For decades, every win for the Clearwater High School Tornadoes was punctuated by players rushing to the sidelines to greet their biggest fan: Wendell “Popcorn” Casper, who attended almost every football game for nearly 40 years.
Casper died last Friday at age 77, but school officials say he will always be the team’s good luck charm.
He started attending Clearwater football games when his son, Fred Casper, played on the team, from 1984 to 1988, and rarely missed a game since, said his wife Madelene.
“I never really cared for football, but it made him happy, so it made me happy,” she said. “It gave him something to look forward to, and he loved that he was so loved by the kids. Eventually, they let him park in his own parking spot, because he was always there.”
Whether junior varsity or varsity, at home or across the state, “Popcorn” often arrived at games before the team even began practicing. Even though a spinal injury left him in a wheelchair, Casper drove around the sidelines of Jack White Stadium on his red electric scooter yelling plays to the team and waving to the crowds.
“The kids would take it as a bad omen if he didn’t show up for a game, which I think he only missed one, and would say, ‘Oh, we need to delay the game,’
“He would always yell to the cheerleaders, ‘Hey, cheerleaders,’ and they would yell back ‘Hey, Popcorn.’ He was really cute and would always be sure to call his wife to let her know what time to expect him at home.”
Madelene Casper said she isn’t sure how her husband, a former corn farmer in Nebraska, got saddled with the nickname “popcorn,” but she suspects he gave it to himself. The players knew him by another name, said longtime football coach Tom Bostic: “Magnet Man.”
After every game, Popcorn would cut out newspaper clippings about big wins or students who played particularly well, laminate them and make magnets for the players’ family members to put on their refrigerators, his wife said.
Popcorn attended about 750 games over the years and was the only nonstudent to ever receive a letter in football from the school without ever playing a game, Bostic said.
The football team plans to attend his funeral today in full uniform, and the school held a moment of silence in his honor after he died, Bostic said.
“He was very much a fun loving guy, very outgoing and our most loyal fan,” Bostic said.
Today’s funeral is at 4 p.m. at Prince of Peace Lutheran Church, 455 Missouri Ave. in Largo.
In lieu of flowers, donations can be made to Suncoast Hospice, 5771 Roosevelt Blvd., Clearwater.