Coach. Curlee Alexander won the 115-pound NAIA National Wrestling Championship in 1969 for the University of Nebraska at Omaha and turned that experience into a highly successful coaching career. He started at Omaha Tech in 1971, then moved to Omaha North in 1984. Alexander coached more than 50 individual state champions before retiring in 2008. His teams claimed seven state championships, in 1978 at Tech and 1985, 1990, 1993, 1994, 1995 and 1999 at North. The two schools also claimed four runner-up trophies while under his direction. He was a four-time Metro Coach of the Year, the 1990 Nebraska Scholastic Wrestling Coaches Association Coach of the Year and the 1994 Omaha World-Herald Boys Sports Coach of the Year. He was inducted into the UNO Hall of Fame in 1986.
Athlete–It is no accident that the Museum of Nebraska Major League Baseball is situated within Howard County at St. Paul, for nearby is the final resting place of an American premier baseball pitcher. Grover Cleveland Alexander. Records of play for high school teams in this era are sketchy at best. One thing about Alexander in his Elba high school years, he was playing baseball successfully against older athletes and this led him into professional baseball for an illustrious major league career beginning in 1911. He played for the Phillies, Cubs and Cardinals, led the league in wins five times, in ERA five times, in strikeouts six times. His golden moment was striking out New York Yankees’ slugger Tony Lazzeri with the bases loaded in the seventh game of the 1926 World Series. This namesake of a US president compiled a game winning lifetime mark of 373-208. Late in a career celebrated by the movies, he came on in real life relief late in the final game of the 1926 World Series to successfully strike out the New York Yankees. A World War I veteran who served overseas in France, Alexander was admitted to the Major League Baseball Hall of Fame at Cooperstown in 1938. His windup was minimal, his stride short, his delivery three-quarters overhand. His right arm swung across his chest and the ball seemed to emerge from his shirtfront. He warmed up quickly. On the mound he was deliberate but without wasted time or motion. He was a solitary man and said little, and that in a small, whispery voice. His teammates respected him. He also suffered from epilepsy, which was sometimes mistaken for drunken behavior. The disease first appeared in 1918 during his military service in France with the artillery, which partially deafened him.
- Led League in era 15-17, 19-20
- Led League in k 12, 14-17, 20
- Hall Of Fame in 1938
- IP W-L ERA Career 5189 373-208 2.56 World Series 43 3-2 3.35
Many of his minor league experiences were inauspicious. Playing for Galesburg, IL, of the Central Association in 1909, he tried to break up a double play and took the shortstop’s relay directly in the head. Unconscious for two days, he awoke with double vision. Galesburg sent him to Indianapolis but, still disoriented, he broke three of the manager’s ribs with his first pitch. Indianapolis sent him home and sold his contract to the Syracuse Chiefs over the winter. By spring, his vision had cleared and he won 29 for the Chiefs, including 15 shutouts.
The Phillies acquired Alexander for $750 in 1911. As a rookie, he led the NL in wins (28), complete games (31), innings pitched (367), and shutouts (7). Four of the shutouts were consecutive; one was a 1-0 win over Cy Young, then in his final season.
Alexander’s greatest years were in Philadelphia (1911-17), despite a right-field wall that was only 272 feet from home plate. He won 190 games (one-third of the team’s total for the period), won 30 or more three straight years, 1915-17, and led the NL in every important pitching statistic at least once. His 16 shutouts in 1916 is still the ML record.
Traded with catcher Bill Killefer to the Cubs in 1917 for a battery of considerably lower caliber and $55,000, Pete won another 128 games for Chicago. In 1926, he went to the Cardinals for the $6,000 waiver price.
He had a live fastball that moved in on righthanded hitters and a sharp-breaking curve. He had no changeup as such, but could change speeds on both the fastball and the curve to achieve the same effect. He kept the ball low and on the outside of the plate. His control was extraordinary (career: 1.65 walks per 9 innings), and batters who tried to wait him out usually fanned.
