55 years later, McElravy continues to help Doane Football
In the last 55 years, the Doane football team has won 312 games, finished the season nationally ranked more than a dozen times, and has had nine different head coaches at the helm.
There has been a great deal of change during that time, but there has remained one constant -- the presence, help, and support from Denny McElravy.
In 1965, McElravy, a new Crete resident at the time, was encouraged by his neighbor to work with him on what is commonly known in football as the “chain gang” -- the individuals who move the down and distance markers on the sidelines. These individuals, often volunteers at lower levels, mark where a team begins the series and how far they need to go to get a first down. McElravy had previously volunteered on the chain gang for David City High School, where he grew up, and had later served as the clock operator and scorebook keeper at West Point High School.
McElravy loves football, everything about it. After being diagnosed with polio at seven years old, he still managed to play football in high school, earning a letter all four years. Once his neighbor asked if he would be interested in working with him on the chain gang at Doane College and Crete High School, his response was a no-brainer. “Absolutely.”
In addition to helping out on the chain gang during home games, McElravy eventually became equipment manager, being with the team at every practice and every game. In layman’s terms, his description of the role is “If anything breaks, I fix it.”
His work, largely done behind the scenes, has not gone unnoticed. Despite having back pain for most of his life, only to intensify as he’s gotten older, he continues to show up and help. Every practice, every game.
“I’ve always told them (Doane) as long as my legs and knees hold up, I’ll be there to help,” McElravy said.
At 83 years old, McElravy continues to be there. Before and after practices, he spends time in “Denny’s Den,” getting equipment prepared and fixed. As he’s gotten older, he gets around quickly by riding a golf cart the university has provided the team. His continued dedication to the Doane football program is admirable for many reasons. Perhaps most of all, despite his age and physical condition, McElravy has never made excuses.
After McElravy was diagnosed with polio as a child, the doctor told him he would never be able to walk again. He spent one year receiving treatments in Lincoln General Hospital and his right leg is slightly shorter than his left leg, but that didn’t stop him from being active. At 17 years old, he enlisted in the Navy and served four years. When asked how he was able to, he replied, “My medical condition was none of their business. I wanted to serve my country.”
Known as “Mr. Doane” by many, McElravy jokes, although there is likely some truth behind it, that he is the oldest guy on campus. McElravy likes to joke around with the players as well, showing he still has a youthful spirit, despite being old enough to be a grandfather or great grandfather to the players.
“Everybody loves having Denny around,” said Wyatt Bodfield, a senior defensive lineman from Crete. “Everybody has those days where something isn’t going right and the last thing they want to do is practice, but you can always count on Denny to put a smile on your face whenever he is around.”
“I enjoy football and being around kids, that’s what keeps me young,” McElravy said.
McElravy has only missed a handful of practices and games over the last 55 years. This year, despite concerns with COVID-19, he has continued to be present and help out, wearing a mask and maintaining physical distance from others as much as possible.
Matt Franzen, Doane’s current athletic director, who also got to know Denny as a player (‘90-’93) and coach (‘07-’17), says having someone in Denny’s role for so many years is extremely unique.
“Denny’s impact is beyond measure,” Franzen said. “Having a full-time equipment manager who gets paid a tiny stipend is viewed as a thankless job by many but he puts his pride in his work. We have been really lucky to have Denny not only be willing and able to help out, but enjoying the help.”
Chris Bessler, Head Football Coach at Doane, has also gotten to know Denny as a player (‘90-’93) and coach (‘07-present). Bessler said Denny and his wife Marilyn hosted an annual post game potluck dinner at their house for the players and their families for many years, providing lasting memories that were cherished by all.
“Denny is a positive example for our student-athletes,” Bessler said. “He’s dedicated, reliable, proactive, and loyal. It’s a great opportunity we have that Denny is still with the program.”
In the last 55 years, Denny has been with the Doane football program for just about every single one of the 550 games in that span. He’s been to countless graduation parties and weddings over the years because of the friendships he’s formed with players. While he hasn’t determined if he will be able to continue to help with the Tigers next fall, it’s hard to envision a Doane football practice or game without Denny around.
“How do you replace a guy like him?” Franzen asks. “I don’t know. You can find someone to put stickers on the helmets, fix equipment, and do the laundry, but you won’t find someone who will have a lifetime impact on so many people like Denny has.”
“To me, Denny has been much more than an equipment manager on a football team,” Bodfield said. “For the past four years, Denny has become a great friend and someone who truly cares about each and every person that has come through this program.
“I know for a fact that our program could not be as good as it is without his help. He truly is one of the best things to ever happen to Doane football.”