Always a coach, and always in shorts. Scott Erbes playing football with Grant and Ali in the fall. ~ Contributed Photo
Sometimes when a community loses one of its members a hole is left that is so gaping there is a need to try to fill it. This happened in Rockford, February 14, 2008, when the community lost Scott Alan Erbes to a tragic car accident. He was just 38, with a young family. “Erbie” as he was known to those who loved him, was an integral part of the baseball and football programs. The grief was swift and deep within the Rockford community. There are reminders to this day that pay tribute to the man – and coach – he was.
Scott was a talented athlete. Word has it he was the “Big Man on Campus” at Reed City High School in the late ‘80s - a stud linebacker and punter for the Coyotes. He also played on the baseball team, spreading his time between playing third, pitching and catching. He left high school to play at Concordia College, in Illinois, where he played both sports as a freshman and then continued to play baseball as a pitcher and third baseman his second year. He then transferred to Grand Valley State University.
In August of 1991, Erbie met his soon-to-be wife Lisa. The couple hit it off immediately. Of course, they met at a sporting event. Scott played softball with Lisa’s cousin and they met after one of the games. He asked her out to a Reed City football game. She couldn’t help but be impressed.
“His friends all spoke so highly of him,” Lisa shares.
But it was more than just the chatter that intrigued her. She liked the man he was. She was drawn to his confidence and his honesty. And she enjoyed the laughter they shared, and there was plenty of it. They got along so well they were engaged within the year and married in Reed City almost exactly two years later. The couple settled in Grand Rapids to begin with, and early in January of 1995 the young couple welcomed their first child, Alison.
Erbie already had the coaching bug – volunteering for the Rocket Football Program in Walker.
“It was before Grant was born,” Lisa recalls. “Our neighbor was a coach and asked if he was interested in helping out. We made such great friends and memories there too, including a baby shower. They were all sure Grant was a boy, even though we didn’t know. They were right.”
The couple and their two children moved to Cedar Springs in 1998. It was just a year after the couple moved that Erbie ran into an old friend, Steve Dengler, who was the head coach of the Rockford junior varsity baseball team and an assistant with the Rockford varsity football program. The two had attended Concordia together, and Dengler remembered their times of living on the same floor of the dorm and playing on the baseball team together fondly. The two had a good friendship, despite losing track of each other through the years.
“I caught up very quickly and before you know it, I asked if he was available to be an assistant coach for the JV baseball team in Rockford,” Dengler shares. “He said yes and was an assistant baseball coach starting in 1999. I was also coaching varsity football and he had an interest in coaching that as well. Scott was an excellent football player in high school and played football at Concordia his freshman year, so he had a great background. Rockford varsity football head coach Ralph Munger met with him and Erbie began coaching with the varsity team in 2000.
Munger made Erbie Scout Team Coordinator, and according to Munger, Erbie reveled in his role.
“He impacted our program primarily through his caring so deeply about the players. The way he came up with fresh ways to make the plans to prepare for our next opponent made it fun for the young men. He was fun, but he also made them toe the mark as well, he had a good way with kids. The players really enjoyed his personality and he related to our guys. He was fun to have around, and with his knowledge he was a very valued individual to our staff.”
Dengler remembers Erbie as a coach the same way.
“Scott was a positive presence all the years that he coached. He was a ‘players’ coach. He loved the kids and the kids loved him. He was a calming presence at times and if he needed to heat it up, he could get the boys going as well. Scott also brought great knowledge of both baseball and football and passed it on the players he coached and to the coaches he worked with.”
Former Ram Cory Wohlford, who was a running back during Erbie’s tenure, remembers his coach with great fondness.
“He was an amazing man,” recalls Wohlford. “His smile was infectious, and he cared so much about all of his players. He always had a positive spin for everything. I also remember the man never wore pants, it was always shorts. It didn’t matter if it was raining or snowing or how cold it was, he always had those khaki shorts on.”
Lisa remembers those very personality traits about Scott.
“He cared. It’s that simple. He loved coaching them like his own. Don’t even get me started when he came home with bleached hair after spring break with the baseball team! He respected the players and they respected him. I worked at the post office and each year when I would notice a new football or baseball yard sign I would ask him about the player. He would tell me about each one with enthusiasm. His dad Vernon was also a beloved coach in Reed City, he was very much like his dad in many ways.”
Not only did Scott have an impact as a coach on other people’s children, he also coached his own. He coached Ali in softball and Grant in baseball, and both his children in basketball. It was a labor of love for him. Ali went on to play softball for RHS, graduating in 2013, Grant played football and baseball, graduating from RHS in 2016, and then followed in his father’s footsteps playing baseball at the next level, becoming a pitcher and first baseman – only he played as a Raider at Grand Rapids Community College. Bailey, who is currently in sixth grade, follows her father’s love of sports competing in softball, basketball, and volleyball.
