Athlete. The premier Nebraska high school long jumper of the 1930s, Jim Mather was a 1936 graduate of Arapahoe High School in Furnas County. He was years ahead of others in this track & field event and capped his career in 1936 at the state track meet by jumping 23 feet, 4 inches, a record which lasted in Class C until the 1970s. He was also the winning Class C 220 yard sprint champion at the ‘36 state meet. A four-year varsity man at Arapahoe High in both football and track, he was a Peru State College star in both track and football.
Another point in history: James Mather held the long jump record for all classes between 1936 and 1961 when a great leap by Gale Sayers (24-10) took away that honor.
ARAPAHOE — James D. “Jim” Mather, 85, of Arapahoe died Sunday, Oct. 12, 2003, at his home. He graduated from Arapahoe Public Schools in 1936 and attended the University of Nebraska-Lincoln from 1936 to 1937 and Peru State College from 1939 to 1941.
Athlete–A multi-sports talent, this tall young man graduated from Gothenburg High School in 1981. He set a record in the pole vault, 15-1 in 1981 and also won medals in the hurdles at state track meets. He was all-state in basketball and an all-state quarterback for the Swedes in football. After an outstanding career in college at the University of Wyoming, his national acclaim came from professional football where he won three Super Bowl rings as a tight end for the Dallas Cowboys in the 1990s. After this great career in football, he is back home on the range in western Nebraska. A very talented “Cowboy” all in all.
He was selected to the Kodak All-American football team in 1984 after setting an NCAA record for receiving yards per receptions by a tight end. He had 83 career receptions for 1,536 yards and ten touchdowns. Novacek also competed in track and field for the University of Wyoming. He won the Western Athletic Conference decathlon championship, earning All-American honors. He also set UW records for decathlon points, 7,615, and in the pole vault, 16’4″.
Novacek was drafted in the sixth round of the 1985 NFL Draft by the St. Louis Cardinals. After spending five seasons with the Cardinals, he signed with the Dallas Cowboys as a Plan B free agent. Novacek was a key contributor for Dallas in the early 1990s, assisting them to three Super Bowl wins in four seasons. In those games, he recorded a combined total of 17 receptions for 148 yards and two touchdowns. Novacek, who hadn’t played a game since Super Bowl XXX in 1996, officially retired from the NFL on July 15, 1997 due to a lingering back injury. In his 11 seasons, Novacek recorded 422 receptions for 4,630 yards and 30 touchdowns.
Novacek was commemorated for his 2008 induction into the College Football Hall of Fame at half-time of the Wyoming Cowboys game on 9/13/08.
Official. It is enough said, perhaps, that Vern Plambeck has officiated high school sports since 1954. That’s six decades, and it would have been continuous except for a 1957 Army tour of duty. In the whistle-blowing fraternity, he developed into one of the best — calling seven state basketball tournaments, including the 1973 Class A boys championship game; officiating 33 football playoff games since 1976, including the first overtime game played in Nebraska (Nov. 12, 1976, Wheatland 38, Hampton 32, Class D championship game). He worked the Coaches Association All-Star Basketball and Shrine Bowl All-Star Football games. He has served the NSAA as a basketball observer starting in 1990, and did the proofreading in 1999 of the National Federation of State High School Association football rulebook and other publications. Hastings High School graduate. College degrees: Hastings College, University of Nebraska. Lives in Kearney, retired professor of English.
John Reta was the center of swimming in Nebraska for nearly 20 years. Instituting the program at Lincoln Southeast, Reta coached the Knights to eight consecutive boys state swimming championships from 1959 to 1966. His swimmers won 11 individual state titles and set 18 state records. The Knights put together a winning streak of 59 consecutive meets then, after a one-point loss, won another 23 straight. He was the 1962 Lincoln Journal Star Coach of the Year and the 1965 Omaha World-Herald Coach of the Year. Reta left Lincoln Southeast to become head swimming and diving coach at the University of Nebraska, a position he held from 1966 to 1978. Reta got his start coaching the Palmer (Colo.) High School swim team. Next he coached basketball, track and six-man football teams at Gurley for one year.
Athlete. Theresa Stelling Gosnell, who started her high school career at Wakefield and finished at Auburn, won four all-class gold medals in the 1,600-meter run and three in the 3,200. She had career-best times of 5 minutes, 0.6 seconds in the 1,600 and 10:44.0 in the 3,200. She set the Class C state track meet record in the 1,600 and the Class B state track meet record in the 3,200. In 1989 she was the Class B state cross country champion.
Stelling went on to compete for the University of Nebraska-Lincoln in cross country and track, lettering in cross country from 1990 to 1993 and earning Academic All-Big Eight and Academic All-American honors.
She was a four-year letterwinner in track where turned in some of the school’s all-time best performances in several events. Stelling was a four-time NCAA Division I All-American, placing as high as fifth at the national outdoor meet in the 5,000 meters. Stelling was named the 1994 UNL Woman Athlete of the Year
Athlete, Stephanie Thomas Clark played every sport she could. The 1988 McCool Junction graduate collected honors enough for more than one person. She was all-conference three years in volleyball and four years in basketball. With her stats one would think that there should have been a re-count on the volleyball votes her freshman year. However, she was all-state her sophomore through senior years in volleyball, being selected Class D-1 Honorary Captain those years. She helped her team to the state championship in 1986. In basketball she was all-state for three years, being selected the Class D-1 Honorary Captain for the two years she made the all-class all-state squad. Steph had a career total of 1,743 points and was ranked third on the Nebraska all-time scoring list. In track she set school records in the 100- and 400-meter dashes, the 100- and 300-meter hurdles, the long jump and high jump. She set state meet records in the high jump and the 100-meter hurdles. Her personal best of 5 feet 7 ½ inches in the high jump was, according to prep historian Jerry Mathers, just three and one-half inches above her head. She earned an athletic scholarship to Creighton, but a back injury kept her from reaching full potential. After graduating from college in 1993 she went to Angelo State University as a graduate assistant, and then to the University of Illinois at Chicago as an assistant women’s basketball coach and recruiting coordinator. In 1996 she started a three-year stint as the head women’s basketball coach at Odessa College in Texas.
Official. When his standout athletic career at Auburn High School and Nebraska Wesleyan Universityended, Willie Weisbrook picked up the whistle and striped shirt, beginning an officiating career that would span more than 40 years. A basketball referee in high school and small college starting in 1966, he was selected to officiate 17 state tournaments including 14 championship games. On the football field, he refereed high school games from 1966 to 1983, including nine state playoff games and two Class A championships. He also officiated college football games for nearly 30 years, working the national championship Sugar Bowl in 1997. He has also umpired high school baseball games. Active in recruiting and mentoring new officials, late in his career Weisbrook officiated basketball games with his daughter, Robyn.