Athlete: A 1973 Fremont High School graduate, he won all but two races throughout his high school swimming career, setting state records at all four state meets. He was the first Nebraska swimmer to break four minutes in the 400-meter freestyle. He won seven gold medals at the state meet.
Coach. Jerry Eickhoff retired at the end of the 2009 basketball season as Nebraska’s all-time leader in victories while compiling a 670-226 record. A rarity indeed, he coached at Hampton for the entire 40 years of his career. He and the Hawks won three state titles, three state runner-up finishes, a third-place finish in 10 state tournament appearances. Under his guidance, the Hawks won 51 straight games in 1972-74 and Hampton played in four straight state championship games from 1987-1990. Known for stressing the positive and instilling a sense of confidence in his players, Eickhoff coached football, volleyball and track early in his coaching career. He was also the athletic director and was the high school principal for more than 30 years.
Contributor. Ray Ehlers’ influence on Nebraska high school athletics spanned playing, coaching and administration careers. He was a starter on the unbeaten Syracuse basketball team of 1954, a Golden Anniversary team selected by the Hall of Fame. He played football and basketball at Peru State and coached at Fullerton and Blair before becoming the activities director at Lexington High School in 1970. Over a 29-year career at Lexington that included principal duties and an election to the board of education, Ehlers oversaw one of the most successful high school programs in the state. An organizer and producer of athletic events – Lexington once hosted three district track meets on the same day – Ehlers helped organize the Nebraska School Interscholastic Athletic Administrators Association and served as its president in 1973-74 and was the Athletic Administrator of the Year in 1979. He also served on the Nebraska School Activities Association Board of Control for nine years and is a member of the Hall of Fame Board of Directors.
by Kevin Hervert C-H sports writer–Published: Thursday, September 24, 2009 8:41 AM CDT – Lexington Clipper Herald
Before he was here, there were no girls’ sports. If he could meet any athlete, past of present, he would pick Jackie Robinson for his historically pivotal accomplishments that changed America. He was the athletic director at LHS for 29 years, and the stadium is named after him. Soon he will be recognized for all he’s done for athletics in Lexington, and Nebraska.
Ray Ehlers travels to Lincoln to be inducted into the Nebraska High School Sports Hall of Fame Sunday, Sept. 27. Ehlers will be inducted as a contributor to Nebraska high school athletics, along with 18 others, including Lexington native and standout athlete, Pat Hodges.
Athletes, coaches, officials and contributors are celebrated when inducted in to the Hall of Fame. Ehlers feels he is good company, and is just happy to be part of the event.
“I feel very fortunate to be considered as one of those going in as a contributor,” he said.
When asked what a contributor is, Ehlers said that he’s been giving that some thought in preparation for the ceremony. Saturday he’ll walk across a stage to be inducted. He laughed when he said he’ll have to know by then.
“I guess maybe I’d call it a ‘so-so,’” he said. “Maybe it’s a person who was a so-so high school athlete, or so-so college athlete, maybe be a so-so official, maybe a so-so school administrator.”
Ehlers is trying to describe himself, though this self-estimation may be a little lower than his resume has shown.
Ehlers was a so-so athlete at Syracuse High School in Syracuse Neb., who started on the undefeated 1954 Class C State Champion basketball team, and who also set the school record in the mile run.
He went on to Peru State College to get an education with majors in industrial education and industrial arts, a major in physical education, and a minor in biology. He went on to get a MS in administration. While at Peru State Ehlers was a starter on the football team, on both offense and defense, all four years of his undergrad years, and played basketball three years.
He went on to coach and teach at Fullerton High School from 1958-1968, where he coached track and boys’ basketball.
In 1968 he became the assistant principal and a coach at Blair High School, coaching boys’ basketball and track, and assisting in football.
In 1970 he moved to Lexington as the assistant principal and the athletic director of LHS, a position he held for the next 29 years.
During that time Ray Ehlers, which is the name you will see in large letters if you look at the Lexington High School football and outdoor track stadium, was the “so-so” administrator that he speaks of. The one who helped organize the Nebraska School Interscholastic Athletic Administrators Association (NSIAAA) of which he was the president from 1973-1974.
The NSIAAA nominated Ehlers, who is 72, for induction to the Hall of Fame this year.
While Ehlers was in office, the athletic program expanded to include females, and added such sports as soccer, golf and tennis.
Ehlers established the first weight room at Lexington High, and has seen that program grow exponentially over the years. He helped initiate the first fall sports conditioning program.
“I had some really great coaches to work with,” he said. “I really did. I had really great coaches from the beginning. I also saw a lot of great athletic teams.”
Outside of the high school Ehlers did a lot of work organizing the middle school athletic program, and was involved in American Legion Baseball, and served as president of the Lexington baseball association for several years.
In 1978 Ehlers was selected at the Nebraska high school athletic director of the year.
Over the years Ehlers traveled to several national conventions, and presented at least six of them. In 1995 the National Coaches Association selected him as the National Athletic Director of the year.
Ehlers served on the board of control of the NSAA for nine years, where he worked very hard to convey the importance and value of high school athletics, and fought for the initiation of girls’ high school sports.
He also served as meet director to many track meets, including three different district track meets in one day on one occasion.
Under Ehlers the Lexington Minutemaids and Minutemen held 12 state championships, earned ten championship runner up spots at state competitions, and saw many great athletes come and go.
That’s where the “so-so” comes from.
He is a modest inductee of the Nebraska High School Sports Hall of Fame. The Hall of Fame he helped organize, of which he was on the board of directors of since 1996.
