Coach–Some years ago Blair High School was named by the U.S. Department of Education as one of the outstanding high schools in America. The high quality of their faculty, including such skilled athletic coaches as this gentleman is part of the reason for such a high appellation. Coach Lehl was at the gridiron helm for 233 football victories, making him high on the list of winning coaches. In 1973 his Blair High Bears won the number one ranking in Class B and in 1988 his boys won the Class B state playoff championship. The students at Blair High School have been fortunate to have a faculty to look up to, and Coach Mike Lehl stands tall on or off the field of play.
An all-around athlete, he was a four-year starter in football and basketball. On the basketball court, he led Clearwater in scoring all four years, finishing with 1,673 points, including 55 against Chambers during his senior season. He was also credited with 32 rebounds in a single game and averaged 21.9 rebounds per game during his career. In track, he went to state every year and as a senior, helped the Cardinals to a share of the Class D team title by winning the shot and discus and taking second in the high jump. On the baseball diamond, he pitched at Pershing College and played in the minor leagues. He has enjoyed a successful coaching career in American Legion baseball.
Athlete. His blazing speed while at Mitchell High School and the University of Nebraska made the highly-respected Red Littler into a true legend. For three consecutive years until his graduation in 1937, he led the Tigers of Mitchell High to Class B State Track & Field Championships. At the close of this 1935-36-37 period, the accomplishments at the state meet were compared of all classes and Littler’s times helped make Mitchell High School the grand champion in 1937. His 9.6 in the l00-yard dash and 21.3 in the 220-year dash are still high on the all-time lists. A versatile football player, his team lost only one game in the three years when Gene was in the backfield. His teammates at NU described him as a mighty tough runner. In his senior year with the Cornhuskers behind at a Big Six Meet, he anchored the last leg of the mile relay in the winning event to wrap up the 1942 Big Six Conference title in the clocked time of 46.5 seconds. He ended his career as a successful track coach at both Beatrice and at Tenafly, New Jersey.
When Darrell Lenz met with the captains before a game, he reminded them, “We are here to help you play your game.” Lenz started as a coach, but when he gave up the coach’s clipboard for the administrator’s desk, he held onto the whistle. Starting in 1964, Lenz embarked on a 42-year career of officiating high school and junior high football and basketball in Nebraska. He officiated 26 playoff football games as well as numerous district and regional basketball contests. He mentored new officials he brought on to his crew, stressing that they were part of the team. He developed a deep understanding of the rules, which he studied constantly throughout his many seasons.
Coach. During the 1940s and 1950s, the subject of high school football in Nebraska could not be discussed without a tip of the hat to the great Grand Island High School Coach Jerry Lee. A career of 25 years included a record of 101-23-5. The number of undefeated teams he coached at Grand Island was outstanding: 1947, 1948, 1953 and 1958. State championships with these fine teams included a span once of 28 consecutive games without a loss. He was selected as the North All-Star head coach in the first Shrine Bowl Game of 1959. In addition to his success on the gridiron, he was also a knowledgeable track coach. Wins alone do not tell the whole story. A former player of his stated, “His coaching went beyond the playing field. Because of his expertise, I was able to accomplish more than I had ever dreamed.”
Lincoln Southeast’s girls basketball teams established unparalleled excellence under the direction of coach John Larsen. The Knights rolled through 29 consecutive winning seasons (1983-2011), qualifying for the state tournament 25 straight times – a state record. They reached the state finals 14 times, winning nine state championships, the most in Class A. He completed his career with a 560-169 record. In the summer, he coached the Daubert/Pinnacle Bank All-Star team for two years, leading it to a first-place finishing in the Washington, D.C. National Tournament championship in 1995 and a runner-up finish in 1996. Larsen also coached football at Southeast and was an assistant coach during eight of the Knights’ state championship runs. After 32 years as an assistant, he ascended to head coach, leading the Knights for four years, including back-to-back 8-1 regular seasons.
Athlete. A 1981 graduate of Albion High School in Boone County, she was the first athlete in Nebraska high school girls’ track and field to win a gold medal in the same event each year of her high school career, 1978-1979-1989- 1981. She bettered her own initial mark in the high jump from 5’8” her freshman year to a record 5’10” her senior year. She was also a double gold medal winner on occasion in the long jump. She held the all class state record in the girls high jump up to 1987. The Class B marks of Sue (Lind) Nelson at the state track & field meet and through the season are still high on the all time list.
Contributor. The contribution sportswriters make to the understanding and enjoyment of high school athletics is immeasurable. One of the best was Don Lee, who spent 44 years covering sports as a reliable scribe for the Omaha World-Herald newspaper. He was present for 35 consecutive state basketball tournaments and 35 state track meets. Though his talents extended to the occasional coverage of college sports as well as golf, boxing, horse racing, figure skating and hockey, his close ties with Nebraska high school sports remained paramount. He was very familiar with the vanishing numbers of high schools and the consolidation movement and he made sure that the small town teams as well as the metropolitan giants received proper and frequent coverage.
Athlete. One of the best girl basketball players in high school history, this 1979 graduate of Platteview High School in Springfield, Sarpy County, was a favorite with fans from the time she first stepped on to any athletic arena for her varsity team. She was named all-state in both volleyball and basketball, and she won the Class B high jump in 1977. Despite all this versatility, she was a basketball player, a real star in this sport. Her statistics: 1,492 career points, a single season record of 533, and a point average of more than 22 a game in her last two years of high school. Basketball was her sport, for sure. She played four years at the University of Nebraska.
Before graduating from Ainsworth High School in 1939, Ralph had an outstanding career in all three sports offered at that time. His honors included being selected twice to the All State Teams in basketball and once football. His track events were the pole vault and high jump. In order to gain more practice time Ralph built a pole vault pit in his back yard and even taught his sister how to do the vault. Going on to Creighton U. he quickly established himself as a real “Blue Chipper”. Referred to by some sports writers as the “Blonde Bombshell” he led Creighton’s high point chart all four years he played. Ralph was selected to the All American first team in 1942 and 1943. After college Uncle Sam picked up his option and he was assigned to the famed 10th Mountain Infantry Division. He got one more crack at basketball before going overseas by playing for the Army in an AAU tourney in Colorado Springs. The hastily put together team almost won it all playing against top rated AAU teams of the time. Ralph missed the final game when he was called back to his outfit for maneuvers. He saw duty overseas in the battle for Sicily where he was wounded, received the purple heart and went to Fitzsimmons hospital in Denver for recovery. With his recovery complete he signed on with the Denver Nuggets in 1946. Creighton University Hall of Fame in 2000. Died October 1998.