History Highlights: Sports

A remarkable roster of black athletes has emerged from essentially the same North Omaha neighborhoods, public housing projects and schools to achieve high distinction collegiately and professionally. Many individuals excelled during the civil rights era, contributing to Black pride both within and beyond the athletic arena.

Track star Eugene Skinner didn’t get the scholarship offer he wanted from Nebraska and subsequently starred at Iowa in the 1930s. The relay team he led defeated a team boasting Olympic great, Jesse Owens.

Multi-sport phenom Marion Hudson integrated Dana College in Blair, Nebraska in the 1950s. Some of his football and track and field records still stood more than 50 years later when the school closed.

Bob Boozer spurned in-state offers to play at Kansas State, where he became a two-time All-American. He made the original Dream Team – the U.S. Olympic basketball squad that won the Gold Medal at the 1960 Rome Games. He capped a solid NBA career as “the sixth man” on the 1971 title-winning Milwaukee Bucks team.

The competitive face of the 1960s belonged to Bob Gibson, who twice pitched the St. Louis Cardinals to World Series titles. Though he made his career on the diamond, he excelled enough in hoops to star at Creighton University and with the Harlem Globetrotters. His pitching dominance contributed to Major League Baseball lowering the mound. He helped integrate club spring training facilities in Florida. He won first ballot entry into Cooperstown, the National Baseball Hall of Fame. Don Benning became the nation’s first African-American head coach of a team sport at a predominantly white university. He began the University of Nebraska at Omaha’s wrestling dynasty with racially diverse teams who bore insults, but let their wrestling speak for them. Ron Boone went from scrawny prep baller to strapping collegiate guard to professional basketball’s Iron Man for most consecutive games played. He made ABA all-star teams and led Utah to its only title.

Roger Sayers developed into one of America’s top sprinters and once beat Bob Hayes in the 100-yard dash. He starred in football at UNO as a multipurpose back-returner. Some of his marks stood decades later.

Gale Sayers won fame as the Kansas Comet before his spectacular NFL career as a Chicago Bears running back and kick returner was cut short by injury. He was the youngest inductee into the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

Receiver-returner extraordinaire Johnny Rodgers led Nebraska to back to back national titles before becoming the Huskers’ first Heisman Trophy winner. The College Football Hall of Famer played pro ball in Canada and the NFL.

The Oliver brothers – Roye, Marshall and Ray – wreaked havoc as high school and college wrestlers. A second generation, Chris Oliver, carried on the tradition.

Many North Omaha coaches have made an impact. Bob Gibson’s older brother Josh Gibson led legendary club teams, the Monarchs and the Travelers, which Bob and other future greats played on. The late Forrest Roper developed top girls basketball players with the Hawkettes. Richard Nared nurtured track stars with the Midwest Striders. Michael Carter’s youth football club, BEARS (Building Esteem and Responsibility Systematically), produced several college scholarship players. After a superb collegiate wrestling career, Curlee Alexander built a mat dynasty at North High. The late Steve Hogan introduced golf and life lessons to youth. Even in death, his Hogan’s Junior Golf Heroes and First Tee of Omaha continue impacting youth. Shannon Walker directs the Omaha Starlings volleyball club that places young women in college. Carl Washington’s CW Youth Resource Center has been developing young people’s minds and bodies for three decades.

Athletic greats have continued emerging through today. In 1976-1977, Mike McGee set metro scoring records that still remain unchallenged. At Michigan, he became the school’s and Big Ten’s all-time scoring leader. His NBA career included two titles with the Lakers. He has coached internationally in Korea and China.

College Football Hall of Famer Larry Station, who also excelled at the discus and in tennis, twice earned 1st Team All-America honors as a linebacker at Iowa in the ‘80s. Maurtice Ivy and Jessica Haynes earned Parade All-America honors in leading Omaha Central to back to back titles. Ivy starred at NU and Haynes at San Diego State. Both played professionally.

Jackie Washington, Mallery Ivy-Higgs and LaQue Moen-Davis were among the state’s most decorated high school track and field athletes and enjoyed success at Cal-State Northridge, Tennessee and Texas A&M, respectively. Washington made the U.S. women’s track team.

Running back Ahman Green helped NU to a pair of national titles in three years before leaving early for a stellar Green Bay Packers career. Green was inducted into the Packers Hall of Fame in 2014.

RaVaughn Perkins continued his family’s high school wrestling legacy and has gone on to be one of America’s top Greco-Roman competitors in national and international competitions.

Terence Crawford is Nebraska’s first world boxing champion in a century. In 2014 alone, he won the WBO lightweight title and twice successfully defended it in his hometown before mega crowds. His work won him consensus Fighter of the Year recognition. He added a second world title in 2015. His B&B Boxing Academy in North O strives to build champions in and out of the ring.