Omaha Marian (Class of 2001)
The Athlete of the Year tag stuck to Omaha Marian’s Laura Spanheimer, who twice earned the honor from the Lincoln Journal-Star and as a senior from the Omaha World-Herald. She led Marian to back-to-back state basketball championships those years, earning all-metro and all-state accolades. An outstanding runner as well, she burst on the scene by winning the All-Class gold medal in the 1,600 at the state meet as a freshman. She went on to win two individual 800 gold medals and ran on four state-champion 4×800 relays, including one that set a state and state meet record. In cross country, she finished second in state as a sophomore and junior and won the event as a senior. At Creighton University, she earned All-Missouri Valley basketball honors and finished her career with the most steals in Bluejay history and the second-highest total of games played.
Lincoln Southeast (Class of 1980)
Bill Weber had an attraction for the action of state tournaments. The Lincoln Journal-Star’s Athlete of the Year in 1980, Weber played in seven state high school state tournaments and three American Legion baseball state tournaments. He earned all-state honors his junior and senior seasons in football while playing defensive end and tight end for Southeast. During his playing career, the Knights qualified for the state playoffs three times and won the state title in 1977. He also picked up all-city accolades in basketball and baseball, playing on the Knights’ state runner-up baseball team of 1979 and the state runner-up basketball teams of 1978 and 1979. At the University of Nebraska, he started at defensive end for three years, earning All-Big Eight honors in 1984. He was named to the Nebraska Football Hall of Fame in 2012.
Jim Paige spent more than 50 years calling fouls and penalties in football, basketball and track at Nebraska high school athletic events. Described as “quiet, unassuming and hard-working,” Paige displayed a respect for athletes and coaches while maintaining fairmindedness in the implementation of the rules. Selected as the Nebraska Football Official of the Year, Paige worked a handful of state football championships as well as several state basketball tournaments. Primarily a starter in track and cross country, Paige has been a triple jump official at the state track meet for more than 30 years. In addition to being an active official, Paige has mentored dozens of young referees, bringing quality to the ranks of the profession. He has also been an observer and evaluator of officials for the NSAA.
Jim Tenopir took the path from small-town Nebraska to the peak of high school sports in the United States. The Chief Operating Officer of the National Federation of State High School Associations from 2010-15, Tenopir oversaw the day-to-day operations of the organization that governs high school sports across the nation. He drew on experience gained as the Nebraska School Activities Association Executive Director from 2001 to 2010 – a position he returned to in 2015. A Harvard High School graduate, Tenopir’s coaching and teaching career started at Otis-Benson High School in Kansas in 1970. He returned to Nebraska two years later as a coach, teacher and administrator at McCook. He went on to serve as the athletic director at Scottsbluff and superintendent at Cambridge before accepting his position with the NSAA. During his career he has tackled several difficult issues, including athlete safety and transgender rights.
No one could account for all the athletes and students who have benefitted from the unselfish contributions Mike Purdy has made to their lives. A coach and administrator in the middle school and high school ranks for more than 40 years, Purdy pioneered and promoted programs and activities that made interscholastic activities in Nebraska a better place. Throughout a career centered on the interests of all students and athletes, Purdy developed scholarship programs, promoted sportsmanship summits and awards, supervised sporting events of every description and fostered an atmosphere of cooperation among organizations supporting athletics. A leader among his peers, Purdy earned Distinguished Service Awards from the Nebraska and National Interscholastic Athletic Administrators Associations.
A past chairman of the Metro Conference, Purdy is the NSIAAA’s Executive Director. Mike retired from Bellevue East in 2004.
Alan VanCura was one of Nebraska’s most successful high school volleyball coaches. He led Hastings St. Cecilia to 830 victories in 41 years before retiring in 2016. During his tenure, the Hawkettes won six state championships and 19 district championships. A coach with a calm demeanor who rarely raised his voice, he dedicated his time and energy for the good of the students. His teams built their success on solid fundamentals, great team defense and the maximum use of each player’s talent. As the girls track coach for 36 years, plus three as boys coach, he led teams to 17 district titles, three state runner-up finishes and the 1980 Class C title.
Title IX and Pat Hoblyn arrived at Ansley High School at the same time, and they had an immediate impact. In her first year as the school’s volleyball coach, she led the Warriors to a 19-0 record and a state championship. She continued to coach the team for more than 40 years. At the time of her induction, she had celebrated five state championships, one runner-up finish and had compiled 681 victories and a .748 winning percentage. Her teams won 25 Loup Valley Conference titles and a total of 37 tournaments. In addition to coaching volleyball, she was head basketball coach for two years and coached boys and girls track for 17 years, winning a total of 13 conference championships and two girls’ state runner-up trophies.
Few teams have ever enjoyed the dominance of Coach Brad Hildebrandt’s Skutt Catholic wrestling teams. During his tenure from 1993 to 2015, he led the SkyHawks to a total of 20 state wrestling championships – 17 team titles and three dual championships. The run included 13 straight Class B titles from 1998-2010. After a runner-up finish in 2011, the SkyHawks embarked on another string of state titles that carried on beyond his retirement. An Omaha firefighter whose passion was coaching wrestling, Hildebrandt strived to use wrestling to prepare for life. His teams produced 63 individual champions, six high school All-Americans, 101 state medalists and 154 state qualifiers.
Charlie Gordon commanded respect and displayed respect throughout a 25-year coaching career that spanned four decades and provided Lincoln Southeast with its first state championship in any sport. Gordon was named the Knights’ baseball coach when the school opened in 1955. In 1958, with seven sophomores in the starting lineup, the Knights claimed their first of five state baseball championships. His Southeast teams also collected three runner-up finishes and 12 district championships. Also an assistant football coach, Gordon never took shortcuts when working with students and other coaches and was an example of what coaches hope sports can teach young people.
After two years as an assistant boys basketball coach at Elm Creek, Randy Carpenter started the girls basketball program at Lexington in 1974, creating an after-school program that would feed his varsity. The early success of his teams helped steer Nebraska into the modern era of girls basketball. Throughout his career, the passionate and colorful Carpenter earned a reputation for producing teams that played solid player-to-player defense and were well-prepared. In a coaching tenure that lasted 37 years, he led the Minutemaids to state championships in 1978 and 1987, two runner-up trophies in 1977 and 1991, 13 district championships and 12 Southwest Conference titles. He retired in 2011 with a 492-276 record. His last team set a school record with 23 victories.