One person who plans to be front and center when the new stadium complex at Kansas Wesleyan University is dedicated on Saturday is the new football field’s namesake, legendary coach Gene Bissell. The field at the new Graves Family Sports Complex will be dedicates Gene Bissell Field in honor of the former coach.
Bissell spent over 40 years at KWU, including 26 years as head football coach. Bissell started his career at Kansas Wesleyan University as an assistant football coach in 1950. In 1952, he was named the school’s 13th head football coach, a position he held until 1978. He also coached track and was an assistant basketball coach, in addition to teaching a full academic schedule.
The 89-year-old Bissell tells KSAL News that it is a great honor to have the field named after him. “I’m happy as a lark,” he said. “I really don’t deserve it, it’s the football kids and coaches who got me there.” He added.
Bissell said that he has a lot of great KWU memories, and tries to occasionally stop by the school. “I like to stop by, but don’t want to be in the way,” he said.
In his storied career, Bissell won four KCAC championships, and is the career wins leader. He credits a group of “great kids”. Among those who played for him was a young Bill Graves, who later would go on to be the 43rd governor of Kansas and Charles Jessamy Jr.who would go on to play for the New York Giants in the NFL.
Bissell said that he likes what he sees in the new stadium. “Back in the old days, on the first day of practice we would line the boys up, give them a sharp instrument, and walk the field and dig up all the sand burrs,” he said.
Bissell also likes the Coyote team he sees this year. The team is off to one of its best starts in school history. “Coach Drinkall has a great group of boys, they believe in him and they believe in each other,” Bissell said.
For his part, second year KWU Football Coach Matt Drinkall has embraced Bissell, and the history of the program. Drinkall instills Bissell’s old-school values in the team. And not only does he embrace his values, he also embraces the man himself. Drinkall has become friends with Bissell, and periodically visits him.
Drinkall tells KSAL News that the team has something special planned for Bissell Saturday night.
The new stadium will be dedicated Saturday night, as part of a KWU weekend of homecoming celebrations.
The stadium project began in January of 2014 with the demolition of the 73-year-old Glenn L. Martin sandstone stadium. Because of its condition, the stadium had not been utilized for KWU games since 2007. The stadium, which opened back in 1940, was demolished to make way for the new sports complex.
The first ever game on Gene Bissell Field, at the new Graves Family Sports Complex, will be the Saturday night homecoming game against McPherson College.