Throwback Thursday: Tri-Town Tornadoes co-founder reflects on 50-year legacy
One person can truly make a difference.
Dale Brenner can attest to that.
The 86-year old's journey began on a farm he shared with his family's two-headed calf. He graduated from Dover when it was still a one-room schoolhouse in 1947.
But, it was his effort in the 1960s that he will forever be remembered for in the Dover area. Brenner helped found the youth football program that grew into the Tri-Town Tornadoes, which is still going strong after more than 50 years.
It all started on Halloween of 1962 when Brenner went door-to-door selling Dover Area Athletic Booster Club cards. Brenner was raising money to bring football to Dover Area High School.
"I played sports in high school and played a little amateur baseball," Brenner said. "My kids played sports. I've been involved in sports all my life, really."
Even after Brenner pounded the pavement raising funds, the Dover school board rejected football.
"At that time, soccer was real big in the school and Harry Little, who was an All-American at Penn State, was the soccer coach at the time, and he and the school board had a lot of influence. They didn't want anything to do with football. They said it would cost too much money."
Soon after that school board meeting, Brenner was approached by Raymond Bentzel, the Dover VFW commander at the time.
"He said the VFW would match our money if we would start a midget football team," Brenner said.
Soon enough, Brenner, Bentzel and Walter Helfrich — who said he would handle the business side of football — went to the John Grove Sporting Goods store to purchase uniforms. They got the VFW's colors: blue and gold.
"We got them for $125," Brenner said.
Ralph Riganati was the first coach for the Dover VFW team, and he led 14 boys during the team's inaugural season in 1963.
"Those kids had a rough time," Brenner said. "They had to play both ways because we didn't have enough kids."
Next on the to-do list was coming up with a playing field.
"The Dover school board finally said we could put it in the back of the Weigelstown school," Brenner said.
So Brenner, who was a pipefitter at Caterpillar Tractor Company, asked his co-worker Al Bitzer for help laying out the field.
"The one end zone was on a slope against the border. There were trees in a corner of an end zone. The 50-yard line was about six feet from the school," Brenner said.
Brenner even made the goal posts and two- and four-man sleds from pipes and wood that Caterpillar donated.
Years after the school board let the team use the front of the Weigelstown school, a builder, Bob Yost, bought a farm along the Little Conewago Creek, but he wasn't allowed to build along the creek because of flooding concerns.
So he donated four acres of ground to the Tri-Town Tornadoes football program. The name Tri-Town came because the players and cheerleaders came from the Shiloh, Weigelstown and Dover areas.
"I guess the Tornadoes just fit in because it had a T, like Tri-Town," Brenner said.
Brenner even found the time to print up programs and line the field.
"I put a lot of hours in," Brenner said. "
After not seeing Tri-Town for many years, Brenner recently made his way from his East Berlin home to see what's changed.
"They actually have a concession stand and even lights. I didn't know they had lights," Brenner said.
It's been more than 50 years and Tri-Town is still active. Today, the Tornadoes include four football and cheerleading divisions (smurf, rink, pony and midget).
"I'm amazed at all the people who have stuck with it and kept it going all these years," Brenner said.
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