WHIO-TV used it's Sky 7 drone and flew over the newly dedicated football field (Roger Glass Stadium) at Chaminade-Julienne High School.

Archdeacon: The unbreakable bond of CJ’s “Million Dollar Team”

Thankfully, his bedtime has been extended.

Otherwise, Barrett Robinson would miss much of the 25-year reunion of the 1994 Chaminade Julienne Eagles, a rare bunch of football players once known as the “Million Dollar Team.”

As a group they proved just as adept at getting into college as they were getting into the end zone. Back then the team had 27 seniors and 26 of them headed to college, while the other focused on the military.

 

Eighteen players were awarded scholarships – athletic or academic – that totaled $1,090,600. Today, with inflation, that would be equivalent of nearly $2 million.

Jim Place, who spent 49 years coaching high school football in Southwest Ohio, was the Eagles coach in 1994. Today he teaches character education workshops at the University of Dayton and has speaking engagement across the Miami Valley.

“One of the stories I tell is about Barrett and how he had a plan, a dream,” Place said.

Robinson was the star of the ‘94 team. He set the all-time CJ rushing record, won the Wendy’s High School Heisman and was offered numerous football scholarships.

He didn’t play college football because he wanted to follow that dream, Place said: “From the time he was 14 years old, he told me he wanted to be a high-risk prenatal surgeon.”

That may be hard to fathom, but then you hear how he made it happen.

“Every school night he went to bed at 7:30 in the evening so he could get up at 3:30 the next morning and study until 6:30 and then go to school,” Place said. “Everybody would ask ‘Why?’ and he’d say ‘because I have a dream I want to fulfill. And I have to find an advantage to get to that.’

“Every one of the steps he took was part of that plan.”

Robinson accepted a scholarship to Morehouse College in Atlanta for his premed studies, then went to medical school at Duke, completed his residency while at Harvard and went to Northwestern for his fellowship.

“Today he’s in Chicago where he’s one of the leading prenatal surgeons in the nation,” Place said. “He takes care of high-risk pregnancies that other doctors don’t feel comfortable taking on.”

Robinson’s work is just one of the many wondrous returns that’s come from that million dollar investment 25 years ago.

Dr. Barrett Robinson
Photo: columnist

“It’s amazing what they’re all doing now,” Place said.

Robinson agreed: “We are all over the map in terms of current careers. As a group we’ve been pretty dynamic in our positions since we left school.”

Bob Borgerding, a linebacker for the Eagles, is now an executive chef at Churchill Downs.

Working with the Chicago-based Levy restaurant group, he also handles similar duties at Kentucky Speedway and numerous big-time sporting events across the country, everything from the Super Bowl and the Breeders Cup to the PGA Championship, the Ryder Cup, other NASCAR races, U.S, Open tennis, the recent Western & Southern Open in Cincinnati and possibly the upcoming World Series.

Jimmy Place, Jim’s son and a tight end on the CJ team, played at Ball State and for the past 16 years has been an institutional stockbroker in Milwaukee. Most years he’s a volunteer coach – this season at Rufus King High School – and runs a free, tight ends camp in Milwaukee every summer.

John Puckett, the Eagles quarterback and a defensive back, is the head football coach at Vandalia Butler. Armando Munzon is a football official. Makana Edwards is a radiologist and Todd Walker’s a high school principal.

Chris Anderson is the radio voice of Richmond Spiders football. There are bankers, lawyers, teachers, small businessmen and several other pursuits.

Pat Murty and his family own Company 7 BBQ in Englewood which will host the start of the reunion, a 4 -6 p.m. gathering Friday. That will be followed by a trek to CJ’s new Roger Glass Stadium to watch the Eagles play Cincinnati Woodward.

Saturday morning the team will meet at Mimi’s Bistro in the Greene for breakfast.

Nick Adams, an offensive lineman for the Eagles who now handles home loans at Union Savings Bank on Far Hills and has organized the CJ event – said at least 15 of the former players will return for the weekend.

Hurricane Dorian has scuttled the travel plans of a couple of guys and Puckett’s Aviators play Troy tonight so he’ll only be able to make Saturday’s breakfast.

Several of the players said they were excited to return. Some stay in touch via social media and a few have formed a fantasy football league. Many said they still feel a connection when they get together.

