For the first time in more than 50 years, four Patton Junior High School graduates were back together Aug. 10 to tour the school and reminisce.
Mike Dungan of Leavenworth, Kan.; Joe Beavers of Monument, Colo.; John Young of Kailua, Hawaii; and Dennis Fendler of Clarksville, Tenn., are all members of the 1969 ninth-grade graduating class as well as members of that year’s undefeated Patton football team.
“Whenever Dennis and I would talk, the conversations would always drift back to the glorious, undefeated, 1969 football season,” Young said. “Dennis would always say, ‘Wouldn’t it be great to get the guys back together just one time and just reminisce and talk about the good old days?’”
Young and Dennis were having the same conversation yet again a few weeks ago, so they opted to make some calls to get the ball rolling on a reunion. Soon four members of the undefeated team were together again.
For the 1969 football season, Dungan played center and linebacker, Beavers played tight end, Young played running back and Fendler played defensive half and free safety.
“We were really special because I think we actually played Lansing in a scrimmage and beat them,” Fendler said. “When (Young) came through it was like a freight train, but silent. He was so fast. It was incredible.”
Young said playing football that year was the highlight of his athletic career having also been awarded the “Best Athlete” award in the 1969 Patton yearbook.
“I don’t know why (I was voted Best Athlete) because we all made the team happen,” Young said. “I didn’t do as well athletically after I got out of high school, and my dad always joked and said, ‘John kind of peaked in ninth grade.’ It was (the coaches) who really instilled what it took to be a decent athlete. They motivated you.”
Football wasn’t all that the graduates looked back on as they walked the halls of the school again, guided by Rich Holden, Unified School District 207 chief financial officer.
“We were all pretty close friends. That’s one thing about military kids. The military kids, we’re all thrown in,” Dungan said. “It’s like a melting pot of all different races and different countries. We had kids from Switzerland play here.
“It’s just that time of your life where you’re just starting to push your boundaries, and it’s that camaraderie of the Army brats that just kept everybody tight for a while,” he said. “We’re all on the Patton (Junior High School Alumni) Facebook group. All those people just …rave about this place.”
While the tour of the school allowed for a trip down memory lane for the graduates, it also showed them how some things have changed since they graduated. Holden said the school has had around seven or eight renovations since 1969.
“I couldn’t tell you where my locker was,” Beavers said. “It’s so totally different, but it’s good to see the changes and progress.”
Dungan agreed. “It’s just amazing to see the growth and the overall improvement and the new school is even going to be better,” Dungan said. “This was such a big part of our lives, so to see other kids get that same opportunity we did, it’s just incredible.”
Despite the changes, the graduates agreed they were glad to walk the halls of Patton again. “It just gives me goosebumps being here. I could stay here for days,” Fendler said. “It’s surreal. This beats everything coming back and seeing this. This is fantastic.”
Beavers said it was about being together again.
“It is just the fact of getting together with old friends and reminiscing,” Beavers said. “We’re at the time in life where you make every day the best you can.
“For us, it is kind of like for those who would’ve gone and revisited Woodstock,” he said. “This is our Woodstock.”
Young agreed. “We’re in the last quarter of our lives, so it just makes you realize that time is real precious. We get so caught up in our lives and in our careers that doing stuff like this, it’s hard to find the time to do it, especially with COVID-19 last year, we were on lockdown,” Young said. “This opportunity gave us a chance to break out of that whole period, and I’m glad we did it this year and didn’t have to wait.
“I know I’m going to see these knuckleheads again. This is not going to be the last time. In fact, hopefully, the plan will be in subsequent years we’ll get more people to join us,” he said. “Ultimately, when you grow older, you realize that all that is really, really important are friends and family, and if you can’t make the time to make that connection then it’s all for not.”