Tom Schiller and Scott Tjomsland, aka the "Red Dogs," are local football institutions. The two, and their longtime assistant of 12 years Dave Pevonka, have coached, given nicknames to and touched the lives of hundreds of kids in their combined 44 years of coaching youth football. However, after nearly two decades, they are retiring from coaching their Little Raiders Red football team.
Tjomsland and Schiller have been friends since before high school and they played football together under former Raiders coach Bob Majeski. Years later, it was Majeski who called Tjomsland to see if he was willing to coach a Little Raiders football team.
"Bob called me and said, 'Hey, would you be interested in coaching fifth and sixth-grade football?' and I thought maybe it would be fun, but I was a little nervous about doing it on my own," Tjomsland said. "So I told Bob that if I can find somebody to do it with me, then I think I'm in. Tom is the guy I thought of right away so I gave him a call, we talked about it and decided to give it a shot."
Schiller and Tjomsland were both in their early 30s at the time and for many years did not have kids in the Little Raiders program. They were soon joined by Pevonka, who had a son on the team and ended up staying with the Red Dogs for 12 years.
"He (Dave) fit in very well with Tom and I, and we had fun having him be a part of it," Tjomsland said. "The next season he offered to keep doing it if we wanted him."
"I've always had a passion for football and what it teaches you, discipline and control," Pevonka explained. "Those two guys, we're all close friends now, that's part of what made it fun. My goal was to find those three or four kids who need a little extra help in learning how to play sports. A lot of the kids are natural athletes and they don't really need much help, but there's always a few other kids who you can teach, to give those kids a little more structure in their lives."
Pevonka retired from coaching last season after more than a decade with the Red Dogs. He works as production director for RiverTown Multimedia.
The Red Dogs have become known for their fun loving nature, which is seen in how they run practices and the nicknames they give players.
"We try to have fun, we can be intense during practice, but we try and mix some fun in before or after practice, or during breaks," Tjomsland said. "We just try to joke around and create that fun atmosphere with the kids. Whether that's giving kids weird nicknames, playing little games, we try and make it fun. That's what sticks out, those interactions with and getting to know the kids."
When at a Red Dogs practice, you'll do a double-take when you hear names like Tornado, Sunshine or Spicoli yelled out.
"I think it just happened by accident (the nicknames)," Tjomsland said. "It started right away our first year when Tom and I were joking with each other. A lot of times it's just things that are funny to us and for the most part I think the kids enjoyed it and it just went from there. It's just the way we are."
"They're (the nicknames) pretty original, we tend to get some pretty crazy ones," Schiller added. "That's a real fun part of the game too, the nicknames we come up with. I think some of the kids kind of look at us like we're nuts because they don't get the 80s references."
Hanging it up
After their first eight years, the two retired for two years as they both had kids involved in activities they did not want to miss. But they were soon drawn back to the Little Raiders.
"The second year we were off, another coach had taken the red color," Tjomsland said. "I remember Tom and I were at a high school game together where the Little Raiders played at halftime, and we saw another coach out there coaching our color. That just didn't seem right."
So Schiller and Tjomsland decided they would coach together again as they each had boys who would be coming up through the program. That year, the eighth year of their second stint, is the last year that Tjomsland's son will be involved in Little Raiders and both coaches will become busy again keeping up with their kids in middle and high school.
"It was just time for us to be done, with my boys coming up through the high school I don't want to miss out on their games," Schiller explained. "It's not fair if I'm coaching the little guys, to miss their games to go to my kids. I just want to be fair to my kids because I owe it to them."
What they've learned
All three coaches agreed that the last two decades have been full of lessons and rewards.
"You run into kids all over and they remember you," Pevonka said. "You see boys of every age saying 'Hey, coach.' They do remember you and that's what you put upon them, having a positive impact on their life."
"One thing is that I think us as coaches probably take the results more seriously than the kids do," Tjomsland said. "It's a hard thing to overcome, we're all competitive guys and we want to win, but it can't be just about winning. You can kind of see that in the kids. They want to win, most of the kids are very intense about it, but at the same time as soon as the game is over they're not dwelling on it. They're all playing and have forgotten about it. That's one of the perspectives you have to realize, that these are still little kids who are learning and out there to have fun."
"It's more of the rewards from coaching than the lessons I guess," Schiller said. "It's so rewarding to see how kids have grown from the beginning to the end, and to see that you can actually help kids and they respect it."
Despite their long tenure, one thing the Red Dogs have not accomplished is winning a championship. They said it would be a fitting way to end their long career here in the coming weeks.
A retirement party is being held for them from 6-9 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 7, at Fireside Social Hour in the upstairs room. Former players will be able to sign the Nickname Hall of Fame and say goodbye to the Red Dogs.