“When we get in the same room, it’s just like yesterday and all those memories come rushing back,” said Robinson, who, like several of the players, now has young children of his own. “I wouldn’t miss this for the world.”

Jim Place hears that from many of them: “These guys really love each other.”

‘We had each other’s back’

“We had a cornucopia of backgrounds and experiences on our team,” Robinson said. “We had kids who were Catholic and Protestant. Kids from downtown, from urban areas and some from outlying, more rural areas. We had white, black and Latin guys and it didn’t matter.”

Jimmy Place agreed: “If you cut the socio economic (spectrum) into pieces, we’d have guys land on 25 different spots. And you couldn’t tell those who came from better-off families and those who had more challenges. None of that mattered.“

“In between the lines we had each other’s back,” said Borgerding.

Place fostered that attitude with 10-point character cards he had guys take to heart and with senior dinners every Thursday night at a different player’s home .

“Coach Place knew how to bring people together,” said Puckett. “No matter what your background, he said it didn’t matter.”

As Robinson put it: “I know color-blindness is a term, but with us that was a reality.”

That point was exemplified every day by Puckett, who was white and from East Dayton and Donzell Dawson, who was black from West Dayton.

“We were best friends starting all the way back at Lincoln Elementary School and going right through CJ,” Puckett said.

It’s relationships like that that made the team so special, Robinson said:

“Something like that is very rare in this day and age when there is just so much division in this country. That unbreakable bond we all had is something I’ve never forgotten.”

The 1994 Chaminade Julienne football team as shown in the school’s yearbook. CONTRIBUTED
Photo: columnist

‘We became brothers’

Back in ‘94, there was no new CJ stadium.

The team practiced at Kettering Field and played home games at West Carrollton Junior High. That meant a bus ride every day for football.

“Back then, our situation added an hour of travel every day,” Place said. “But being together on the bus like that built a bond.”

And it certainly didn’t hamper the team’s play. As seniors they went 8-2

“Our philosophy then was we play anybody, anywhere, anytime,” Place said.

The Eagles romped over nationally-ranked Elder that season, lost to a strong Hamilton Badin team and found themselves in an interesting situation going into the final game.

Had they agreed to play Belmont, which would go winless that year, they would have garnered one point with a victory and made the playoffs.

Instead they played a nationally-ranked Brockton, Massachusetts team on the road and lost a close game. The defeat kept them out of the playoffs by a point.

All the players now say they continue to draw on lessons they learned on the high school football field.

“Coach Place led us and inspired us to be our best selves,” Robinson said. “All that is something I still view as critical to me learning about who I am and what I can do. And I believe a lot of the guys feel the same. We were all in that crucible together and we became brothers.

“It’s about being a part of something bigger than yourself and that ultimately teaches you the key values of being a man and kind of finding your place in the world.

“One of his most valuable lessons was learning how to fail and get back up after somebody has busted you in the mouth. It’s about gaining confidence, taking risks and ultimately triumphing.”

Puckett passes those lessons on to his own players now and a couple of days ago he had Place speak to his team.

“Sports teaches you about life really,” said Adams. “Football helped me get out of the little bubble I grew up in and spread my wings. It shaped me into the person I am now.”

Chef Bob Borgerding, a linebacker on the 1994 Chaminade Julienne football team, is the executive chef at Kentucky Speedway and Churchill Downs. CONTRIBUTED
Photo: columnist

Borgerding has certainly spread his wings. After interning with Peasant Stock chef David Glynn, he graduated from the prestigious Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, N.Y. then worked in Birmingham, Alabama before moving to Louisville.

He said he uses the lessons of team building to put together his own kitchens and that has gotten him working some of the biggest sports events in the country

He said he likes his job: “I get paid to go to the big games.”

And yet it’s safe to say none of the athletes and pro clubs he’s now around are any more impressive than his own “Million Dollar Team.”

Coach Jim Place said as much after the ‘94 season when he told me:

“I hear coaches on television say how winning the Super Bowl is the ultimate. For me, this is the ultimate. I’ve never had a bunch of kids who were so talented and so much fun. It’ll be neat to see what they’re doing 10 years from now.”

Today – 25 years down the road – he’ll again see the wondrous returns on that million dollar investment.

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