His most famous victim was Tony Lazzeri of the Yankees. In the seventh inning of the final game of the 1926 WS, with the Cardinals ahead 3-2, the Yankees had two out and the bases loaded. Alexander, who’d won two games, including a complete game the day before, relieved for St. Louis. On four knee-high pitches, he struck out Lazzeri, then pitched two more hitless innings to wrap up the World Championship.
After his 1926 heroics, Alexander got his best contract ever: $17,500. He responded with 21 wins in 1927, but he was 40 years old. Whiskey and age were taking their toll. After leaving the majors, he pitched in demeaning circumstances with touring teams until he was 51. He retired believing his 373 wins placed him one ahead of Christy Mathewson for the most career NL victories, but later statistical research added another win to Matty’s total.
Class of 1960
Dennis Albers dominated the high school gymnastics scene in 1959 and 1960. The all-around state champion in both years, he won gold medals in tumbling, trampoline, parallel bars, horizontal bars and free exercise. In both years, he scored more than 70 points while leading Hastings to back-to-back state championships. He also lettered for three years in track and field, holding the Hastings High School pole vault record for several years. As a collegian, Albers led the Nebraska Cornhuskers to the 1964 Big Eight Championship, winning the all-around championship and four individual events.
Athlete. World War II era residents of the Elkhorn Valley within Madison County were fortunate to witness the early years of this legendary athlete who graduated from Tilden High School in 1944. He was an all state caliber member of the Tigers basketball team which made it to the state tournament in 1944 in Class C. His specialty developed in baseball as an outfielder, eventually playing for the Philadelphia Phillies, Chicago Cubs and New York Mets. He was honored for those major league talents by being inducted into baseball’s Hall of Fame in 1995. Often a National League batting champion challenger, his best year came in 1958 when he hit .350. Not just a speed merchant, but blessed with a great throwing arm, Richie Ashburn helped the Philadelphia Phillies win a rare National League pennant in 1950 (Whiz Kids). In the off season during his playing days, Ashburn returned to Tilden and refereed high school games and worked out with the Tilden high school teams during the winter. He’d bring cases of Wheaties for families in Tilden because of his endorsement of the product. Deceased.
Richie Ashburn was a durable, hustling leadoff hitter and clutch performer with superb knowledge of the strike zone. A fan favorite, “Whitey” batted .308 with nine .300-plus seasons and 2,574 hits in 15 years, winning batting championships in 1955 and 1958. A core player for the 1950 Whiz Kids, the center fielder established major league records for most times leading the league in chances (nine), most years with 500 or more putouts (four) and most seasons with 400 or more putouts (nine). Ashburn spent 35 years broadcasting Phillies games after his playing days.
Donald Richard Ashburn
- Born: March 19, 1927, Tilden, Nebraska
- Died: September 9, 1997, New York, New York
- Batted: left
- Threw: right
- Played for: Phillies, Cubs, Mets
- Elected to Hall of Fame by Committee on Baseball Veterans: 1995
- Career Batting Record
- Did you know … that Richie Ashburn was the only rookie elected to the 1948 All-Star Game?
Following from: Leo Harvill, commenting by email on Ashburn’s death.
“I grew up in Tilden, NE. Richie and his family lived one block away from my family. His children played with my younger brother and sister. I would babysit with his kids. He and his family were friends of our family. He was my boyhood hero and idol but he was also my friend even though he was 14 years older. I didn’t think it was unusual to have a major league baseball star living next to me. I guess I thought everyone did.
I can remember Rich bringing cases of Wheaties over for our family (I have three brothers and a sister). He was given cases of them because of his endorsement of the product but he told us that he and his family didn’t eat them.
I can remember Rich working out with our high school basketball team so he could keep in shape in the off season. He could drive around anyone on our team; his speed on the basketball court was amazing! I was particularly slow and could not believe anyone could be that fast.
