George “Bus” Knight – Jackson

Athlete. A 1937 graduate of Jackson High School situated in northeast Lincoln, this versatile athlete had an honorable career in three sports: football, basketball and track from his freshman year forward. He was an all-city back for four years on the gridiron. Named all-state in football his junior and senior years, the Jackson High team was actually unbeaten for three years, at one time with a 30-game winning streak. Every year he was in high school the Jackson High Cardinals were in the Class A state basketball tournament, finishing runners-up in both 1936 and 1937. At one time he held the state track & field record in the javelin.

Making a smooth transition from the red and white of Jackson to the scarlet and cream of the University of Nebraska, he was the Big Six champion in the javelin in 1938. Of legendary note are his three years as a letterman in the backfield of the Cornhusker football team, finishing his career in the 1941 Rose Bowl appearance of the Cornhuskers.

 

Dave Lebsack – Lincoln Northeast

Athlete.

Dave Lebsack earned the Lincoln Journal Star and Omaha World-Herald’s Athlete of the Year awards in 1962 after earning nine letters at Lincoln Northeast in football, basketball and baseball. An all-state quarterback, he led the Rockets to a 9-0 record and the state ratings championship in 1961. He started from the first game his sophomore year and had a reputation for being a ball-handling wizard. He also earned all-state honors in basketball where the Rockets won the Class A state title in 1962. Lincoln Northeast was 19-2 that year, losing two games Lebsack missed with a strained knee. He averaged 22.4 points per game in that state tournament. In baseball, Lebsack was known as an outstanding catcher.

 

 

Journal Star 4/6/2012

There were no clever nicknames for Dave Lebsack.

Not “Smoothy” or “Slick” or even “Lethal Lebsack.”

And there were certainly plenty of opportunities. Lebsack quarterbacked Lincoln Northeast to the 1961 Class A state football ratings championship (there were no playoffs until 1975), then helped the Rockets to the 1962 Class A state basketball title. He was all-state in both sports and earned Journal Star athlete of the year honors in 1962.

Lebsack, one of Lincoln’s most decorated athletes, died Tuesday at the age of 67. Memorial services will be Tuesday at 11 a.m. at St. David’s Episcopal Church.

“From the late ‘50s to the mid-‘60s, every kid in northeast Lincoln wanted to be Dave Lebsack,” said Jerry Motz, a longtime friend and teammate at Northeast. “I was one of his close friends and I wanted to be Dave Lebsack.”

Lebsack was a charter member of the Lincoln Northeast Athletic Hall of Fame, inducted in 1991, and he was inducted into the Nebraska High School Sports Hall of Fame in 2008.

Lebsack guided Northeast to a 9-0 record in football his senior year and was a three-year starter at quarterback. He missed the first four games of the basketball season (the Rockets went 2-2 without him) after an injury during football required surgery. The Rockets won 17 straight games after he came back to earn the title, with Lebsack averaging 22.4 points a game in the state tournament. He was also a standout catcher and earned all-city honors in baseball.

“I can see a gifted athlete who made sports look ever so easy, especially handling the football in a now-you-see-it, now-you-don’t fashion,” said Conde Sargent, who covered Lebsack’s career for the Journal Star and named him athlete of the year.

“His value to Northeast athletics was never more noticeable than his return from a football injury to the basketball court. With Dave, the Rockets stepped up a level and won the state championship. He lifted that team.”

Lebsack accepted a scholarship to play both football and basketball at Nebraska, but transferred to Nebraska Wesleyan during his sophomore year and graduated from there in 1969.

“He was a class act. He never left northeast Lincoln,” Motz said. “He’s an icon out here. He’s one of the people who laid the groundwork for all the rich tradition we had.

“He treated his opponents with respect. There was no trash talk. And in return, everyone respected him, too.”

Lebsack is survived by his wife of 47 years, Sharon, daughter Lindy and her husband Doug Bonnett, son Scott and his wife Christie, granddaughter Haley, and sister Donna Spence, all of Lincoln, and sister Judy and her husband Harlan Hoy of Waverly.