Dengler loves the mixture of coach, person and family man his good friend represented.
“He loved his family and they always came first. He was also a tremendous human being. He would do anything for you. He had a great smile and had a way of lifting people up when they needed it. Scott was also a hard worker and strived to be the best he could be.”
With coaching working out so well in Rockford, the Erbes family sold their home in Cedar Springs and moved to Rockford, joining the community fully in 2006. They were completely enveloped in the Rockford way of life.
After Erbie passed, both the football and baseball teams attended his funeral as one, all the players wearing khaki shorts to pay tribute to the man they loved. It was a visual reminder to all who attended of what Erbie meant to both programs.
The Erbes family found support throughout the Rockford community, then and now.
“We are very fortunate to live in Rockford,” shares Lisa. “We have made many friends, some who remember Scott and some that unfortunately didn’t get to meet him that I know would help us out in any way they can if we needed it. I know I can always count on our wonderful church family at Blythefied Hills Baptist Church. Rockford is a wonderful place to live and raise our children. I still have all the thoughtful cards and the video of his funeral, although I still have a hard time watching it.”
That honor continues to this day with the baseball team that continues to put a banner up each year with his initials on the outfield fence in his memory. The football team has goal boards in the locker room that have Scott’s likeness on them so every time players look at those boards they see Coach Erbes.
Munger tells of a ritual that has occurred every Tuesday night during football season at his house since Erbie’s passing. He still can visualize Erbie sitting next to him at the table each Tuesday night, the tears are quick to come to his eyes. He tells how the offensive line and quarterbacks have a meeting that night, along with a delicious dinner and dessert made by Kathy Munger. Ralph talks of Erbie to the players, keeping his memory alive through the years, reminding the players of what he meant to the football program.
“I always tell them who he was and the impact he had on our program and players. I will forever remember his smile. Erbie didn’t say a whole lot, he was a quiet man, but when he shared his thoughts they were valued and respected. He was a good man to have working inside your program. He was all about the young men. We all thought the world of him. The salute is a way to keep his spirit with us and keep it alive and pass it on from one team to another. They say, ‘Only the good die young.’ Erbie is proof that the saying is true.”
The team salutes Erbie with their desserts each Tuesday night with a, “1-2-3, Erbie.”
Wohlford loves the traditions that continue.
“Anything they can do to honor the man is great. He did so much for so many players. His memory should always live on.”
Erbie’s presence continues to be felt long after he left the Rockford community.
Dengler talks of the time when Erbie’s son Grant was on the varsity team. Grant hit a home run directly over the banner honoring his father’s memory and how special that moment was.
Lisa and her family hold tight to that same occurrence.
“One favorite memory is when Grant hit a home run that went right over the SAE sign,” she shares. “Everyone was quiet a few seconds before cheering. One parent told me it gave them chills.”
There’s another memory Dengler points to that holds special meaning. It was just nine months after Scott passed.
“The Rams were playing in the State Championship game at Ford Field in November 2008. It was our fourth visit to the Championship game in the last five years with the Rams claiming State Championships in 2004 and 2005,” he explains. “During the game, I believe it was the third quarter, a beam of light (sunshine) shone through the windows at Ford Field and was directed on to the field. Many of us saw it, and we just knew Erbie was looking down on us. It was an incredible moment with lots of tears. We went on to win the game and Scott surely shared the victory with us.”
The Erbes family still gathers and talks about the man they lost almost 12 years ago with great fondness.
“Sometimes we reminisce about him and the things he said, and we all laugh,” Lisa shares. “We all miss his smile. I miss his hugs, they were the best after a chilly football night and a Rams win! Although he loved getting to know so many people, he was always touched if they thought of him.”
Lisa continues, “I hope that if someone doesn’t know who he was that they ask. I hope that the man he was can still impact the players in the way he lived.”
It looks like she is safe in her hope. Erbie’s legacy continues with many people in many ways throughout the Rockford community – and beyond as players take those lessons with them as they follow their own destinies.
Scott and Lisa were married on August 21, 1993 in Reed City. ~ Contributed Photo
Scott Erbes picking out a Christmas tree with Grand and Ali. ~ Contributed Photo
A tender moment between Scott and Bailey. ~ Contributed Photo
The Erbes family celebrating the Christmas of 2007. ~ Contributed Photo
Each Tuesday night during football season, members of the Rams football team salute Erbie with their desserts. ~ Contributed Photo
Scott Erbes before a Rams varsity football game. ~ Contributed Photo
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