Coach. Sometime during an outstanding track career at Peru State, Cecil McKnight decided he wanted to be in the coaching profession. He started at Morrill and then moved to Plattsmouth as track and cross-country coach where he spent 38 years. His teams won four Class B championships, of which three consecutive wins were in cross-country in 1973, ‘74, ‘75 and the ‘76 state track and field championship. Also in those years he had 262 individuals qualify for the state meet and seven individual state champions.
The Blue Devil harriers finished in the top ten 14 times in 20 years at the state meet. Other coaching duties included assistant in football and basketball as well as junior high basketball coach at various times during his tenure. His retirement gift from the school: The track and field complex now bears his name, a great tribute.
Athlete. Jill could possibly have been the first four-time state girl’s cross country champion had that sport been sanctioned by the NSAA in 1979, her freshman year at York. So she ran with the boys that year and finished second in her first race. In her next three years, she never lost a race in girls cross country and only one in girls track and field. She was the all-class gold medal champion in the first girls state high school cross country meet. She continued her efforts in track and field and accumulated eleven state medals. She was selected all-state, all-city, and all-academic in both cross country and track and was a varsity letter winner all four years in cross country and track. Jill represented the state of Nebraska and finished second in the National High School Cross Country Meet in Albuquerque New Mexico in 1983. She went on to compete for UNL and paced the Husker women in their first Big 8 cross country championship. She earned eight varsity letters at Nebraska and won Big 8 and All-American academic honors, reaching the dean’s list all four years in school.
Puetz compiled a 236-96-6 record coaching football for 34 years, 31 at Columbus Scotus. His teams won state championships in 1984 and 1993. A track coach from 1968 to 1993, his teams won two state championships, two state runner-up trophies, 18 district championships and 19 conference championships.
Class of 1959–Competing in an era where most athletes received a catchy nickname, Rocket Roger Sayers first showed a knack for speed as an Omaha Central athlete in 1957-58-59, winning 100-220 gold medals in 1958, the 220 and a relay gold in 1959. He starred at Omaha University in football and track for four years. Named the state college athlete of the year in 1962. Took his sprinting career to the international scene by running with the United States national team in 1962, going against the Russian and Polish teams.
Athlete. Jodi Stineman Emsick had “champion” written all over her from the start of her career at Lincoln Southeast. She played and starred on state championship teams in cross country, basketball (twice) and track. She was the first Lincoln Southeast athlete to win 12 varsity letters along with these laurels: Female high school athlete of the year (1988), Class A basketball all-state twice and an all-class all-state pick in 1988, three-time Class A state champion in the 800-meter run and a gold medal winner in the distance relay. At the University of Nebraska at Kearney, Stineman started every basketball game in her four-year career except when injured and scored 1,124 points in four college seasons. She also lettered in track for the Lopers. Lives in Portage, MI.
Athlete. Bottom line in the outstanding high school track career for Kathy (Travis) Miiller: She never lost an individual race during an NSAA-sanctioned event. She also was a volleyball all-stater and the female high school athlete of the year in 1991. In her four starring years of track at Lincoln Christian, she led her team to three state championships and one runner-up finish. She was a 14-time state champion at the state track meet, with nine of those all-class gold medal performances, including a Class C record in the 400. At the University of Nebraska, she lettered four years and won 12 Big Eight championships. She was All-American six different times in relays and sprint races. Lives in Bismark, ND.
Lee Zentic, the inaugural coach at Lincoln East, promptly put the school in the thick of championship races. He directed six state championship teams – 1971, 1972, 1974, 1975 and 1979 — and coached 57 all-state players. His coaching honors include 1975 Lincoln Journal Star Coach of the Year, 1976 Omaha World-Herald Coach of the Year, 1980 Nebraska Coaches’ Association Coach of the Year, 1980 Journal Star Coach of the Decade, 1985 National High School Regional Coach of the Year and 1970 Shrine Bowl head coach. He posted a career record 187-127-7. He also coached at Tecumseh, where his basketball team made a state tournament appearance, and in Shenandoah, Iowa. Rock Island (IL) native. Football & baseball at University of Nebraska.
Diane (Beideck) Van Brocklin was The Omaha World-Herald and Lincoln Journal-Star 1987 girl athlete of the year, was all-class all-state in basketball in 1986 and 1987 and in volleyball in 1986 when the Mustangs were Class A runners-up. She scored 1,266 points in basketball, averaging 17.6 points as a senior. She shattered school volleyball marks with 345 kills and 148 digs. Her basketball teams qualified for state four times. In 2004, she still ranked first in Millard North history for points in one season (483). Played basketball for Creighton 1988-1990.
Athlete–Those who witnessed the Shrine Bowl after the 1971 graduation of this young man from Aurora High School in 1971, may well believe he was the greatest Nebraska high school football player ever. He was dominating, not only in that all-star setting but in each and every game he played. Sizable at 6’3” and 225 pounds, he was a formidable fullback and yet had surprising speed and quickness on the basketball court, scoring 45 points in a great game played against Fairbury in the state tournament. He was all-state in both sports, and athlete of the year as a senior. While in high school, he had discus throws of record-breaking distance, Truly a fine athlete for all seasons and all sports, and perhaps the best Nebraska has had.
Now here’s the other half of the story: One of Nebraska’s greatest athletes became one of the most respected basketball coaches in the nation. In 12 seasons as head coach of the University of Nebraska Kearney, he posted a 245-105 record, a winning percentage of 70 percent.
Kropp is the only player in UNK history to average a double double over his career (20.7 ppg, 11.2 rpg). As a senior, Kropp tallied 51 points in a win over Central Missouri State, still a record for points in a game by a Loper. During his career, Kropp guided the Lopers to a 67-30 record.
After completing his collegiate career, he was drafted in the eighth round by the NFL’s Pittsburgh Steelers, in the third round by the ABA’s Denver Nuggets, and in the third round by the NBA’s Washington Bullets. He signed with the Bullets and was traded to the Chicago Bulls after his rookie season. He completed his second season with Chicago but was waived after one game of his third season in the NBA. He culminated his playing career by playing in Belgium from 1979-1983.
Sports Illustrated named him one of Nebraska’s 50 greatest athletes of the 20th century. He was been as Nebraska’s Greatest Athlete for the decade of 1970-1980, and has been inducted into both the UNK and the Nebraska Football Halls of Fame. He is also a member of the NAIA Hall of Fame and was inducted into the Nebraska High School Hall of Fame in 1995.
Athlete. 1964 graduate. Kurt Lauer enjoyed the best basketball season in Nebraska history, leading the Gibbon Buffaloes to their second straight state runner-up finish in the 1963-64 season. A 6-foot-8 post player and an outstanding shooter, he set the state record with 956 points (38.2 points per game). He scored 59 points in a single game, netted more than 50 points in five games that year and had six more games of 40 or more points. He established a career state tournament scoring record with 205 points (34.2 points per game). He finished his high school career with 2,247 points. He played collegiately for Nebraska and Hastings College.