In a different era of Bulldog Athletics, Bob Schulze left a legacy as a four-sport athlete who followed a familiar post-Concordia track the led into a career in Lutheran education and coaching. As a collegian, Schulze did everything from track and field to cross country to swimming and diving to football. Admittedly inexperienced on the gridiron, he found himself playing football because then Head Coach Ralph Starenko needed someone with Schulze’s speed as a kick and punt returner.
Schulze may not have known exactly what he was getting into, but 58 years after his graduation from Concordia Teachers College, he knows that God led him to the perfect place. Nearly six decades later, Schulze vividly recalls many details from four of the best years of his life.
“I can use the term, ‘back in the day,’ because that’s me,” Schulze said. “I am a ‘back in the day’ athlete. I wouldn’t trade a second of my time here at Concordia.”
Those words were uttered by Schulze as he addressed the crowd gathered at the 2022 Concordia Athletic Hall of Fame induction ceremony on Sept. 16. One of the latest Hall of Fame inductees, Schulze charmed the audience with his sense of humor and his storytelling abilities. Schulze proceeded to thank Starenko and John Suhr (another CUNE Hall of Famer) for the influence they had on him during his college career from 1960-64.
At the time, Schulze was Concordia’s premier sprinter. As the Sheboygan, Wis., native told the crowd, he bypassed Concordia Wisconsin and Concordia River Forest in his college decision making process. In Seward, Schulze blossomed on the track under the tutelage of Coach Suhr, who taught Schulze a mechanism for calming his nerves prior to a race. It was a technique that included verbal noise that he likened to what comes from a horse. In his own future coaching, Schulze taught the same method that had his athletes sounding like it was “the start of the Kentucky Derby.”
It worked. Schulze earned a Tri-State Conference gold medal in the 220-yard dash in 1963. In the 100-yard dash, Schulze set a then school record with a time of 10.0 seconds in a dual versus Dana College before breaking his own record by running 9.8 in a dual with Nebraska Wesleyan. His time of 6.25 seconds in the 60-yard dash put him in second place behind Olympic track athlete Charlie Greene at the Nebraska Track & Field Federation Meet. Schulze also contributed to then school record relays in the 440-yard relay (45.3 seconds), 880-yard relay (1:33.1) and the sprint medley relay.
Said Schulze, “I owe so much to John Suhr. I came out of Cheboygan North High School as their best sprinter, but he really taught me how to be a sprinter. He said what you gotta do is (makes noise like a horse). So I did that. Coach John said that’s how you relax. So every meet I did that. There were a lot of guys on the starting line that looked at me like, ‘What are you doing?’ But it worked. I owe so much to John Suhr.”
New to the sport of football, Schulze played three years on the Bulldog football team and helped the 1962 squad to a Tri-State Conference championship. Schulze’s was an asset at the halfback position. While Schulze had success, he did have his very own ‘welcome to college football’ moment. In the present, Schulze laughs about it now.
“Back in the day, we had a drill called ‘bull in the ring,’” Schulze said. “Ten or 12 would get in the ring and one person would be in the middle with the ball and they had to get out of that ring. Here I am, I hadn’t played any football previous to this. The guy in the middle was a guy by the name of Bill Middlestadt. He was a senior at that time. He was 7-2, 425 pounds (as Schulze intentionally exaggerated), and he ran against, who do you think? That put me at Seward Hospital and that’s how I became a member of the cross country team that same year.”
Among other light moments that occurred during his Hall of Fame speech, Schulze mentioned that he and his wife Mary had been married for 58 years and that he gotten married “when I was two.” The three sons and one daughter of Bob and Mary were present as their father recounted so many of his fond memories of the years gone by. In describing one of his memories on the football field, Schulze leaned into the legend of Concordia’s beloved Oetting brothers.
As Schulze told the crowd, “As a running back, I had a tremendous offensive line. I had a young man that played in front of me by the name of Bobby Oetting. Oh goodness did I love that man. In one particular instance we were playing Yankton and it was fourth and goal at the 11-yard line. Tom Mays, the quarterback, then called a jet left. I got the ball on a pitch and Bobby was my leading blocker. He got called for holding. Guess what, it is now fourth down on the 21-yard line. I think Yankton took 22 guys and put them on the left side. When the ball was snapped and I got the ball, I think Bobby Oetting got rid of all of them. Thank goodness for Bob Oetting.”
Schulze went on to impact the lives of many young men and women through his vocation in the Lutheran education system while moving about the country. He spent five decades as a coach, teacher and/or administrator. He took what he learned from the likes of Starenko and Suhr and implemented it into his own style. In his coaching role at Luther High School South in Chicago, Ill., Schulze even had the pleasure of coaching Mike Conley Sr., a 1992 Olympic gold medalist in the triple jump.
It was his time at Concordia that set Schulze on a path to live out his dreams. As a coach and teacher, he had the opportunity to spread his faith, coaching and teaching knowledge and his unmistakable sense of humor.
Schulze left people with the following message as he closed his Hall of Fame speech:
“I pray as an athlete and as a coach I made a difference in the lives of young people. I sincerely hope I made a difference in the lives of my four children that are a real blessing to my wife and I. In my 48 years of Lutheran high school administration, I spent 37 years as a principal and superintendent in Lutheran high schools all over this country. I pray that I have also left a legacy. Leave a legacy. That is my message to you. Every one of us, no matter what our age, can do that.”