“He was very humble and shy. The only thing he cared about when he stepped on the field of endeavor was to win,” Motz said. “I’ve seen a lot of high school quarterbacks in this town, and there’s no one who was better.

“He wasn’t the fastest and he couldn’t jump the highest. All he did was win.”

Reach Ryly Jane Hambleton at 402-473-7314 or [email protected]

Darrell Mudra – Omaha South

Coach.  Nicknamed “Dr. Victory” his career win record was 200-81-4 made him second only to Eddie Robinson of Grambling as the winningest Division 1-AA coach at the time of his retirement.  Darrell coached every level of the sport from peewee’s to high school, college and one professional team.  The 1946 South High graduate played his college sports at Peru State where he lettered in football, basketball, and track.  His first coaching job was at Tekamah where he coached all sports.  From there he went on to coach in college, starting at Huron, then Northern Colorado, Adams State, then North Dakota State.  He left the college scene in 1966 to give the pros a try coaching the Montreal Alouettes for one year.  In 1967 he returned to the college ranks heading the program at the University of Arizona.  From there it was to Western Illinois, Florida State, Eastern Illinois and finished at the University of Northern Iowa.   Darrell earned his Doctor of Education degree in 1965 at Northern Colorado U. , his thesis was “ Study of Current College Football Coaching Practices in Light of Selected Theories of Learning.”  This was later published in book form as Freedom in the Huddle, a psychology of coaching textbook.   Darrell retired from active coaching in 1988 and he and his wife now reside in Florida.

Jerry Neely – Norfolk

Official. Jerry’s 40-year officiating career started while he was in the military service.  While waiting for an injury to mend he started refereeing basketball games among service teams.  While attending Hastings College and on the basketball team, he did some intramural refing and then added some high school games while still competing himself.  After graduation, he accepted a job at Norfolk to teach in the Junior High.   It was here that he teamed up with Leonard “Soup” Campbell working both basketball and football for many years.  After completing his last basketball game in 1986 he became an observer of officials for the NSAA.  From 1976 to 1986 he taught a class on Mechanics of Officiating at Northeast Community College.   Jerry’s career spanned from the era of one official per game to two different for each game in basketball and from three to five in football.  Worked 16 State Basketball Tournaments. Head Referee for the first Shrine Football game.

Doug Phelps – Hastings

Doug Phelps 2007Athlete. A 1975 graduate of Hastings High School, Phelps was the first Nebraskan to clear the 7-foot barrier in the high jump. He won three straight gold medals in the high jump at the state meet and, his senior season, broke the state record five times. He also was a three-year, three-sport letterman for the Tigers, competing in football and basketball. He earned All-Big 10 and all-state honorable mention in football and basketball. He was the 1975 Omaha World-Herald and Lincoln Journal Star Athlete of the Year. At the University of Nebraska, he was a three-year letterman in track and the 1978 Big Eight indoor and outdoor champion in the high jump.

Virginia Stahr Gee – Centennial

Virgina Stahr 2007

Athlete.

The Big Eight Female Athlete of the Year in 1989, Viriginia (Stahr) Gee started her career at Centennial High School where she earned 12 varsity letters before her graduation in 1985 when she was the Lincoln Journal Star Athlete of the Year. Stahr’s Centennial volleyball teams had a combined 80-11 record, going 24-0 and winning the Class C-1 state championship her senior year. She was all-state in basketball her junior and senior years and qualified for the state track meet in 12 events during her high school years. She played volleyball at the University of Nebraska, playing for four Big Eight Conference championship teams that had a combined record of 116-20. She played on the 1989 national runner-up team, earning Big Eight Player of the Year and NCAA All-Tournament Team honors. She earned All-American honors in 1988 and 1989.

