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Jerry Ronald CallahanOctober 10, 1933 ~ January 15, 2018 (age 84)
A Final Tribute To Coach Callahan
Yuma has lost its greatest high school football coach – and Colorado one of its most gifted athletes – with the recent passing of Jerry Callahan who died unexpectedly on Monday, Jan. 15, while undergoing a routine surgical procedure at a hospital in Fort Collins.
Born to Sam and Madelyn (Steinmetz) Callahan on Oct. 10, 1933, in the family’s small home on the U.S. Dry Land Experiment Station located four miles east of Akron, Jerry grew up around ranching and agriculture. He attended a one-room schoolhouse outside of Akron, riding his horse back and forth to school each day. During World War II there was a shortage of available manpower for harvest so he drove a tractor, pulling a combine at the ages of 9 and 10 to help the neighbors.
In the summer of 1944, the Callahans moved to a ranch 25 miles west of Laramie, Wyo., where they remained two years. Jerry loved the ranch life, especially riding his horse and working cattle. Because school was eight miles from home, at the age of 11 he drove the family car and picked up neighbor kids on the way to school. The family returned to Colorado in 1946 after Sam took a job with the horticulture department at Colorado A&M in Fort Collins, which was later renamed Colorado State University.
Jerry attended St. Joseph Junior High and Fort Collins High School where his athletic abilities quickly became obvious to everyone. He earned seven varsity letters before graduating from Fort Collins High School in 1951. Jerry was All-State in both football and basketball his senior year and was the starting quarterback for the Fort Collins High School State Championship team.
As a sophomore punter for Colorado A&M, Jerry was ranked 15th nationally. And he was equally talented on the baseball diamond. In fact, the Philadelphia Phillies offered him a baseball contract in 1953 but he remained in school. He was drafted for military service later that same year and played football for the U.S. Army at Fort Ord in 1954. Jerry was instrumental in leading his team to the California National Interservice Championship. His military team played the Los Angeles Rams and San Francisco 49ers in preseason games that year. Not surprisingly, the New York Giants drafted him for the NFL in 1955. But he returned to Fort Collins to play for the Aggies and to get his college degree.
Jerry quarterbacked the Aggies to the Skyline Conference championship in 1955. Meanwhile, while playing on CSU’s varsity baseball team, Jerry was named All Conference in both 1956 and 1957 and led the Rams in hitting with a .375 batting average. He earned seven varsity letters while playing for the Aggies.
He graduated from CSU in 1958 with a Bachelor of Science degree and later earned his Masters from CSU in 1961.
Jerry’s first coaching job out of college brought him to Yuma where he created a football dynasty. Yuma became a football town thanks to Jerry Callahan, a legacy that has lasted for decades. His impact as a high school football coach was aptly described by the Yuma Pioneer in a 2007 article when Jerry was being honored at halftime of the Yuma-Estes Park football game: “Only an injury prevented Callahan from taking a crack at a professional career with the New York Giants who drafted him as a quarterback while he played for Fort Ord [U.S. Army], leading the base’s team to the National Interservice Championship. However, professional football’s loss was Yuma football’s gain.”
And what a gain it was.
His motivational coaching philosophy, combined with a modern offensive scheme, became the blueprint for high school football across the state. Blessed with an extremely talented group of young players between the 1958 and 1962, Jerry led the Indians to an amazing 49-5-1 record that included a pair of Colorado State Championship titles in 1960 and again in 1962, along with two state semifinal appearances in 1958 and 1961.
Bernie McCall was among the many players who played for the legendary coach. “There were many reasons why we had good football teams in Yuma – a lot of good, tough guys, great community support, a unique bond and closeness within our team. But the biggest difference between us and other teams was the fact that we always had the best coach,” said McCall, who became the starting quarterback the University of Colorado and later a successful high school football coach himself.
Jerry left Yuma in 1963-64 to coach at Sterling High School and then took a hiatus from coaching altogether. From 1964 to the mid-70s Jerry worked for Northwestern Mutual. And just as he did in athletics, Jerry excelled in the insurance business, qualifying for the company’s “Millionaire Roundtable” three consecutive years and winning several other awards. He later moved to Longmont and began training insurance agents in Denver. But his love for the gridiron kept pulling him back to football.
From 1975 to 1980, Jerry served as director of athletic development under Jack O’Leary and legendary CSU coach Fum McGraw. He returned to Yuma to coach football from 1982 until 1988, eventually finishing with an all-time record of 84-25-1, a winning percentage of .764, the most successful coach in the school’s 94-year history. Following his coaching career, he became YHS assistant principal and athletic director until he retired in 1998.
Jerry married Betty Jensen in 1955 and that union produced three children: Mike and Colleen of Ft. Collins; and Patrick Callahan of Golden. Jerry and Betty were later divorced.
In June of 1984 Jerry married the love of his life, Anita Mathis Millar, and in August of 2013 they renewed their vows at St. John’s Catholic Church in Yuma. Jerry remained active in the Yuma community for more than 30 years, serving as a substitute teacher at Yuma Middle School, a job he relished. Teaching was a passion and his students recognized that. Ed Lewis, who graduated from YHS in 1962, and who is now a successful businessman, credits Jerry for much of his own success later in life. He wanted learning to happen for all the kids and he made it a fun experience. He had stories and reports on the students. He was so very popular and we all waited anxiously for every class to see what he would say about us. Mostly it was funny stories,” said Lewis.
And, of course, Jerry remained a constant fixture along the Yuma sidelines, keeping statistics, along with his longtime friend and fellow YHS teacher Charles Pfalmer.
Jerry was a member of the St. Johns Catholic Church. He loved his family and was always a supportive helpmate to Anita. He was especially proud of the accomplishments of all his grandchildren. He loved raising horses, helping people farm and watching his grandsons play baseball. History was among his many outside interests, which is why he and Anita became active board members at the Yuma Museum. He was planning to play a key role in chronicling the athletic achievements of others from the area as part of the museum’s upgrades.
His father and mother, Sam and Madelyn Callahan, and granddaughter Shannon Callahan preceded him in death. He is survived by his wife, Anita; children Mike and Colleen of Ft. Collins; son Patrick of Golden and stepdaughter Leilani Hobbs Brlecic of Ft. Collins; grandchildren Shaun and Kaitlin Callahan, and Lane and Caleb Brlecic all of Ft. Fort Collins.
The family asks that any memorials be sent to either the Yuma District Hospital And Clinics, YDHC Foundation, 1000 W. 8th Ave., Yuma, CO 80759, or the Yuma Museum, P.O. Box 454, Yuma, CO 80759.
1000 West 8th Avenue, Yuma CO 80759
200 South Detroit Street, Yuma CO 80759