Saturday, May 16, 2015

Assumption had big sports legacy - Part II

This is the second of a two-part series that covers the highlights of athletics at Assumption Academy in Chadron during its 38-year history.  Written by Con Marshall, these newspaper stories were originally published in August of 2011.  Our thanks to Con for allowing us to use this story and to Jim Sandstrom for sharing photos from some of his years as a student athlete at the Academy.

Chadron Assumption had many athletic highlights
by Con Marshall

George Shinker was just 20 years old and still two years away from graduating from Chadron State College when he was named Assumption Academy’s head coach of all three sports in the fall of 1953. He had graduated from the Academy in May 1950 after being a standout on the basketball team.

  Shinker’s first football team at Assumption was a six-man crew that had just two seniors on the roster and went 0-7. However, during the next five seasons, the Panthers were 34-7-1 on the gridiron. The 1955, ’57 and ’58 teams lost just one game apiece. The 1955 team was also tied.

The Panthers also were strong in basketball under Shinker. They won four consecutive district tournament championships, but always lost out in regional tournament contests.  This was an era when it wasn’t easy to make it to Lincoln because only four teams were in the state tournament in each class.  The 1957 team was beaten by Uehling, which is located in northeast Nebraska about 30 miles from the Iowa state line. The playoff game was in Plainview, nearly as far from Chadron as Lincoln.

1957-58 Assumption Academy Panthers
(Photo courtesy of Jim Sandstrom)
The 1958 team went 19-4 and helped Chadron earn the title of Basketball Capital of Nebraska.  Chadron Prep was 19-3 and Chadron High was 17-3 that season.  (Editors Note:  To see a larger version of the photo above — and others — visit our Chadron Schools Gallery.

The Panthers got a boost during the 1950s when Chuck and Larry Murray came from their parents’ ranch on the Wind River Reservation in central Wyoming and enrolled at Assumption. They were tough and talented enough to have played for any high school football team in the country. They also were basketball standouts at Assumption.

During a recent telephone conversation, Chuck said his family lived 24 miles from town, all of it dirt road. Therefore, his parents decided it would be more economical and safer if they went elsewhere to high school. They sought information about Jesuit institutions and chose Assumption over Alliance St. Agnes.  Their sister, Ivora, also enrolled at Assumption during this era.

Chuck said one of his many memories of his days at Assumption was going to basketball practice early in the morning so the Panthers could use the Community Building (now Middle School Gym), where their games were played. Chadron High, Chadron State and Chadron Prep practiced there in the afternoon and evenings. The Assumption Arena opened the year after Chuck graduated from the Academy in 1956.

  Following their days at Assumption, the Murray brothers stuck around and also played football and graduated from CSC.  I may be wrong, but I think they are the only Assumption grads to earn letters in football at CSC aside from Dale Tangeman in 1939 and ’40.  Both of the Murrays also went on to earn master’s degrees in education from the University of Wyoming.

George Shinker 
(Photo courtesy of Jim Sandstrom)
Some of Shinker’s other top athletes included Doyle and Dan Hucke, Jim, Jerry and Dick Miller, Larry Chamberlain, Don McVeigh, Dave Mailander, Bill Marchant, John Hostler, Wayne Sides, Bernard Lecher, Jim Konrath, George Bamsey and Bob Zahm, who earned all-state basketball honors from at least one Nebraska newspaper as a senior in 1958 and remains one of this community’s most avid sports fans.

Shinker left Assumption for a teaching and coaching job at Lusk in the spring of 1959. He earned a master’s degree from CSC in 1962 and had an outstanding career as a school administrator. He was the principal three years at Hemingford, the principal three years and superintendent five years at Ainsworth, the superintendent at Creighton seven years and the superintendent of the West Holt Schools at Atkinson 16 years. He was on the Nebraska School Activities Association’s board of control before retiring in 1995. He died at age 76 in 2009 with many friends and admirers.

The next two years after Shinker left, the Panthers were coached by Chadron State PE majors.  Jim Davison coached the 1959 football team that went 7-0-1 with the only blemish a 13-13 tie with St. Agnes and Rod Borders was the coach in the fall of 1960 when Mullen dealt the Panthers their only loss during a 7-1 season.
Complete statistics from that era don’t seem to be available, but a story in the Chadron Record said Bob Marchant, who was just a sophomore, had touchdown runs of 85 and 90 yards during a 31-7 threshing of Sidney St. Pat’s in 1959.