Erick Strickland – Bellevue West

Eric Strickland 2007Athlete. A 1992 Bellevue West graduate, Strickland advanced to the NBA after standout high school and collegiate careers in Nebraska. At Bellevue West, Strickland starred in football, basketball and baseball and was the 1992 prep athlete of the year. He earned all-state honors in all three sports and led Bellevue West’s basketball team to three straight state tournaments, including a runner-up finish in 1991. He was a four-year letterman in basketball for the Nebraska Cornhuskers, starting for three years. He was the Big Eight Freshman of the Year in 1983 and was  three-time All Big-eight defensive team selection. He played professionally for the Dallas Mavericks, New York Knicks, Vancouver Grizzlies, Boston Celtics, Indiana Pacers and Milwaukee Bucks.

Demerick (Erick) Montae Strickland (born 25 November 1973 in Opelika, Alabama) is an American professional basketball player formerly in the NBA. Erick starred at Bellevue West High School in Bellevue, Nebraska as an Omaha World-Herald All-State Wide Receiver, and an All-American basketball player where he still holds most of the major school scoring records.

Erick was drafted in the 1992 MLB draft in the 31st round and played in the Florida Marlins organization as an Outfielder. After a college basketball career at the University of Nebraska, he went undrafted, but caught on with the Dallas Mavericks, and went on to play for the New York Knicks, the Vancouver Grizzlies, Boston Celtics, Indiana Pacers and the Milwaukee Bucks, averaging 7.5 points per game throughout his career. In 1999, Erick was voted by Sports Illustrated as the 41st ranked athlete in the 20th Century from the state of Nebraska.

Link to Erick Strickland’s NBA career stats.

Arthur Vance – Hardy


Athlete–Along the southern border of Nebraska in Webster and Nuckolls Counties once existed Cowles High School and Hardy High School. One exposed to this early 20th century secondary education was a late blooming great baseball pitcher, Dazzy Vance. Arm troubles hampered his rise until his early thirties when he started in 1922 with the major league Brooklyn Dodgers. In 1924 he was named the most valuable player in the National League, winning 28 games as a pitcher. Later he was also a member of the 1934 World Series Champion St. Louis Cardinals “Gashouse Gang.” Vance told media covering major league baseball about his nickname. “It had nothing to do with ‘dazzling speed’ as most fans believe. Back in Nebraska where I grew up, I knew a cowboy who, when he saw a horse, a gun or a dog that he liked, would say ‘Ain’t that a daisy,’ only he would pronounce ‘daisy’ as ‘dazzy.’ I got to saying, ‘Ain’t that a dazzy,’ and before I was 11 years old, the nickname was tacked on me.” Elected to baseball’s Hall of Fame in 1955, this talented Nebraskan deserved not to be forgotten.

 

Vance led the National League in strikeouts seven year in a row. He led the league in shutouts four times, in earned run average three times and won 20 or more games three different years.

One of the best pitchers in baseball during the 1920s, Vance toiled for poor Brooklyn teams much of his career. Yet he still won 197 games, and the first NL MVP award.
Played For  New York Yankees (1915, 1918), Pittsburgh Pirates (1915), Brooklyn Dodgers (1922-1932, 1935), St. Louis Cardinals (1933-1934), Cincinnati Reds (1935)

Post-Season

1934 World Series

Honors

MVP 1924

Stats–Career stats from baseball-reference.com

Feats

Won the Triple Crown for pitching in 1924 with 28 wins, a 2.16 ERA, and 262 strikeouts.

Best Season, 1924

Vance didn’t win his first game in the majors until after his 31st birthday – yet he went on to 197 wins, a no-hitter, and an MVP award. Vance won the initial NL MVP Award in 1924, leading the NL with 28 victories, 305 complete games, 262 strikeouts, and a 2.16 ERA. He outpolled Rogers Hornsby, who that year had set a major league record with a .424 batting average, because one voter failed to place the latter on the ballot. Vance used the award to negotiate a highly publicized three-year contract worth $47,500 from Brooklyn owner Charles Ebbets.

Vance began his professional career in 1912, but struggled with his control  and a sore arm until breaking through in the majors in 1922.

In 1922, Vance went 18-12, led the National League with 134 strikeouts and tied for the league lead with five shutouts.

