In the upper left, Nebraska basketball letterwinners are listed by senior year.
By Randy York
Late last week, near the end of an extensive tour of the Bob Devaney Sports Center for about 150 Nebraska athletic letterwinners and their invited guests, Maggi Thorne ushered her large group into the Nebraska men’s basketball lounge/locker room, a feature attraction in the Huskers’ dynamic practice facility. The group exited through an entryway lined with white basketballs that turn red on both sides of the hallway whenever people walk by.
Thorne, however, paused long enough for the group to see the list of Nebraska basketball men’s letterwinners in a prominent place in the same hallway. Nancy Hester tapped her husband on the side and directed his attention to an area where five names were listed as letterwinners in 1960, and sure enough, Wayne Hester’s name was listed right next to Herschell Turner’s. Hester was a 6-2 guard from Lincoln. Turner was a 6-2 guard from Indianapolis.
Herschell was one of the first Husker players inducted into the Nebraska Basketball Hall of Fame. Wayne never received such an individual honor but on a vibrant graphic hanging in that hallway, his name was engraved in the exact same way Turner’s was. There was no larger type, no asterisks, no definitional requirements, just an historical acknowledgement that both practiced and played together and earned Nebraska’s most distinguished honor – that white “N” on a scarlet-and-cream-colored letter jacket.
Hester’s Smile Was Meaningful Affirmation
When I asked Hester if it was meaningful to see his name etched in his alma mater’s trendy hallway, he didn’t have to say one word. His smile was the only affirmation necessary.
Thorne, a former Husker track and field student-athlete whose name is tied to a school record relay team, smiles when she sees Hester’s smile. An assistant director for capital planning and construction for Nebraska Athletics, she helped lead the amazing transformation of the Devaney Center and had one compelling thought that kept ringing in her ear as she took on the challenge.
“Before I even got a job working here, I’ve always wanted to build something that would make me want to come here again,” said the former California State Junior College hurdle champion.
Krenk’s Idea Led to Innovative Approach
In the same group with Hester was Husker football letterwinner Mitch Krenk, who shook his head as he continued down the hallway on the last leg of the Devaney Center tour. Krenk had one of those silent memorable moments watching Hester connect to his place in Nebraska history.
Krenk, you must understand, was the impetus behind Nebraska building a letterwinner wall outside Memorial Stadium six months after Tom Osborne, his former head football coach, accepted Harvey Perlman’s offer to return to Nebraska as Athletic Director.
At that time in 2007, the Nebraska Athletic Department did not manage the N-Club when Krenk was its president. Osborne scheduled a meeting with Krenk and asked if there was anything that could help Nebraska student-athletes that they didn’t have now.
Soldier Field Impetus for Memorial Stadium
Krenk thought for a minute and then offered up an idea that moved him in a way he never dreamed possible. “Coach,” he told Osborne, “my family and I went to see Soldier Field when they rebuilt it in Chicago, and my kids were blown away that my name was up there on the same players’ wall with Walter Payton. It was a great sense of pride for the whole family. On that wall, we were equals on the same Super Bowl Team.”
A walk-on at Nebraska, Krenk worked his way up from 7th-team tight end to heavy-duty playing time that eventually led him to signing a contract with the Chicago Bears and spending two years there, including the 1985 Super Bowl championship team.
If you want another twist to this inspirational story, consider the pride that Mitch Krenk feels when he views the Lettermen’s Wall that was unveiled the night before the 2008 Spring Game. He played on the same team with the likes of Mike Rozier, Roger Craig, Dave Rimington, Turner Gill and Irving Fryar.
Nick’s Name Up There with Stu, Dave, Eric
Nick Krenk, Mitch’s son, followed his father’s inspired lead and walked on to play basketball at Nebraska. He, too, earned a letter and has an equal place on the same wall graced by the names Stu Lantz, Dave Hoppen and Eric Piatkowski.
“Once a Husker always a Husker,” Thorne said, explaining the simplicity and the feeling that every Nebraska letterwinner experiences.
Nebraska went from minimal letterwinner displays to eye-catching graphics that now trumpet the names of every single Husker letterwinner in the 24 varsity sports in which Nebraska still competes.
In college athletics, such a practice was little known if at all. A few years later, when Jim Tressel toured Nebraska’s facilities when he was in Lincoln as a keynote speaker, the then Ohio State head football coach said he’d never seen anything remotely close to a lettermen’s wall and vowed to copy Nebraska’s lead in one way or another.
Where Else Does Everyone Know Your Name?
West of Memorial Stadium in a prominent spot for moving traffic, there’s a billboard that says simply: “There is No Place!”
Maybe someday Nebraska partner First National Bank will finish the sentence.
There is No place that has every letterwinners’ name, giving them all their rightful place in Nebraska Athletic History.
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