THE FOUNDATION LOSES OUR LEADER

Tuesday, July 28, 2009, By Tom Kendra, Muskegon Chronicle

Chris Ernvall was a true Big Red

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No one did more crucial work behind the scenes than Chris Ernvall to keep Muskegon High School's football program among the best in the state.

And that is why his tragic death Sunday at the age of 41 has produced such an outpouring of emotion from Big Reds all over the world.

"I will miss you," ex-Muskegon great and current Indianapolis Colt Terrance Taylor wrote on Ernvall's Facebook page.

"You were a good friend and always looked out for me ... ALWAYS."

Closer to home, Muskegon athletic director Mike Watson wrote:

"If I had to define a 'Big Red,' I would have shown a picture of you. You were never afraid to get your hands dirty and help do the REAL work."

Ernvall was my friend and my kind of guy -- work hard, play hard, patriotic, do anything for his family and friends, take care of business Monday through Friday, have some fun on the weekends and church on Sunday morning.

I love what Ernvall said when he volunteered for the local American Red Cross chapter in the early 1990s.

"I know people and I got some skills," Ernvall told local executive director Tim Lipan.

Back in the mid-1980s, Ernvall had some serious skills on the football field as a star linebacker for Coach Dave Taylor.

As his body morphed from a ripped teenager to that of a pudgy stockbroker, he used his amazing financial skills to help reinvigorate the Big Red Athletic Foundation.

Then he used his most well-known skill -- his engaging personality and charisma -- to take the foundation's annual golf outing from near extinction to a packed field loaded with corporate sponsors.

The last significant conversation I had with Ernvall was last November after Muskegon had destroyed Lowell in their much-anticipated clash in the Division 2 playoffs.

The big guy was beaming, but it was a bit of a double-edged sword because the Big Reds had to leave his beloved Hackley Stadium (because of unplayable field conditions), to play the biggest game of the season at Grand Haven.

"Tommy," he told me, "we're going to get that field turf at Hackley if it's the last thing I do."

Ironic words, for sure.

Ernvall knew that no school in the area needed the many benefits of field turf more than land-locked Muskegon High.

Wouldn't it be something, as Hackley Stadium gets long-awaited structural and locker-room improvements thanks to a voter-approved millage, if the "Big Red Nation" could come through with the plan and the funds to make Ernvall's dream of field turf a reality.

If that day ever arrives, I would take it a step further.

The Big Reds will always play at Hackley Stadium.

But perhaps they could play on Chris Ernvall Field.

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