Athletic Awards


Football, volleyball standouts honored; Akron coach shares leadership tips

Bluffton University presented its top athletics awards April 19 to standout athletes in football and volleyball.

Ryan Aelker-Gustwiller of New Bavaria, Ohio, accepted the A.C. Burcky Award as senior male athlete of the year, while Jenny Brown of St. Marys, Ohio, won the Kathryn E. Little Award as outstanding senior female athlete. Aelker-Gustwiller, a criminal justice major, is the son of Mike and Jodi Gustwiller and Chris and Tom Hattemer. Brown is a graphic design major with a photography minor. She is the daughter of Marty and Angie Brown.

Aelker-Gustwiller, a defensive lineman, was named a 2015 Division III Football All-American selection, 2014 and 2015 USA Football All-American selection and the 2015 Cliff Harris Award winner for Best Defensive Player in D III. He was also named a 2014 and 2015 D III All-Region selection.

He was the 2015 NCAA D III leader in tackles for loss, the 2014 and 2015 NCAA Division leader in sacks and the 2014 and 2015 Heartland Collegiate Athletic Conference Defensive MVP. He was a three time All-HCAC selection including a two-time First Team selection. He is the school record holder for both sacks and tackles for loss. He was team captain his senior year.

 “Ryan’s statistics and achievements make him one of the most talented and remarkable players to ever play for Bluffton University,” said Denny Dorrel, head football coach. “I will look back on the two years I had the opportunity to coach Ryan as some of the best in my coaching career, not because of how he dominated opponents’ offenses, but for the type of person Ryan was to me, my family, my coaches and his teammates.”

The Burcky Award is named for the late professor of physical education and coach who served Bluffton from 1922-68. He was inducted into the NAIA Baseball Hall of Fame in 1962. In 1970, the A.C. Burcky addition to Founders Hall was dedicated in his honor. 

On the volleyball court, Brown was a four year mainstay as a middle hitter. Her athletic ability and leadership skills played a major role in the team winning the Heartland Collegiate Athletic Conference Championship in 2013, 2014 and 2015.

Brown is statistically second in career hitting percentage (.290), sixth in career total blocks (389) and sixth in career kills (1,225). Starting her freshman year, Brown earned many volleyball awards. She was named a 2015 American Volleyball Coaches Association Honorable Mention All-American, selected to the 2015 First Team Great Lakes Region, named All-HCAC First Team all four years, chosen as HCAC Tournament MVP and included on the 2012 All-HCAC Freshman Team. She was also selected as a member of the HCAC All-Academic team for three seasons.

“Jenny is a woman of character with an outstanding work ethic, who embodies what it means to be a student-athlete,” said Steve Yarnell, head volleyball coach. “Her accomplishments stretch far beyond the friendly confines of Sommer Center and Copeland Court.”

Brown’s award is named for Kathryn Little, who served in Bluffton’s health, physical education and recreation department and in athletics from 1958-74. She was a member of the first class inducted into the Bluffton Athletics Hall of Fame.

During the athletics awards forum, Aelker-Gustwiller was also recognized for being the NCAA Division III leader in sacks per game (1.55) and tackles for loss per game (2.44) in 2015. Micah Roberson, a junior strength and conditioning and exercise science double major from Ada, Ohio, was recognized for leading the D III in most receptions per game at 10.

Speaking during program was Keith Dambrot, head men’s basketball coach at the University of Akron, on the characteristics of great leaders. During Dambrot’s tenure, Akron’s basketball program has grown into one of the top mid-majors in the nation.

Dambrot lamented the state of leadership among the younger generation. “This is going to sound like me being old but I think there are less leaders today than there have ever been. Students, I don’t think it’s your fault. It’s our fault. Because, you see, when we were kids everything wasn’t organized. We’d go to the park and do things on our own—football, basketball, baseball, whatever. We organized it on our own. We developed management skills by organizing a team,” said Dambrot.  “Now, it’s AAU events or organized events through your parents.”

He then asked the audience if leadership is a skill that comes naturally or if a person can learn leadership.

The answer, “I don’t really have the answer to that, but I do know that all of the great people that I have been around have these common attributes,” said Dambrot before running through a list of 37 attributes he’s compiled of top leaders. The list includes great competitiveness, having a chip on their shoulder, hard and consistent work ethic, ability to handle adversity and ability to handle prosperity. 

Dambrot says these attributes can be seen in basketball great LeBron James. Dambrot coached James during the star’s freshman and sophomore years at St. Vincent-St. Mary High School in Akron. 

“He’s a special individual. He’s a freak. He’s just like Mozart or the best painter you can think of or a brilliant mathematician. LeBron is a freak of nature. You think he’s great physically, I’m here to tell you he’s even better mentally than physically. His ability to lead is second to none.”

In addition to the advice on success, Dambrot left the students with this thought on personal happiness. “You’re going to work for 30, 40, 50 years—make sure you do something that you love because it’s a long 40 or 50 years if you don’t.”


Outstanding senior athletes

Jenny Brown and Ryan Aelker-Gustwiller accepted awards as outstanding senior athletes.