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Pospisil: Nebraska's virtual track meet actually resembles something held 100 years ago

Pospisil: Nebraska's virtual track meet actually resembles something held 100 years ago

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Virtual track meets for Nebraska high school runners are not new.

In a way, the efforts of Holdrege coach Kirk Petit to have coaches and athletes send in training marks during the pandemic are dusting off the state’s selective pentathlon that lasted from 1921 to 1966.

Some of the fabled names in boys athletics are on the list of champions — Ed Weir, Steve Hokuf, Lloyd Cardwell, Howard Debus, Bob Hohn, Bobby Williams.

Husker track coach Henry “Pa” Schulte — Schulte Fieldhouse at NU was named for him — originated the selective pentathlon. Track was gaining in popularity statewide in 1921. The previous year, the state meet expanded from one class to three. But there weren’t many meets or duals before state. So Schulte created a virtual — er, postal — meet. Over a week, teams could compete at home or use marks from meets and submit those marks to him for statewide compilation.

Why was it called selective? Because an athlete had flexibility in his events. There were three groups of events: high jump, long jump and pole vault; shot and discus; and 220-yard dash, 880-yard run and 120-yard high hurdles. Each athlete had to pick a jump, a weight and a running event. The other two were of his choosing.

How was it scored? On a graded scale, with the standard for each event 1,000 points for equaling the state record. But athletes could score more than 5,000 points if they topped state records.

In 1921, the state record marks were 5-foot-10 in the high jump, 21-2½ in the long jump, 11-7 in the vault, 45-7½ in the shot, 120 in the discus, 22.4 seconds in the 220, 2:03.4 in the 880 and 16.6 in the hurdles.

Doug Myers of Beatrice won the inaugural pentathlon with 4,485 points. Weir, at Superior, was runner-up. Myers received the gold medal inscribed “All-round Nebraska Inter-Scholastic Champion 1921.” The rest of the top 10 got bronze medals.

Myers also led the Orangemen to the team title. Schools could enter four boys in the team competition.

Through the years, 17 winners topped 5,000 points. Debus, the Nebraska High School Sports Hall of Famer from Lincoln High, had the top two totals of 5,931 from 1940 and 5,731 the year before.

Cardwell, later a star Husker football player and Omaha University coach, was the first three-time winner while at Seward. The other three-timer was Doug Anderson of Superior, in the last three years the university sponsored competition. Anderson went to NU on a basketball scholarship, transferred to Hastings College and became a noted college journalism instructor with an emphasis on sports writing.

Other multiple winners were Debus, Brady’s Dean Brittenham in 1948 and 1949 and two from Beatrice, William Hawkins in 1951 and 1952 and Hohn in 1959 and 1960.

Dick Westin of Omaha Benson, the only winner from Omaha, had the closest call. He finished five points ahead of Arapahoe’s Eugene “Hoppy” McCue in 1950. The next year, McCue was the first World-Herald athlete of the year.

The 1965 contest was nearly as close. Superior’s Anderson edged Joe Orduna from Omaha Central by 14 points in their junior years. In seventh place was Malcolm’s Larry Frost.

The Nebraska School Activities Association never adopted the pentathlon as a championship event. It left that up to the NU track coaches. By 1966, the event had run its course. The previous year (1966 numbers couldn’t be found in newspaper accounts) only 56 athletes and 13 teams were entered.

Kearney State (now UNK) was the last bastion for the pentathlon. The Lopers kept it until 1972, then the NSAA limited athletes to four events in one day.

New York is believed to be the only state that includes pentathlon, now for boys and girls, as a state meet event. Boys now must compete in the long and high jumps, the discus and the 200 and 1,600 meters. Girls must do the two jumps, plus the shot, the 100 high hurdles and the 800 meters.

At times early in the pandemic, I thought about how a selective pentathlon could be done this year. More stringent measures came along and it wasn’t to be.

But for runners, Petit is trying to give them some kind of competition. As Pa Schulte did nearly a century ago.

Individual champions

1921, Doug Myers, Beatrice; 1922, Ed Weir, Superior; 1923, E.B. Karr, Gothenburg; 1924, Rex Watkins, Callaway; 1925, Herbert Hann, Grand Island; 1926, Charles Mousel, Cambridge; 1927, Roy Robbins, Grand Island; 1928, Steve Hokuf, Crete; 1929, Harold Barnes, Gothenburg; 1930, Hugo Hoffman, Ashland; 1931-32-33, Lloyd Cardwell, Seward; 1934, Wilmer Keebaugh, Newport; 1935, Fred Kern, Culbertson; 1936, Russell Bradford, Mitchell; 1937, Edsel Wibbels, Wolbach; 1938, Victor Brewer, Walthill; 1939-40, Howard Debus, Lincoln High; 1941, Jerry Carpenter, McCook; 1942, Dean France, Lexington; 1943, Kenneth Herald, Chester; 1944, William Moomey, York; 1945, George Bostwick, North Platte; 1946, Marvin Gill, Kearney; 1947, Fritz Davis, Lincoln Northeast; 1948-49, Dean Brittenham, Brady; 1950, Dick Westin, Omaha Benson; 1951-52, William Hawkins, Beatrice; 1953, Harold Scholl, Central City; 1954, Richard Knaub, Scottsbluff; 1955, Robert Eberspacher, Beaver Crossing; 1956, Duane Buchtel, Clay Center; 1957, Mel Harmon, Hebron; 1958, Jerry Johnson, North Platte; 1959-60, Bob Hohn, Beatrice; 1961, Bobby Williams, Lincoln High; 1962, Lynn Hasselbalch, St. Edward; 1963, Roy Smith, De Witt; 1964-65-66, Doug Anderson, Superior.

Top 10 scores: Howard Debus, Lincoln High, 1940, 5,931; Debus, 1939, 5,731; Edsel Wibbels, Wolbach, 1937, 5,698; William Hawkins, Beatrice, 1952, 5,599; Russell Bradford, Mitchell, 1936, 5,222; Hawkins, Beatrice, 1951, 5,162; Victor Brewer, Walthill, 1938, 5,157; Robert Eberspacher, Beaver Crossing, 1955, 5,152; Richard Knaub, Scottsbluff, 1954, 5,151; Duane Buchtel, Clay Center, 1956, 5,149.

Overall team champions

1921, Beatrice; 1922, Wilber; 1923, Gothenburg; 1924, Scottsbluff; 1925, Grand Island; 1926, Grand Island; 1927, Grand Island; 1928, Crete; 1929, Gothenburg; 1930, Crete; 1931, Seward; 1932, Seward; 1933, Seward; 1934, Benkelman; 1935, Table Rock; 1936, Mitchell; 1937, Mitchell; 1938, Ord; 1939, Lincoln High; 1940, Lincoln High; 1941, Burwell; 1942, Fairbury; 1943, Garden County; 1944, Lexington; 1945, North Platte; 1946, Kearney; 1947, Scottsbluff; 1948, Hastings; 1949, Beatrice; 1950, Beatrice; 1951, Lincoln Northeast; 1952, Broken Bow; 1953, Cambridge; 1954, Cambridge; 1955, Tekamah; 1956, Blair; 1957, Omaha Creighton Prep; 1958, Ord; 1959, O’Neill St. Mary’s; 1960, Columbus; 1961, Polk; 1962, Fairbury; 1963, Fairbury; 1964, Superior; 1965, Fairbury; 1966, Superior.


Omaha World-Herald: Nebraska Prep Zone

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Reporter - High school sports

Stu is The World-Herald's lead writer for high school sports and for golf. Follow him on Twitter @stuOWH. Email

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