Komets fans returning jersey collection to the players

Bill Oberg and Sue Hansen and some of their 42 Komets jerseys. (By Blake Sebring of News-Sentinel.com)

When Bill Oberg and Sue Hansen moved to Fort Wayne from the Chicago area in 2006, they were looking to move closer to family and they liked the housing prices and opportunities to volunteer. They were already hockey fans and they became Komets fanatics, usually following the team on extended road trips a couple times per season, recently watching games in Colorado and Utah.

But the biggest way they have shown their love for the Komets is through buying jerseys during the team charity auctions. Married for 30 years, the Obergs do it because they respect and like the players, but also because it’s how they donate to Fort Wayne charities. They have 42 jerseys, estimating they have spent between $25,000 and $30,000 over the last 10 years during the auctions. The most they have spent is $1,200 for a Mike Cazzola jersey last year.

They are incredibly generous people.

“That’s not how I look at it,” Bill Oberg said. “Camp Watcha-Wanna-Do and what they do for kids and what Vera Bradley does for breast cancer research, those are incredible things. It’s not about the jerseys, it’s how I donate to great causes.”

However, the Obergs love wearing the jerseys to games, and a couple years ago during a game against Indy, Bill was wearing a 2012-13 Garrett Klotz jersey when he noticed a man following him around the Memorial Coliseum. When the same man showed up again during the second intermission, Oberg turned and asked if he could help him.

Former Komets defenseman Jake Pence and three of his four sons with the jersey he received from Bill Oberg and Sue Hansen. (Courtesy photo.)

“He said, `I noticed your jersey and I wondered if you would want to sell it,’ ” Hansen said.

Turns out it was Klotz’s father and he still wanted a jersey from his son’s time with the Komets. The Obergs weren’t ready to part with it but said they’d keep the offer in mind for the future.

Two months ago Oberg started thinking about what he was going to do with the collection. He still loves wearing them to the games, but what if the uniforms could serve a better purpose than just hanging in his closet?

That’s when he remembered another conversation. After Brad MacMillan left the Komets following the 2010 season, Oberg felt like he had missed out on an opportunity to buy a MacMillan jersey. He wrote the forward asking if he’d be willing to sell one, but MacMillan said he’d prefer to save them for his children to wear someday.

“We’ve decided that we’d like to start returning the jerseys to the players,” Oberg said. “I feel it’s like a pay-it-forward thing. These players gave me happiness to get that jersey, plus I gave money to the community. I thought it might be nice for them to get their jerseys back. It’s just something we felt it was time to do.”

“If they were here one season, you don’t know if they kept one,” Hansen said. “Some of them might be parents or become parents soon and it would be cool for their kids to see their dad played for the Fort Wayne Komets.”

They started by sending Jake Pence his jersey, and Pence sent back a picture of him and three of his four sons with the jersey. They are sending Klotz his Komets jersey today after he was traded last week by Quad City to Jacksonville. The Obergs told him it was free.

“But it’s your jersey,” Klotz said.

“No, it’s actually your jersey,” they told him.

They’ve already selected which players are next, and usually, they are already friends with them on Facebook. The amazing thing is they have only a pair of repeat players’ jerseys, Kaleigh Schrock and Garrett Thompson. They’ve got all kinds of jerseys for all kinds of players and various charities.

“People ask why we are season ticket holders, and I tell them what else would you want to do in the winter that’s really inexpensive entertainment?” he said. “It gets us off our butts to go out and meet people.

“With the jerseys, the bottom line is let somebody else enjoy them. We’re happy with this decision and it makes us feel good to do it. It’s a way to reconnect to the players we’ve enjoyed watching and getting to meet.”

As Hansen said, “We know they are going somewhere good. If something happened to us tomorrow, we don’t know where they’d go. This way somebody might enjoy it.”

It may take a few years to complete the giveaways, and don’t be surprised if the Obergs’ collection gets replenished a little along the way. After all, they are still big fans and soft touches for good causes.