My wife, youngest son, and I had the opportunity to visit Rich in 1993 and attend several Phillies games (when Ashburn was an announcer). My wife and I were also able to attend the Hall of Fame induction ceremony in 1995. It was a special time for me to see a friend inducted into the HOF. I never saw Rich play in a major league baseball game but I followed his career very closely.”
Paul Amen’s career as an athlete, coach and banking executive began at Lincoln High where he started at halfback on the Links’ 1932 mythical state-champion football team. He also started at guard and earned all-state honors for the Links’ 21-1 Class A champion basketball team of 1934. After graduation, Amen attended the University of Nebraska where he earned three letters each in football, basketball and baseball. He played on the U.S. baseball team that gave exhibitions at the Berlin Olympics in 1936. He was the head baseball and an assistant football coach at Army from 1943-55 then was the head football coach at Wake Forest where he was named the conference’s coach of the year twice in four years. He returned to Nebraska where he worked in banking and served as director of the Department of Banking and Finance for the state of Nebraska from 1979-83.
A two-time all-state basketball player who led Creighton Prep to the 1964 Class A title, he also was a prep All-American as a senior. A 6-foot-7 center-forward, he scored 1,404 points as a Junior Jay – the first in the school’s history to eclipse the 1,000-point . He averaged more than 24 points per game in three state tournament appearances. At Creighton University, he averaged 17.2 points a game while finishing among the Jays’ all-time top 10 for scoring (1,267 points) and rebounds (696). A second-round NBA draft pick in 1969 by Atlanta, he played for the Cincinnati Royals in 1969-70.
Coach. Fremont High School track and cross country coach, 1965-1997.
Whenever great all-time coaches of high school track & field or cross country are mentioned in Nebraska, the name of Jon Appleget pops right into the discussion. Serving as head cross country and track & field coach at Fremont High School between 1965 and 1997, his record is remarkable. Twice the Black and Gold won the state cross country boys title during his tenure and in track, he had a spectacular ten-year period when his teams won the boys state track & field title five times. His athletes finished 1st, 2nd or 3rd in over 150 meets. Small wonder then that he won state coach of the year honors five times and won the type of respect previously reserved for others such as Dutch Zorn and Wayne Binfield, early Hall of Fame inductees. The school honored him by naming the track and field facility in his name.
By Brett Ellis/Tribune Staff , Fremont Tribune, Spring, 2002
Chip Bahe believes Saturday’s dedication of the Jon M. Appleget Track and Field Facility is a fitting tribute to the man who helped bring the Fremont High School boys track program to prominent status in the state. “I wouldn’t think any other name would be sufficient,” said the Lincoln Northeast boys basketball coach, who competed under Appleget from 1983-85 at FHS. “Fremont track and the name Jon Appleget go hand in hand. I don’t think anybody else’s name could be attached to it.”
Appleget will be honored during Saturday’s Fremont Invitational. The dedication is scheduled to take place around 3 p.m.
Appleget, who coached the Tigers to five state track titles, is honored that so many of his past athletes want to recognize him.
“I think it means that they got something out of the program, and I guess that makes any coach proud,” he said.
Sean McMahon was a distance runner for Appleget and replaced him as boys cross country coach in the fall of 1997.
McMahon appreciates the time he had to work with Appleget.
“From day one he was a big inspiration,” McMahon said. “You just know from being around him a few seconds that he’s someone who’s a role model and someone you want to emulate.”
“He made track fun and that’s not an easy thing to do,” he said. “He had such a unique quality about him that made you want to be successful for each other. He made track a team game.”
Along with his five state titles, Appleget received several other honors while at Fremont. He was inducted into the Nebraska High School Hall of Fame in 1998 and was the Nebraska Coaches Association track coach of the year 1984-86 and 1990.
