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Widener Athletics Hall of Fame inductees announced

Widener athletics, athletics, football, 1977 football, national champions

The 1977 football team that provided the University with its first NCAA championship in any sport will be honored and entered into the Widener Athletics Hall of Fame.

Five exemplary former student-athletes and the 1977 Widener Football national champions will be inducted into the Widener Athletics Hall of Fame on Friday, Oct. 13.

The third class to enter the Widener Athletics Hall of Fame consists of Nick Trainer '64 (football and basketball) Dennis James '78 (men's basketball), Mike Williams '75 (men's track and field), Kenny O'Brien '75 (baseball and football), and Gina Gonzalez '95 (women's track and field).

The 1977 football team that provided the University with its first NCAA championship in any sport will also be honored and entered into the Hall of Fame.

The induction ceremony will be held on Friday, Oct. 13 at Springfield Country Club, 400 Sproul Road, Springfield, Pennsylvania. The cocktails and reception begin at 7 p.m., followed by the induction ceremony at 7:45 p.m. Tickets are $75 per person. Please RSVP by Friday, Sept. 29 by calling 610-499-1154 or online here.

Widener Athletics Hall of Fame Class of 2017:

Nick Trainer, former chair of the Widener University Board of Trustees, has been a strong supporter of the university and its athletics for many years. The 1964 graduate of Pennsylvania Military College (now Widener University) was a two-sport athlete in basketball and football. He served as captain of the football team and represented the college on the All-Middle Atlantic Conference Southern Division first team in 1963. Trainer went on to spend more than 30 years as a NCAA Division I football replay official. His support for the university never waned, and in 1985 he won the Outstanding Alumnus Award, followed by the Alumni Association Service Award in 1996. He was inducted into the Pennsylvania Sports Hall of Fame, Delaware County Chapter in 2005. He has played a vital role in the growth of the university, and in his role as chair, directed the university's first major capital campaign, Widener2000, which was responsible for the Leslie C. Quick Center. Trainer served on the university's board for 30 years, including five years as chair.

Dennis James' arrival in 1974 marked the beginning of the men's basketball programs most prolific four-year run. The future Philadelphia 76ers draftee helped the team to an 87-29 record, the best over a four-year period, and in the process became the program's first two-time All-American in 1977 and 1978. The Pioneers made the NCAA Tournament all four of James' years, including a magical run to the 1978 NCAA final that included a third straight MAC Southern Division title. He scored 616 points in his 1978 senior season, and graduated as the university's leading scorer with 1,889 points (now third), 795 field goals (now second), 299 free throws (now fourth), 1,112 rebounds (first) and a member of the 1978 NCAA All-Tournament Team. James was named to the MAC 100 Century Team in 2013.

Mike Williams grabbed the men's track and field's second individual NCAA national title by taking the triple jump in 1975. He was an All-American in 1974 and 1975, a three-time MAC triple jump champion from 1973-75 and won the long jump crown in 1975. Williams still holds the school's outdoor triple jump record of 50-feet, 3-inches, as well as the school's and MAC Conference's outdoor triple jump record of 50-feet, 1.5-inches. In 2013, Williams was named to the MAC 100 Track & Field Century Team.

Kenny O'Brien was the university's first two-time All-American in 1974 and 1975, in addition to being the MAC Player of the Year both seasons. The 1975 campaign, which paved the way for the success the soon-to-be-renamed Widener College enjoyed in the 1970s, saw the standout shortstop lead the MAC Southern Division by batting .489 to go with 22 hits, three triples and 15 RBIs. O'Brien had 105 hits in 225 at-bats and had a 25-game hitting streak over two years while at Widener University. He was walked 36 times in 18 games. O'Brien was drafted in the 11th round of the 1974 MLB draft by the Texas Rangers and played two seasons in the minor leagues in the Philadelphia Phillies system. He was named to the MAC 100 Century Team in 2013.

Gina Gonzalez claimed All-American honors in the 55-meter indoor hurdles in 1994, the 100-meter outdoor hurdles later that year and the outdoor long jump in 1995. She graduated first in the school's history in 55-meter hurdle, long jump and 100-meter high hurdles. She also graduated second in the school's history in triple jump and 55-meter dash. Gonzalez received a NCAA Postgraduate Scholarship in 1995 and was named to the MAC 100 Century Team in 2013.

The 1977 Widener University football team provided more than just Widener University's first NCAA championship in any sport. It was a season filled with memorable moments for an underdog team that stuck together after starting off in less than ideal shape.

The offense was in disarray with just one returning starter; the defense was in a worse predicament after three standouts quit to become a state trooper orenter the Marines. But perennially optimistic Hall of Fame coach Bill Manlove turned the tide and created one of the school's most magical runs.

The 1977 Widener University football teamManlove was not the only one wearing blue and gold in high spirits. After Widener's season-opening 28-0 victory over Lebanon Valley, All-America running back Chip Zawoiski told Manlove, "I'll see you in Alabama, Coach," in reference to the site of the national championship game. Zawoiski's prognostication did not look profound after the following week's loss to Fordham, but little did anyone know that would be the Pioneers' final setback of the year.

The Pioneers (11-1) rolled through the remainder of the regular season and into the NCAA Tournament for the second time in three years. A quarterfinal date at Central in Pella, Iowa turned out to be no match. The home team sported the nation's leading rusher, but Zawoiski stole the show with a then tournament-record 31 carries along with 171 yards in Widener's 19-0 victory.

The semifinal against Albany State was played in the mud at Memorial Stadium, coupled with a brutal wind. The Pioneers squan¬dered an early 12-0 lead, but Steve Warrington's 52-yard punt return for a touchdown was the catalyst in a 33-15 victory, confirming Zawoiski's insight and Manlove's belief in his unit.

The Stagg Bowl in Phoenix City, Alabama against Wabash saw Widener fall into a 10-0 hole. But in a contest which featured five lead changes, the Pioneers' biggest play gave them an insurmountable advantage. The usually cautious Manlove called for quarterback Mark Walter to hit Walker Carter on a bomb, which worked for a 70-yard touchdown pass late in the game and a 39-28 lead.

Upon the conclusion of Widener's 39-36 victory, students who witnessed the nationally televised game on a rented seven-foot screen in Alumni Auditorium poured out of the hall and on to nearby Memorial Stadium in jubilation.

The offense that looked skeptical, at first, saw Zawoiski finish the season with 1,576 rushing yards and 21 touchdowns, and Walter close with 1,312 yards passing and 15 touchdowns. The defense, minus all the defections, held seven opponents in single figures and yielded just 11.6 points per game.

Widener University is a private, metropolitan university that connects curricula to social issues through civic engagement. Dynamic teaching, active scholarship, personal attention, leadership development and experiential learning are key components of the Widener experience. A comprehensive doctorate-granting university, Widener comprises seven schools and colleges that offer liberal arts and sciences, professional and pre-professional curricula leading to associate, baccalaureate, master's and doctoral degrees. Visit the university website, http://www.widener.edu/