Joe American Horse – Gordon

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.

George Andrews – Omaha Burke.

Athlete. 1974. First Burke player to receive a full scholarship to UNL in football. Three-year football and basketball letterman at Omaha Burke. All-State. Solid defensive career at UNL, including captain of the Blackshirt defense his senior year. Both academic and football All-American. Drafted in NFL first round by Los Angeles Rams and played linebacker from 1979 to 1986, which included the 1979 Super Bowl. Member of UNL football hall of fame. Omaha Burke outstanding graduate award.

Francis Allen – Lincoln

Coach.  Allen had a highly successful stint as a gymnast at Lincoln High and UNL.  He was Big 8 parallel bars champion in 1964 and a national finalist from 1962-64 with a top finish of fourth place in 1964.

His signicant contribution to high school sports came during his UNL coaching career where he took over the head coaching reins at UNL  from his old mentor,  Jake Geier in 1969. Francis went on to establish an enviable record in the college gymnastics, all the while maintaining a positive influence on the high school gymnastics scene.  He has coached eight national championships (including five in a row), seven national runner-up finishes, 41 individual national titles, 11 Olympians, and 14 conference titles.  A three-time national coach of the year, he led the Huskers to 17 straight NCAA Championship appearances from 1978 to 1995.  The Huskers have competed in 21 of the last 27 NCAA Championships.  Individually, his athletes have earned 162 All-America awards, won by 42 different gymnasts. And 14 Huskers have captured NCAA individual titles.  Twice named to coach the U.S. Olympic Gymnastic team, he also received the College Gymnastics Association Honor Coach Award.  Francis is presently serving his third term as College Gymnastics Association President.

Mark Ahmann – Wayne

Contributor.

Known for his sign-off: “Have a good day the rest of this one, a good tomorrow and take care of yourself,” Ahmann was the primary face and voice of Nebraska high school sports while hosting KOLN/KGIN’s Friday night Sports Roundup from 1972 to 1980. Ahmann has also worked as a broadcaster in Lexington, North Platte, Sioux City and Wayne, as well as in Iowa and Michigan. He called the 1966 “Game of the Century” between Michigan State and Notre Dame.  Throughout his radio/tv career, high school sports got first-class treatment. At 74, Mark was still active at the station hosting the morning show “The View from Wayne America” each weekday. He continues to do play by play calling for many of the high school and college games. Mark is a local celebrity who emcees many events in Wayne and throughout the state.

He is a long time employee of the Wayne KTCH station and was general manager at one time.

Curlee Alexander – Omaha North

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.

Grover Cleveland Alexander – St. Paul

Grover Cleveland AlexanderAthlete–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.

Dennis Albers – Hastings

2011 Inductee

Athlete

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.

Richie Ashburn – Tilden

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 – Lincoln High

2012 Awards

Athlete. 1934

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.

 

Wally Anderzunas – Omaha Creighton Prep

ATHLETE

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.