Lots of success in the 1960s

Larry Whiting became the school’s full-time coach in 1961 and guided both the football and basketball teams to much success. His gridiron teams lost just one of 35 games during a four-year stretch beginning in 1963. They could have held their own against almost any of the area’s 11-man teams in that era.

The basketball teams were also strong. They were 18-4 in 1963-64, 20-3 in 1964-65 and 16-7 in 1966-67. All three teams won district titles, but again lost out in state tournament bids during the regional playoffs. By then eight teams from each class were receiving state tourney bids. In both 1965 and 1967, the Panthers lost their regional playoff games by just three points. Halsey-Dunning won 51-48 the first year and Potter prevailed 62-59 the second year.

Potter went on to win the Class D state championship in 1967.

In the fall of 1967, Whiting moved from Assumption to Ainsworth, where Shinker was the principal and about to become the superintendent. After three years at Ainsworth, Whiting, his wife Eunice and their young family moved to Columbus Lakeview, where he spent 33 years teaching health and physical education and coaching primarily track and field and cross-country.

Some of Whiting’s top football players at Assumption included Bill and Bob Boeck, Larry and Dave Deans, Don Marchant, Steve Swallow, Mike Earl, Joe Katen, Mark Hooker, Nick Schommer, John Lliteras, Marty McGannon, DuWayne Burgess, Larry Kelley, Jim Hamous, Joe Hoesing, Tom Reid, Frank Thoendel, Dennis Goffena and Bill Stewart. The Boeck brothers, Larry Deans, Reid, Earl, Lliteras and John Van Loan were among the top hoopsters in that era.

Don Lecher and Bill Boeck apparently were the only track and field state champions in Assumption’s history. Boeck won the Class D 180-yard low hurdles in 1967 in 20.8 seconds and also placed fourth in the 120-yard highs. Earlier that spring, he won both hurdles and the long and high jumps at the West 10 Conference Meet. Hamous placed third in the mile at the state meet in 4:41.5 that season.

Another state meet medalist from Assumption was Larry Girmann, who in 1954 placed third in the Class D mile at the state meet in 4:43. His parents then moved to Fort Collins, where he was a state cross-country champion and won the Class AA mile at the Colorado State Track Meet.

In 1969, Assumption’s Roger Marchant, Steve Stewart and brothers Boniface and Paul Chase finished fifth in the Class D mile relay at the state meet. Boniface then earned four letters as a middle distance runner at CSC.

State tourney trip was last hurrah

Joe Kanarick, later a prominent Chadron insurance agent, had been Whiting’s assistant two years and took over as the Assumption football coach in 1967. Kanarick’s teams went 5-2 and 9-0. Members of the latter team included Dave Moore, Duane Katen, Terry (Bim) Hooker, Mike Zahm, Ed Mailander and Steve and John Stewart.  Hooker, one of the many proud Assumption alums I’ve known, told me in the early 1980s that Steve Stewart was the best football player he could remember at Assumption.

Assumption’s final two football teams had records of 5-4 and 6-1, giving them a 115-23-2 mark during their last 17 years of existence. All 17 teams won more games than they lost.

The Panthers’ basketball teams were 151-69 during their final 10 seasons. Only the 1967-68 team that was 11-12 lost more games than it won.

Athletically, the school’s last hurrah was the 1970-71 basketball team that qualified for the state tournament just two months before the school closed. Coached by Al Bozner, the Panthers defeated Lexington St. Ann 67-55 in the first round before losing to eventual state champion Benedict 49-34 in the semifinals. They concluded the season with a 22-4 record.

Sophomore Kevin Moore averaged 24.1 points that season, and got good support from classmate Steve Marchant and seniors Terry Hooker, Mike Martin and Bill Melton.   Moore, as long-time Chadron fans are aware, had two more great years at Chadron High and finished his high school career with 1,826 points, the most ever for a Panhandle high school hoopster until Jordan Hooper poured in 2,078 points during her star-studded career at Alliance 2006-10.

Hooper’s success causes me to wonder how Assumption would have fared in girls’ athletics. Most of the boys named in the column had sisters who probably would have done well, too.