Appleget, though, is quick to acknowledge that his success was based largely on the coaches with which he surrounded himself, including Pat Murphy — who coached with Appleget from 1965 until they retired together in 1997.
“We were just lucky to have that continuity,” Appleget said.
Mike Reis, who has been a sprint and hurdles coach at FHS since 1971, said Appleget was so successful because he encouraged his athletes to enjoy their participation in track.
“It just goes back to making it fun,” Reis said. “It was controlled fun, but that’s the best way to get what you want out of the kids.”
Reis developed a relationship with Appleget that extended beyond the track, though.
“Above all he was a friend, and that’s probably the best thing you can say about him,” Reis said.
What separated Appleget from many other coaches, McMahon said, was that he put in the time and effort to learn all aspects of the sport.
“I don’t know that there was a weakness of his,” McMahon said.
McMahon also hopes the current Fremont athletes take the time Saturday to appreciate what Applegate, as well as the numerous other athletes that have gone through the Fremont program, have done.
Between 250-300 people are expected to attend the track reunion, many of which also will be at the invitational.
“It’s not something we’ve been talking to them a lot about, but they’ve been figuring a lot out on their own,” McMahon said. “They want to do well because they know that there will be a lot of people out there supporting them. I think it will be an electric and exciting atmosphere.”
Copyright © 2002 Fremont Tribune
Coach. A coaching legend in Nebraska high school football, this gentleman started his illustrious career at Cathedral High School in Lincoln in 1950. Interestingly, in those days Cathedral High played 6-man football. In 1951, under the guidance of Coach Aldrich, the school was the No. 1 6-man team in the state. In the fall of 1956, Pius X High School opened in Lincoln. Aldrich was on the faculty as both a football expert and a fine teacher. In both 1975 and 1978, his Thunderbolts won the state playoffs and were the undisputed Class B state champion. A common compliment to this winning coach in those days was the statement that the Pius X team under Coach Aldrich’s direction could compete with any Class A team. With a lifetime football coaching record of 200-105-13; it is no surprise that today the football field at 6000 A Street in Lincoln is named Aldrich Field.
Coach. Superb coaches have a habit of building sporting dynasties. Such a skilled individual is Mick Anderson. His career began as an assistant coach at Ralston High School, and his move to head basketball coach at Wahoo High School in Saunders County turned out to be a master maneuver. The basketball program, from the organized grade school leagues to the high school varsity, came together, reaping state and even national recognition. At one stretch in the Anderson era, the blue and gold-clad Warriors won 114 straight games, the Nebraska record, of course, and the third highest in the nation. Wahoo was Class B state champion in boys basketball six times out of eight appearances at state. In one remarkable span of seven years, between 1988 and 1994, Anderson had 177 victories and only 3 losses. It came as no surprise then that he was selected coach of the year during this period by both of the state’s largest newspapers.
Athlete. 1957. From the high plains of northwest Nebraska came this legendary long distance runner, a 1957 graduate of Gordon High School in Sheridan County. At his best in the mile run at the state track & field meets in Lincoln, he won the all-class gold medal twice and the Class B mile three times. His senior year at the state meet, then held in Memorial Stadium, with the fans standing and cheering him on, Joe American Horse set a Class B record in the mile of 4.28.1. After high school he was a student at the University of Nebraska who competed for UNL in cross country and in 1959 placed sixth in the Big Eight Conference meet, leading the Huskers to their best finish since 1940.
Joe is the first Native American to be inducted into the Hall of Fame. Joe competed in an era when an athlete could only run in one race over 440 yards and one can only guess what he could have accomplished had the rules been the same as today. By all accounts, Joe was a real crowd pleaser when he ran in meets. He would get standing ovations on every lap and deafening cheers when he crossed the finish line. One sports writer maintains that he would have broken Bill Mountford’s state record if he would have someone pushing him.
