the Purdue Memorial Union.
Celebrating the inductions of two high school coaching legends and two former Purdue greats into the Indiana Football Hall of Fame was the main focus of the National Football Foundation’s Joe Tiller Chapter of Northwest Indiana on June 11.
The ceremonies took place at the chapter’s NFF Honors Dinner “Celebrating Our Legends XIII” before a crowd of 300 football enthusiasts at the Purdue Memorial Union Ballrooms in West Lafayette.
Former prep coaching masters, Vince Burpo and Jim Davis, along with Purdue All-Americans Bernie Flowers and Rod Woodson, are the new inductees into the Indiana Football Hall of Fame, which is located in Richmond, Ind. Another Boilermaker All-American, Otis Armstrong, was scheduled to receive the plaque for his 2015 induction at the same event, but was unable to attend due to health issues.
Prior to the Hall of Fame presentations, the Honors Dinner program recognized outstanding accomplishments of several other attendees, including:
For the 13th straight year, the top scholar-athletes of Northern Indiana, who were nominated by their schools for the NFF’s scholarships, were featured during this marque event.
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).
Those 15 scholar-athletes were all high school seniors who are headed to college next fall. Academically, it is an outstanding group. Eight of them had 4.0 grade point averages or better, eight were ranked among the top five in their senior classes and four were valedictorians at their schools. Their collective grade point average was 3.94.
Six of those young men (Cieslak, DeGroot, Lawrence, Quasebarth, Spesard and Sturgeon) were singled out by judges as finalists for the Scholar-Athlete of the Year Award prior to the winner being announced June 11. DeGroot is now 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.
DeGroot’s credentials are impressive. He graduated tops in his class with a transcript that featured all A’s and A+’s and is headed to Butler University to prepare for medical school. Jack excelled as a three-sport standout and captain in football, basketball and baseball, receiving 12 varsity letters and multiple Academic and Athletic All-Conference honors in all three sports. He also was chosen as Most Valuable Player in all three sports. In addition, he was active in numerous clubs, organizations and community activities, including STEM Club, Fellowship of Christian Athletes, National Honor Society, ISHAA Leadership Conference, St. Peter’s Youth Group, YMCA Dribblers, Indiana Junior Football and Special Olympics.
The Honors Dinner crowd also paid tribute to the high school players chosen from Regions 1 and 4 to compete on the North Squad in the annual North-South All-Star Game this summer in Indianapolis. Seven were present and introduced on stage.
New Purdue Head Football Coach Jeff Brohm and Miss Purdue Mary Tremaine were also part of the event as was vocal star Karli (Edging) Spesard, a recent Purdue graduate, who performed for the fifth straight NFF Honors Dinner.
But, the highlight of the night, in conjunction with the Indiana Football Coaches Association, was the Hall of Fame Inductions of Burpo, Davis, Flowers (represented by his son Kerry) and Woodson.
Burpo coached three different high schools in the region (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, was 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 into the Indiana Football Hall of Fame in 2015, but was unable to travel to Indiana due to surgery that spring. The Tiller Chapter will try to recognize Otis sometime within the next year. Armstrong, a record-setting back 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 presentation that will be delayed to next year is that 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. They were unable to attend the June 11 event because Swanigan had an opportunity to work out for NBA scouts on the West Coast. He anticipates being a first-round draft choice in the upcoming NBA draft.
Other honorees at “Celebrating Our Legends XIII” included Hicks, a 25-year coach and director in the Lafayette Central Catholic Little Gridiron Program as he received the award that was created to recognize outstanding contributions to amateur football and appropriately named in honor of Bernie Flowers. Burke, who is retiring at the end of June after 24 years as Purdue’s Director of Intercollegiate Athletics and Vice President, received the chapter’s Gold Medallion Award. Johnson was recognized with the Legends Award after his 43 years as the “Voice of the Band” at Purdue. Lowder was honored for exhibiting outstanding courage in overcoming his physical difficulties as a child and teenager to become a football player at Delphi High School.
Berghoff, a former walk-on player at Purdue, who is now Chairman of Purdue Board of Trustees, received the “He Played Football” Award during informal ceremonies at the Ryan Kerrigan/12th Boiler Golf Outing in May, due to a commitment in Europe in early June.