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TERRY WOSTER: A hall-of-famer in every way

Terry Woster

I read in the local newspaper that Mike Kehrwald will be inducted into the Chamberlain High School Athletic Hall of Fame this month, and the trumpet solo from Bert Kaempfert's "Wonderland by Night'' ran through my head.

Mike -- we called him "Speed'' back in high school -- played trumpet for a six-piece combo called The Bearcats. I played rhythm guitar. We played swing and big-band music from the 1930s and 1940s. That's what Charlie Roberts, the CHS band instructor, had in his boxes of sheet music.

Now and then, Mr. Roberts bought a contemporary tune, if it was hot on the charts and contained enough different instruments to justify the purchase of the music. I assume that's how "Wonderland by Night'' came into his possession and came to be on the set list of The Bearcats (yes, we took the name from a popular Hamm's Beer commercial of the time).

The song, at least the Kaempfert version released in 1961, was nothing without the trumpet. With Mike wailing away on the horn, the other five of us could do just about anything and it wouldn't ruin the song for the dancers. He wailed away, to be sure, and late in the evening, he'd be shaking his head and moaning, "My lips are shot, man. Nothing left.'' But he stuck with it, because we were a combo.

Mike played baseball well and football even better. He wasn't a huge guy, not even by those days' standards. He was tougher than an old pair of leather work gloves, though. He played varsity for five years and made all-state teams a couple of times. More impressive than that -- to me, anyway -- was that many years later when I traveled as a reporter, I'd run into people who played for other teams of our era. They'd talk about how tough the Chamberlain teams were with Mike Kehrwald and Jerry Melcher. When I heard that from a Gregory kid (well, a former kid), I figured it must be true. In those days, Gregory's Gorillas were as stout in football as anybody around our parts, with the exception, maybe, of Platte's Black Panthers.

I moved to Chamberlain for school at the end of summer before my third-grade year. The family moved to a quiet neighborhood on the south side of town. I hadn't been there but a few days when I went around the next block and ran into a round-faced, pug-nosed second-grader named Mike. We lived that close through our school careers, and we were constant playmates in the days when the kids in a neighborhood all played together -- simple games like Kick the Can, Hide-and-Seek, Red Rover, whatever filled the hours between the end of the school day and the call home for supper, and later for bed.

Anyone who grew up in a small town in those days recalls the fall evenings when parents would rake the leaves into piles in the gutter and burn them, right there in the open air. If your dad was about to set fire to a pile of leaves, you had an unspoken duty to circulate through the neighborhood and get the other guys to come and watch. When I think of Mike, I hear a trumpet solo, but I smell burning leaves and feel the crisp air of an October evening.

Mike and my wife, Nancy, graduated together in 1963. One Friday evening that summer, I talked my dad into letting me leave the field early enough to clean up, drive to town to get Nancy and head to Gregory to see Myron Lee and the Caddies. As we drove into Gregory, we met Mike in a soft-drink delivery truck. He was 17 or 18, but he'd been on the road since early morning, making deliveries. He said he'd clean up and meet us at the armory. I never knew Mike when he didn't have a job, or when he didn't work hard at the job he had.

He was a pretty good football player. He was an even better guy. It's an honor to have a hall-of-famer come out of the old neighborhood.