Photo by Kel Lorenz
Ben Kramer poses with his team following his 100th career victory as head coach fo the Hot Springs Bison football team, this past Friday night at Woodward Field.
By Brett Nachtigall
HOT SPRINGS – The year 2006 was not only the year that many of this year’s 14 Hot Springs Bison senior football players were born, it was also the same year that Ben Kramer, age 47, began his tenure as the head coach of the Bison football team.
This past Friday night at Woodward Field versus the Hill City Rangers, those 14 seniors concluded their regular season with their seventh win of the year to qualify as the No. 6 seed in the Class 11B playoffs.
Coach Kramer meanwhile earned his 100th career victory in blue-and-white and solidified himself as the winningest football coach in school history, with a 100-66 overall record.
After the game, a special ceremony was held on the field to commemorate Coach Kramer’s accomplishment, which he said was in a large part due to one local football fan’s consistent reminders after each game.
“Ever since I started coaching here, Gary Schuh would send me a text after each game to congratulate me and let me know what my record was,” Coach Kramer said in a phone interview this past Monday.
Because of Schuh’s texted reminders, Coach Kramer said he knew the milestone was getting close and could happen this past Friday night, but he had no idea about the plans that had been put into play by his wife Andrea to help commemorate his potential 100th win, which included having his parents and several other family members in attendance at the game.
“I’m not really in to that type of thing and didn’t want it to be a distraction or a big deal, but now that it happened, (the ceremony) does make it a pretty cool memory that I’ll always have,” Kramer said.
When Kramer was offered the job by then-principal Mary Weiss to come to Hot Springs and be the head football here in 2006, he recalled being very excited about the opportunity to come back to the Black Hills. Prior to that, his teaching and coaching experience had consisted of some middle school experience in Belle Fourche followed by assistant coaching positions at his alma mater of Stanley County and then three years at Colman-Egan from 2003-2005.
“The offer to be a head coach in Hot Springs put me ahead about 5-6 years of where I thought I would be at that point in my life,” Kramer said.
His first-ever victory came in Week 1 when the Bison traveled to play Pine Ridge and ultimately won by a score of 48-0. His current assistant coach Max Jirsa was a senior fullback and linebacker on that team, which finished the season with a 4-5 record. They lost in the first round of the Region 4-11A playoffs at home versus Belle Fourche, when a two-point conversion attempt run by Paul Tierney fell inches short of the goal line which would have sent the game into overtime.
Over the past 18 seasons, Coach Kramer has had a consistent group of assistant coaches on the sideline with him, including Levi Klippenstein who has been with him from the beginning and a part of all 100 of the wins as well. In addition to Jirsa, Coach Kramer also has two other former players of his on the sidelines as assistant coaches, including Ross Norton and Caden Shanklin.
Some of Coach Kramer’s individual accolades include being named Black Hills Conference Coach of the Year five times (2010, 12, 21, 22, 23) and also Region 4-11A Coach of the Year in 2012. He was also selected to be the head coach in the South Dakota All Star Game two times and to be an assistant All Star Coach two other times.
When asked to recall some of the highlights of his 18 years and 100 wins in Hot Springs, Kramer said it has all seemed to have gone by very fast, but the two that stand out the most include his team’s first win over St. Thomas More in the 2012 homecoming game, and his 2013 team nearly defeating West Central in the 11A semifinals at Woodward Field.
“One was a loss and one was a win, but both games had the same five seconds of excitement,” he said.
The 13-10 overtime win over STM was the school’s first victory over their Black Hills Conference rival since 2003, which is when the Bison made their first – and so far only – run to the Dakota Dome to play in the state championship game.
The 29-35 loss to West Central in 2013 was a thriller of a game and highlighted by a comeback from 12 points down late in the fourth quarter which included a senior-led touchdown drive, a successful onside kick and then an initial game-tying 50-yard touchdown pass from Justin Harkless to Eriq Swiftwater. Unfortunately, an offensive pass interference flag was thrown from near the West Central sideline which negated the score and sent West Central to the Dakota Dome again instead.
“There’s lots of great memories, and that’s probably the coolest thing about what took place Friday night as that it helped to open up that part of my brain so I could reflect back on those times,” Kramer said.
This past week's game versus Bridgewater-Emery/Ethan has also put his 100 victories into even more perspective, as Kramer faced longtime head coach Jeff VanLeur who this year celebrated his 300th career victory, which includes multiple state titles for Bridgewater, Emery and Ethan prior to them all combining.
Kramer said Coach VanLeur has long-since been a mentor of his and someone whom he first met at a football camp several years ago.
While Kramer said he is very proud of his 100 wins, the win he is most focused on now is his 101st as his No. 6 ranked team looks to make a very realistic run at a state title.
‘Winning is tough to do and is not done alone,” Kramer stated. “I certainly couldn’t have done it without a lot of great players and assistant coaches by my side.”