Early Days of Pioneer Football Lay Groundwork for Today's Team
It was 1975 when Gordon DeGraffenreid became a physical education professor at MidAmerica Nazarene College. Soon after his arrival he learned the institution was researching ways to increase enrollment.
“It was a challenge,” he recalls. “The female students were outnumbering the male students, almost 3-to-1. So we were looking for a program that would bring in male students and increase visibility of the college in the community and throughout our educational zone.”
DeGraffenreid surveyed several similar colleges and learned that a solid football program increased visibility of a small college in its community and helped bolster enrollment. So in the spring of 1978 college administrators decided to begin a football program the next fall with DeGraffenreid at the helm. The new coach had quite a task in front of him. He had no players, no football equipment and no funding for the program. So began an uphill climb to recruit, administer and raise funds in a matter of months.
To recruit, DeGraffenreid visited Nazarene churches, met with community leaders and contacted high school guidance counselors. All the while, he worked to raise money for the newly formed team, while raising two young sons with his wife, JoAnn.
That fall MNU’s first football team played four games. The DeGraffenreids stayed up late after games to get everything done.
“For the first two years, the school did not have any way to wash the equipment. A lot of times we would be washing uniforms clear up to midnight. I think we went through two sets of washing machines and dryers during that time,” DeGraffenreid says, laughing as he remembers those late nights.
In 1982 the fledgling Pioneers beat William Jewell University, which kindled the rivalry that existed until Jewell changed athletic associations. The successful win against Jewell garnered MNU the exposure the college sought, resulting in features in the Kansas City Star and even Sports Illustrated.
In addition to starting the football program, DeGraffenreid also founded and coached the first women’s basketball team, coached one year of cross country, 11 years of track and 13 years of football. During the course of 15 years at MNU, DeGraffenreid says many professors and students profoundly touched his family’s life.
Now the DeGraffenreids have made sure they can continue to aid students and programs for years to come by naming MNU as their primary beneficiary of their Revocable Living Trust. Their gift, which places them in MNU’s Cornerstone Society, is designated to the general scholarship fund for future students.
“Although I’m partial to the football program, we couldn’t have done the program without the student body behind it,” DeGraffenreid explains. “We want to in some way show our respect and appreciation to the students by making our gift go to the general scholarship fund.”
Of his former athletes DeGraffenreid says, “I’ve always tried to be a Christian example as a coach to the football players and to all the students. Hopefully when they see that I’m interested in giving back to the school, they will get involved because they see their old coach getting involved.”
The couple’s two sons and daughter-in-law graduated from MNU. Their oldest son Jeff (’90, MED ’99) is Olathe’s Fire Chief and Director of Emergency Services and has three children. Son Jed (’99) works for the Johnson County Library System.
For additional information on how you can include MNU in your estate plans, please contact Roger Alexander at