Jerome Tatum recalls pedaling his bike on a path near his home in Chanhassen, Minn., maybe five or six years ago when a person riding ahead of him was taking his sweet time.
As Tatum impatiently pedaled past the slowpoke, he did a double take when he saw the man’s face.
It was none other than a purple legend named Prince, the late rock superstar who was out for some fresh air near his legendary Paisley Park recording studio.
While Tatum passed a legend that day, the former Case High School standout hasn’t done too badly in his own life.
Thirty five years ago, Tatum was a three-sport athlete at Case who was learning values that have served him well in life. The source of most of those values were his three primary coaches — Gene Veit in football, Don Schutt in basketball and Bill Greiten in track and field.
Tatum, who received a full scholarship to play football for Division II Mankato State in Minnesota, would go on to become the Major Gift Officer for Children’s Hospitals and Clinics of Minnesota. To date, the 52-year-old Tatum estimates he has helped raise $10 million, including $3 million for cancer research.
“I get letters all the time from little kids,” Tatum said. “They say, ‘I appreciate your efforts.’ That’s what we’re here for.”
He was inspired to help others from an early age. Tatum recalls staying up all night as a boy and watching Jerry Lewis’ Labor Day Telethon for Muscular Dystrophy.
“That always inspired me to do some kind of fundraising and make a difference,” he said.
His values were further developed at Case. Veit, Schutt and Greiten each coached at the school for more than a quarter century and Tatum recalls being taught some hard lessons during his varsity career, during which he earned nine letters.
“They taught us to be on time, respect people and hold yourself accountable,” Tatum said. “I was in the locker room one time goofing around after practice snapping towels and coach Greiten came out and disciplined us right away.”
As Tatum was learning off the field, he was producing on it. Going into the 1983 season, the Case football team was coming off a 1-8 record, but Veit had a longtime policy of rewarding seniors with playing time, even if they were less talented than the underclassmen.
“We felt there were a lot of juniors who had better ability than the seniors, but we respected his idea of playing the seniors who had gone through the the trenches,” Tatum said of the 1982 team.
Tatum suspected there could be a quick turnaround in 1983 and that’s exactly what happened. Serving primarily as a blocking fullback for halfbacks Tony Jones and Fred Brewer — Jones earned first-team AP All-State honors that year after rushing for 1,111 yards — Case continued to gain momentum during a 7-2 season.
In the days before the expansion of the playoffs, Case did’t even qualify for the postseason that year. But it was an experience Tatum has taken with him to this day because, once again, he was in a position to sacrifice.
“We had three solid running backs — myself, Fred Brewer and Tony Jones,” Tatum said. “Coach Veit asked me if I would be willing to play fullback because I was probably the best blocker.
“Because of that sacrifice, he gave me more opportunities to carry the ball. We knew right away that we were going to be good.”
Tatum’s senior season continued when he was he leading scorer on a Case basketball team that struggled to a 6-14 record. And then he ended things in style by excelling in the triple jump and long jump for a an Eagles track team that won the 1984 WIAA Division 1 championship.
“High school is one of the biggest things that shapes who you are as an individual,” said Tatum, who maintained a 3.0-grade point average at Case. “You develop friendships. And even though you don’t see those people anymore, you look at your yearbooks and the stories come alive immediately.”
Tatum and Jones earned football scholarships to Mankato State. Tatum started for two years as a running back and, what happened on Nov. 26, 1987 sticks with him to this day.
Mankato State was playing Portland State in an NCAA Division II quarterfinal at Portland, Ore. Mankato State was trailing 27-21 with seven seconds remaining when Tatum lost control of a pass in the end zone.
Had Mankato State won, it would have met Northern Michigan and 1984 Park graduate Jerry Woods, a longtime friend of Tatum’s, in the semifinal.
“I was in the middle of the end zone and the quarterback threw me a pass,” Tatum said. “There was a guy behind me, but I was unaware of it. The ref in front called it a touchdown. The guy behind me knocked it out of my hands, so another ref called it incomplete. So they went with his call.”
Maybe Tatum didn’t quite get it done that day. But he sure has ever since.