“There is no way I can compare to these guys,” he said of the athletes who will be part of the 2009 class of inductees into the Hall. “Like Pat Hodges. I saw that guy compete. I know what kind of an athlete he is. He did everything in high school.”
Ehlers is grateful to be inducted, and gives credit to others for his accomplishments. “It’s probably only because of some of the great people I have had the privilege of knowing, the great people, the great coaches, that I am able to have the opportunity to walk across the stage. I am humbled by being there. I’m not great,” he laughed. “I’m just a so-so that’s coming along.”
He also said it isn’t the end. “As long as I’m here I’m going to work very hard to get young people involved in athletics, I believe so strongly in them. They teach life. That’s what it all is. It’s life. There are so many little things. Athletics are not there, necessarily, for the purpose of giving a college scholarship. It’s to teach kids how to carry on a meaningful life, and to be useful citizens, through high school activities. I believe in that so strongly. Why do I believe that? Because of how I got started.”
He said he was lucky to have two parents who saw that high school athletics could do some good for their son, Ray, and allowed him to get involved.
He remembers back then when just getting involved. He started in the second football game he ever saw in his life. His father told him, after convincing his mother that football would be okay for their child, that there would be a lot tougher things in life than out on a football field.
Friday night, just before the National Anthem is played before kickoff at the Lexington High School football game against Gering at home, Ehlers will be honored for his induction into the Nebraska High School Sports Hall of Fame.
Athlete. Class of 1959. Determined, hard-working and athletically gifted, Tom Ernst contributed more than his share to Columbus High School’s athletic success. The 1959 Lincoln Journal Star athlete of the year, Ernst earned 11 letters, started for four years in football, set scoring standards in basketball and tied for the gold medal in the shot put at the state track meet. Yet, baseball may have been his best sport. Pitching for the Columbus American Legion team, he posted a 23-8 record, throwing nine no-hitters. On the football field, Ernst was a triple-threat halfback. His senior year he rushed for 989 yards and 13 touchdowns on 142 carries, and completed 33 of 65 passes for 680 yards and eight touchdowns. He also handled the kicking chores. In basketball, he finished his career with 680 points, at the time, second-best in Columbus history. He went on to start on the Nebraska Cornhusker baseball team for three years and played on the 1962 Husker football team that played in the Gotham Bowl.
Class of 1953
Turning down a professional baseball contract after high school, Ekwall attended the University of Nebraska, building on a basketball and baseball career that was forged in one of Nebraska’s smallest schools. A four-year starter in basketball who averaged more than 20 points per game each year at Holmesville, Ekwall earned Class D all-state honors three times and was an all-class all-state player as a senior when he averaged 28.3 points per game. He finished his high school career with 1,984 points. An outstanding pitcher and hitter in baseball, he played for Hays, Kan., Ban Johnson league before reporting to the Cornhuskers to play basketball and baseball. The Huskers’ leading scorer and rebounder in 1956 and 1957, he finished his career averaging a record 10.4 rebounds per game, a record that has stood for more than 50 years. He was inducted into the Nebraska Basketball Hall of Fame in 1992.
Fred Egley’s long association with Norfolk athletics began as an assistant coach in 1939. He started the school’s gymnastics program the next year and was football coach in 1942. After serving in the Pacific in World War II, he returned to Norfolk and education. He became athletic director for the high school and the city’s junior college in November 1950. He kept his high school duties through 1969. He was on the NSAA board of control from 1965 to 1970 and was junior college AD through 1981. A basketball and football official for many years, his close association with athletics allowed him to serve as a motivator, counselor and supporter, contributing to the development and progress of coaches, teams, athletes and activities in Northeast Nebraska.
Cory Eikmeier covered a lot of ground in his high school football career – nearly five miles of running through, over, and away from opposing defenders. While leading Dodge to three consecutive Class D1 state championships, Eikmeier set five national records – points in a career (1,021), points in a season (448), touchdowns in a season (68), 100-yard games in a career (41) and consecutive 100-yard games (22). He set a state record with 8,763 rushing yards, including 2,965 yards in one season. He also earned all-state honorable mention playing on the basketball team that finished second in the state tournament. He went on to play football at the University of Nebraska at Omaha.
Coach–It takes a special kind of talent to coach a sport and promote the sport at the same time. Such a man was Coach Vern Ekfelt, a wrestling and baseball coach at Omaha Central High School from 1943-1948, and then more coaching at Omaha North High School between 1948 and 1974. While his wrestling teams won five state championships, he materially aided in the development of high school wrestling as a sport throughout Nebraska. He initiated a season-opening invitational tournament at Omaha North High, a unique event. From 1980 onward, that tournament was called the Vern Ekfelt Invitational.
Coach Ekfelt wrestled for four years at the University of Iowa without having had the benefit of a high school program. He was also active as a wrestling official for some 20 years besides his coaching duties.
Athlete. In 1980, as a freshman at Wheeler Central High School, Karlene Erickson won a gold medal (all-class best) in the 3200 meter run. Her time as a Class D competitor was a full one minute faster than the time of the Class C winner in the event that year. For four straight years she won the 3200 meter gold, finishing in 1983 with a state record time of 10:19, high on the all-time best list to this day. She also won two gold medals in high school at state in the 1600 meter run. In addition, she helped Wheeler Central become Class D girls state champion in track & field for three consecutive years. The word legend comes to mind while checking her credentials.
The World-Herald’s 1959 athlete of the year was a four-year starter in football and basketball at Holy Name. The Ramblers went to state in basketball all four years, winning Class A in 1957 and 1958. He was All-class all-state in 1958 and 1959 in basketball and 1958 in football and played in the first Nebraska Shrine Bowl in 1959. He played basketball at Creighton, 1961-63.