1924 would see him second to no one: He compiled a 28-6 record, winning 15 in a row in one stretch, posted a 2.16 ERA and struck out an impressive 262 batters, earning pitching’s triple crown and the first MVP Award given by the National League. His 262 strikeouts were the most by an NL pitcher since Christy Mathewson fanned 267 in 1903 and would remain unsurpassed until Sandy Koufax struck out 269 in 1961.  No pitcher in history can claim such strikeout dominance. In fact, he was so dominant that he edged St. Louis second baseman Rogers Hornsby for the Most Valuable Player award, despite Hornsby’s .424 batting average-a 20th century record.

After three stellar seasons in the big leagues, Vance held out for more money and finally signed a three-year deal worth $47,500 in mid-March of 1925.  He rewarded Brooklyn by pacing the NL with 22 victories, 221 strikeouts and four shutouts in 1925. He struck out a career-high 17 batters against the St. Louis Cardinals on July 20 and no-hit the Philadelphia Phillies on September 13.

1928 would prove to be Vance’s last great all-around season and would usher in one last hurrah for his strikeout dominance. He went 22-10 with a league-leading 2.09 ERA, four shutouts and 200 strikeouts.

His run was coming to an end but Vance was earning the highest paycheck in baseball among pitchers, pocketing $20,000 in 1928 and $25,000 in 1929 when he won 14 games and struck out only 126 batters. It would be the first time he hadn’t won the strikeout crown in eight years.

He won his third ERA title in 1930, posting a 2.61 mark, which was an incredible 2.36 runs lower than the league average and more than a run lower than runner-up Carl Hubbell, who fashioned a 3.71 ERA for the New York Giants.

Vance made his only World Series appearance with the “Gashouse Gang” Cardinals in 1934, pitching alongside Dizzy and Daffy Dean. The 43-year-old threw an inning and a third of shutout ball for the Cardinals in Game 4-three of the four outs he recorded were strikeouts-to earn a World Series ring.

After brief stints with St. Louis and Cincinnati, Vance ended his career back in Brooklyn, to finish with a record of 197-140. He posted a 3.24 career ERA, struck out 2,045 batters in 2,967 innings and, amazingly, walked only 840 batters. 

He was elected to the Hall of Fame in 1955. He died of a heart attack on February 16, 1961, two weeks shy of his 70th birthday.

Fred Bessler – Chase County

Coach.  Fred Bessler had a career football coaching record of 248-81-1 and got his start in Brule. From there, Bessler went to Madrid where he was the head coach of their 9-0 eight-man team that was ranked No. 1. He then moved on to Cozad where he was an assistant coach for the state champion team in 1969. From 1975 to 2002, Bessler coached at Imperial. As the head football coach for 31 years, his teams won 206 games and two Class C-1 runner-up trophies. He was a head coach in the West Nebraska All-Star Football Game twice and an assistant once. In 1983 he was an assistant coach in the Shrine Bowl, and in 1995 he was a head coach. He was also the head track coach at Imperial, where his teams won 26 consecutive conference championships. He also coached basketball.

 

 

From Imperial Republican, 2005

Coach Fred Bessler, in his final season as Longhorn head football coach, meets with his team after their August, 2001, win over Cozad, giving Bessler his 200th win in Imperial. (Republican file photo) By Jan Schultz, The Imperial Republican     Fred Bessler will join an elite group of Nebraskans later this year when he is inducted into the Nebraska High School Sports Hall of Fame Foundation.

He will join 12 of Nebraska’s greatest all-time athletes, four other coaches, a longtime official and a contributor who make up the 2005 Hall of Fame Class.

They will be honored during an induction ceremony Sept. 25 at the Lied Center in Lincoln.

According to Buck Mahoney of the Foundation, Bessler is the first to gain the honor from Imperial in the 11 years of the Foundation’s existence. The 2005 class brings the total number to 239 honorees.

“It’s humbling,” Bessler said of his selection to the Hall of Fame.

