Tuesday, September 29, 2009

John R. Bender, Sutton’s Football Hero from a century ago

What could be the connection between Sutton and the Kansas State Wildcats? Answer: a native of Sutton selected that name for the K-State athletic teams – while coaching the football team in 1915.

John R. Bender was a 1900 graduate of Sutton High and lettered in football at the University of Nebraska in 1900, 1901, 1902, 1903 and 1904. He is one of only two players listed in the NU football media guide as having lettered five years – eligibility standards have changed since that era.

Bender was a star halfback graduating as the leading scorer in Nebraska football history. The 1902 and 1903 teams were dominate teams outscoring their opponents 186 – 0 and 291 – 17. Bender was a captain on the 1903 team.

Bender’s coaching career began at Washington State in 1906 and 1907 where he coached both football and basketball very successfully.

The Wikipedia entry for John R. Bender indicates that he coached at Haskell Indian Nations University and St. Louis University from 1907 to 1911. I haven’t confirmed the Haskell connection and am skeptical of it. Wikipedia also states that he was an American Indian and his nickname was “Chief Bender”, and cautions us not to confuse him with the other “Chief Bender”. Albert “Chief” Bender was an American Indian who played major league baseball about the same time. My guess is that the writer has confused them.

The 1900 census for Sutton Township shows John R. Bender to be the 18-year-old son of Jacob Bender along with three sisters and a brother, Gustaf. Jacob and John’s grandparents are all indicated as having been born in Russia. John Bender’s ethnic heritage is no mystery to most of us in Sutton today. He was not a Native American.

St. Louis University does claim Bender in the history of coaches including the tale that he had a physical resemblance to a popular charm doll of the time called a “Billiken”. The Billiken was an elf-like thing with pointed ears, named after William Howard Taft copying the Teddy Bear that was named after Theodore Roosevelt. The Billiken didn’t catch on as well as the Teddy Bear, or as the Kewpie doll that followed.
The St. Louis fans began to call John Bender’s football team, “Bender’s Billikens” and the name is still used by St. Louis University today.

Bender became head football coach at Kansas State in1915 where he is credited with initiating two long-standing traditions, Homecoming and the Wildcats nickname. His team had a 3-4-1 record and before the 1916 season he moved to the University of Tennessee as the Tennessee coach took his K-State job. Tennessee had an 8-0-1 record but World War I interrupted athletics during 1917 and 1918. Bender also coached basketball at Tennessee.

John Bender, son of Jacob Bender in this story is not the John Bender, son of Jacob Bender and born in 1915. The first Jacob Bender was born in 1854 in Russia. The second Jacob Bender was born about 1885 in Germany and immigrated in 1907 with his wife Catherine (or Kathryene – the 1920 and 1930 census vary)

A third Jacob Bender was born about 1895 in Russia and came to Sutton in 1912 to join his brother Henry J.


Bunny said...

Ok quick question so I can put this into my file (and my apologize for zombie-ing this post). So this would be N. Gustav (Gustaf)'s brother or Uncle? Essentially how would this be in relation to Paul Jacob Bender (Lunda Miller's (nee Bender) Dad).

Also, where else besides Wikipedia can I read about this? I don't know if you guys are open over Dugout Days Weekend but I'd love to come see the research you have about this!!

Thank you,
Kirsten Graves (nee Miller)

Sutton Historical Society said...

Johnny Bender was N. G. Bender's brother.