When attending any sporting event at Western High School, there’s a good chance one might run into one of the biggest fans the school has ever seen, sitting in his usual spot.
Bob Rutherford, 83, graduated from Western in 1957, but his love for the school never went anywhere. A self-diagnosed “sports nut,” Rutherford was a multisport athlete for the Panthers himself, and now he never misses a chance to catch a sporting event for the home team.
“I mostly follow baseball and softball and basketball and just try and fill in the other sports best I can,” Rutherford said. “There’s no comparison; you can’t beat high school sports.”
Western is the best high school in the area, he said. The teachers and staff don’t just care about the students as athletes, but they also work hard to make their students the best student-athletes they can.
This year has been a bit more difficult to attend all the sports he wants to, he said, as a lot of the events were for parents-only as far as attendance goes. But if the crowd is allowed, he’ll be there.
Over the years, Rutherford has been able to watch young athletes develop from little league up through high school to become college athletes. Having that expanded window into the kids’ lives is a priceless experience for him.
“I’ve got my own ball field out here for little leagues, and they’ve been practicing here for years and years. There’s quite a few that have went through Western and have went on to college. A lot of them are on the team this year,” Rutherford said.
Rutherford used to work with the Russiaville Cubs some years ago, he said. The Cubs formed in the late ‘80s and attracted a lot of talented players from the area, including Todd Dunwoody from Lafayette who went on to play in the MLB.
Rutherford traveled with the Cubs to as far as Colorado, along with to states like Kentucky, Tennessee, and Michigan. The Cubs played a key role in starting traveling teams in the area, he said. Now, athletes in the county travel all over and are exposed to many more opportunities that they might not have had access to had the Cubs not broken the mold.
Panthers Athletic Director Josh Larsh agreed and said most of the players from Western’s late ‘80s and early ‘90s teams played for the Cubs, and those teams still hold state hitting records to this day.
To have a passionate lifelong fan in Rutherford is special to the program, Larsh said, and speaks to the community feel for the school and its sports teams in Russiaville.
“Two of the many reasons that high school sports are popular in Indiana are the avid fans of schools and that schools are often the center point of the community. Bob Rutherford exemplifies the loyalty to a school and its student-athletes that is only found through years of dedication,” Larsh said.
“He is the first person to arrive at most of our home events, some of our away events, and can be found attending summer events the Panthers compete in. Over the years I've enjoyed talking with Bob and know other athletic directors feel the same way. Our student-athletes appreciate all his support.”
Though many have argued sports aren’t worth it in a pandemic climate, Rutherford said he couldn’t disagree more. Sports are the best analogy for life, he said, and teach responsibility, accountability, and how to handle tough situations.
At the next Western game, keep an eye out for Rutherford in his lawn chair with his Western hat and T-shirt.
One of the Panthers’ most dedicated and longest-tenured fans said he’s excited to attend Western games for many more years to come.