“The fact that you are associated with longtime successful coaches across the state of Nebraska, it’s very humbling. It’s much appreciated,” he said.

Bessler retired from teaching and coaching in 2002, after 27 years in the school system and 37 years overall as a coach.

However, he remains a regular substitute teacher at CCHS and doesn’t miss very many Longhorn athletic events.

He coached football at Brule, Madrid, Cozad and Chase County, compiling a 248-81-1 career record, with 206 wins in Imperial and a pair of Class C-1 state runner-up finishes.

At the time of his retirement from football, his career coaching record was among the top five in Nebraska.

A highlight at Madrid in 1967 was his football team’s 9-0 record and a No. 1 state ranking. That was before Nebraska had football state playoffs.

Bessler was an assistant Shrine Bowl football coach in 1983, then was head coach for the Shrine all-star game in 1995.

His success in coaching track will also be highlighted when he is introduced at the induction ceremony later this year.

Most notably, he coached the Longhorn boys’ team to 26 consecutive SPVA conference championships while at CCHS.

He also spent a combined 16 years coaching boys’ basketball at all four high schools in Brule, Madrid, Cozad and Imperial. He spent six years as an assistant Longhorn coach from 1975-81.

A coach for 27 years at Chase County High School, Bessler has many, many good memories in all the sports he coached.

However, he pinpointed a few from his years as a football and track coach here.

One of his fondest memories in football was the 1989 team, he said. The team had a 2-5 record late in the season, but went all the way to the state football semi-finals that year, winning four straight games and finishing with a 6-6 record.

“That was probably most rewarding,” Bessler reminisced, “because they went so far and overachieved.”

Several state track performances are among the good memories for Bessler, as well.

Bessler coached the state championship 3200 meter team of Gary Snyder, Morgan Kunnemann, Denny Draper and Chris Bubak, who won an unexpected gold medal in 1983.

He also coached the state track second place 3200 meter relay team in 1997, comprised of Chris Skeen, Sam McNair, Steve Barger and Mitchell Vires, who still hold the school record in that event.

The other was Andy Bauman’s second-place state pole vault effort in 1983 at 14’6″.

While he wasn’t the individual jumpers’ event coach, Bessler said Ed Kaiser’s 6′ 9″ high jump in 2002 at the state track meet, another gold medal performance, is high on his list of good memories, too.

Those three still remain on the CCHS track record board.

But, at the top of the list for track are the 26 consecutive conference championships. That is hard to match anywhere in the state. “That was due to the high participation of athletes that we had. It was always satisfying to have 40 to 50 out for track,” he said.

That was true with football, as well.

During the Longhorns’ two football games in the state finals in 1997 and 1998, the CCHS team had an average of 70 players on the roster both years.  Bessler made certain they all suited up for the games and all received state medals those years, even though the NSAA only provided 38 medals to each team.

As Bessler nears the end of his third year in retirement, he said he does miss a lot of what comes with teaching and coaching. “I really miss the day-to-day association with the kids, and obviously, the games” and meets, he said.

He said he was “blessed” with great assistant coaches in all of his years in coaching, and those associations, too, go beyond the court and field.  He said he’d be remiss if he didn’t acknowledge the support from his family, as well, especially his wife, Sandy, and the community support all of those years at CCHS.

Gene Kruger – Elkhorn

Coach.  After serving three years in the United States Marine Corps, Gene attended Midland College receiving his B.S. in 1946. His first teaching and coaching job was at his hometown of Arlington, heading up all sports. He made the move to Elkhorn in 1949 where he hired on as assistant coach in all sports and taught math. The next year he was moved up to head basketball and track coach. He got the head football job in 1951. To all this, he added the responsibilities of athletic director until 1955 when he left teaching for private business. The lure of the classroom brought him back to education in 1960 when he returned to Elkhorn as a coach of all sports, athletic director, and math teacher. Over the next 15 years he gradually eased out of coaching one sport at a time but remained as AD until 1980. His track teams garnered several district championships with two winning the state runner-up trophy. He was selected as North All-Star basketball coach in 1970.