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.
The 1953 Omaha World-Herald and Lincoln Journal Star Athlete of the Year, Don Erway excelled in football, basketball and baseball for the Links. He was a member of the undefeated Links football teams in 1951 and 1952, averaging 6.85 yards per carry as an all-state halfback. On the hardwood, Erway was his team’s leading scorer, averaging 19.5 points per game during the 1952-1953 season, and he was selected for the all-state team that year. Erway played catcher for the 1951 and 1952 state champion baseball teams. He went on to play football and baseball for the Nebraska Cornhuskers. Erway lettered in football the 1954 and 1955 seasons and played on the Orange Bowl team of 1954. In 1955, Erway scored 55 points, which ranked second in the Big Seven. He also played baseball for the Huskers for two years before a knee injury ended his career.
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.