Story by Indian Country Today, April, 2000
OGLALA, S.D. – In 1959, on a gray and rainy spring day, two Oglala Lakota athletes stood side by side on a track in Lincoln, Neb. The stadium, more notorious for hosting Cornhusker football games, was about to witness a quiet milestone.
Down on the track the 2 mile race was ready to start. The Lakota men, Billy Mills of Kansas University and Joe American Horse of the University of Nebraska, were ready to run. The gun sounded and the duel began. Silently, the two men kept pace with each other: 5 laps, 6 laps, 7 laps – just one to go. Rounding the corner for the final 220 yard sprint, American Horse was right on Mills’ shoulder.
Mills began his kick. American Horse struggled gamely, then fell back. After the race the two acknowledged each other with smiles and a friendly hand shake. The following year at the Tokyo Olympics, Mills would shock the sports world with a gold medal in the 10 thousand meter run, the last American to win at that distance in 40 years. Meanwhile, American Horse would go on to become one of the few two time tribal presidents in Oglala Lakota Tribal History.
In the case of Billy Mills, thousand of words have followed his worthy deeds, and rightly so. The career of Joe American Horse has been less well known, though in its way, his story is equally inspiring. With American Horse’s pending induction into the Nebraska High School Sports Hall of Fame this Oct. 8, that oversight will at least be partially corrected. The Oglala resident will be the first Native American so honored.
American Horse began his track career in the 8th grade at tiny Gordon High School just south of the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation. At his first practice the youth, barely a teenager, competed in a mile race against the high school runners. “I came in second, and I don’t know who was more surprised – them or me,” said American Horse.
The former tribal chairman admits the recollection has a storybook quality to it. “It’s like what I saw in the movies. When I was a kid they took me to see Burt Lancaster play Jim Thorpe. I always wanted to be like that. Here, at least in a little way, it seemed like it happened.”
The following spring it happened in a bigger way. In his freshman year in high school, American Horse placed second again, this time at the state track meet in Lincoln. Recalling that day, the elderly Lakota relived his awe. “It was in Cornhusker Stadium you know – they used to have track meets there. There was thousands of people everywhere. It was a little overwhelming.”
Eventually, by dint of his growing prowess, American Horse was able to get used to it. American Horse placed first in the mile at the next three consecutive state track meets. As a sophomore he won it with a time of 4:43.6. His junior year he clocked in at 4:28.9, and broke a record for the class B mile that had stood for 32 years. By his senior year, the Lakota youth had developed a following that included Omaha World Herald sportswriter Gregg McBride. Running under wet and windy conditions, the Gordon High School senior finished the race in 4:28.1. McBride called the mile the best ever run by a Nebraska high school athlete.
An old and, by today’s standards, odd regulation in those days prevented American Horse from gaining even more victories. Runners at that time were only allowed to compete in one race that was a half-mile or longer. Still, American Horse anchored his high school’s mile relay team to a state championship in 1957.
Perhaps because of his feats in Lincoln, Neb., American Horse was given a track scholarship to attend the University of Nebraska. Besides receiving two letters in track there, he led the university’s cross country team to its best Big 8 Cross Country finish in 19 years. Finally in 1960, American Horse set an indoor 2 mile record of 9:24.6 and an outdoor record of 9:18.2. Both performances were University of Nebraska records at the time.
Recently, in an interview, American Horse revealed he has slowed down some. The 61 year old confessed he pulled a muscle while out on a 6-mile jog. “I finished the run, but it still hurts a little bit. I may have to cut back on my distance a little,” he said. While his running may no longer be world class (he was ranked 10th in the nation as a miler in 1960) the former tribal chairman does show up in some unusual places. He gave a recent speech on economic development at the University of Chicago. More recently, he delivered another speech on the same topic at Frankfurt University in Germany.
Economic development on Indian reservations is now the baton Joe American Horse carries. And, in his usual quiet and confident way, when he talks about it he smiles. Much the way he used to smile in stadiums over 40 years ago.