1966 Football Team induction into KHS Athletic Hall of Fame

The Kearney High School Varsity Football Team from the fall 1966 season was inducted into the KHS Athletic Hall of Fame on Friday, September 2, 2022, during halftime of the Kearney vs. Fremont football game at UNK Cope Stadium in Kearney.  

The team's roster of 53 players, 3 student managers, and their 4 coaches (Head Coach Claire Boroff and Assistant Coaches Jack Ramey, Riley Harris and Dennis Long - all of whom are still living) were invited to stand on Foster Field during the halftime recognition ceremony. 

Attendees at the Induction included (left to right): Les Livingston, Dave Richardson, Monte Kruger, Wayne Garrelts, Lyle Garrelts, Tay Tollefsen, Randy Nelson, Kirk Melson, Terry Fairfield, Head Coach Claire Boroff, Asst. Coach Riley Harris, and Asst. Coach Denny Long.  (Photo credit: KHS Echo)


The Bearcats football team scored an all-time school record of 261 points during its 1966 season (an average 29 points per game), while only allowing a total of 27 points by 9 opponents all season (an average 3 points per game).  The varsity team boasted an 8-1 season record (the best since 1944), sharing the West Big Ten Championship with Scottsbluff which beat the Bearcats by only 1 point.  Kearney High's 1966 team also set an all-time school record for the "Most Points Scored in a Single Football Game" by beating McCook by 60-0, one of six shutouts during the Bearcat's 9-game regular season.  The annual defensive award went to junior linebacker Norm Curtright.

The 1966 Bearcats offense was fueled by halfback Tom Heller who set both KHS and Big Ten Conference records for his 1,005 yards rushing, 19 touchdowns and 123 points scored (47% of his team's total points) to become All-Time Big 10 Scoring Leader.  Heller, who also led his team in pass receptions, kickoffs and kickoff returns, was selected for Class "A" First Team All-State teams in both football and basketball, and was named the Nebraska high school "Athlete of the Year" in 1967 by the Omaha World-Herald and the Lincoln Journal-Star.  Tom died in 2014 from ALS known as Lou Gehrig's disease.  Heller was inducted into the Nebraska High School Sports Hall of Fame in 2018 and the Kearney High Athletic Hall of Fame.

Heller was named one of three Co-Captains of the 1966 team along with the Melson twins, Kirk and Karl.  Fullback Kirk and halfback Tom combined for over 2,000 yards of offense that season.  Kirk was named to the All-West Big Ten team and received Honorable Mentions to several newspapers' All-State teams.  Fourth in defensive records, center Karl Melson received multiple Honorable Mentions to All-State and West Big Ten teams.

Photo of Head Coach Claire Boroff with #14 quarterback Terry Fairfield who won the team's passing title, completing 29 of 74 passes for a total of 541 yards and scoring 24 points (third place in scoring behind Heller and Kirk Melson). 

Offensive & defensive end Tay Tollefsen snared eight passes for 152 yards, scored 53 points, averaged 39.4 yards per kick as the team's punter, and was All Big Ten and Honorable Mention Class "A" All-State. 

200-lb. tackle Mike Schmidt was one of five Bearcats who played both offense & defense and was cited by the Hub's Bob Van Tine as "an effective blocker and tough-as-leather defender". Fairfield and Schmidt both earned Honorable Mention recognition for their West Big Ten play. 

Van TIne also praised pulling guard Dick Abood's hustle and punt blocking; Abood was named to the All Big Ten Team.  

Karl Melson, Tay Tollefsen, Tom Heller, and Kirk Melson were selected for and played in the 1967 Shrine Bowl in Lincoln, the first & only time that four players from the same school played in the Shrine Bowl!

Other KHS 1967 Seniors who contributed to the Cats' sensational '66 football season were Jon Cole, Steve Cleland, Dan Cooper, Lyle Garrelts, Les Livingston, Rick Merryman, John O'Donovan, Dave Richardson, Ron Swanson, Dan Treadway, Rick Triplett, Steve Walker, and student managers Dean Liddle and Randy Solomon.   


Bob Van Tine, Sports Editor of the Kearney Daily Hub newspaper, covered the Cats' 1966 season.  Here are the final scores of each game, plus links to several Hub Sports stories about those football games:

Kearney 6, Grand Island 0

Kearney 19, North Platte 6: "Cats Muzzle Bulldogs To Launch WBT Title Bid"

Kearney 45, Columbus 0: "Blazing Bearcats Shelve Columbus Hex, 45-0"

Kearney 19, Holdrege 7

Kearney 26, Norfolk 0: "Cats Pound Panthers To Please Color Day Throng"

Kearney 32, Lexington 0: "Minute Men Reel Under Bearcat Wallops, 32-0"

Kearney 13, Scottsbluff 14

Kearney 41, Alliance 0

Kearney 60, McCook 0


During our Senior High School years, girls were not allowed to compete in athletics against girls from other town's high school teams.  Instead girls' opportunities were limited to after-school, intramural games of basketball, track and volleyball under the KHS Girls Athletic Association (GAA).

But girls could try out to become a Cheerleader, Majorette, or a member of the Band or Pep Club.  They proudly wore their own uniforms, performed at parades, pep rallies and games, practiced every week, and learned new routines to raise school spirit and support the boys' athletic teams.


KHS1967 Cheerleaders Karen Casey, captain; Jackie Pahl, Debbie Cushing, Trudy Martin, Sandy Kay, and Carol Cullen

During the summer of 1966, more than one hundred girls tried out for only six KHS Cheerleader positions, auditioning in groups of 4 girls at a time, then hopefully later during callbacks, judged by Kearney State College cheerleaders and KHS sponsors Kari Keating (Anderson), Judy Shrock, and Thelma Browers. 

Tryouts were open to all grades, so previous experience as a cheerleader did NOT guarantee you a spot the next year.  For example, Karen Casey was our only classmate selected to be a cheerleader in 10th grade.  Karen, Pam & Pat Caldwell were chosen in 11th grade.  Karen, Jackie Pahl, and Trudy Martin became cheerleaders in 12th grade.  Karen Casey was chosen as Captain of our KHS1967 cheerleading squad.  

The new cheerleaders practiced early every summer morning on the Harmon Park Sonotorium stage.  They performed in front of the Pep Club during pep rallies and both reserve & varsity games for boys' football and basketball (but for some reason, not wrestling or track). 

All of the cheerleaders' uniforms were purchased by the high school and accumulated through the years.  Each year the new cheerleaders could mix and match tops and bottoms.  The high school purchased only one new set of cheerleading outfits each year, so our cheerleaders bought their own gold satin jackets with blue trim from Klone's Sporting Goods in Kearney. 

Our KHS1967 cheerleaders were the first to wear split-skirts (or culottes).  But every girl had to kneel on the Home Economics room floor to make sure their skirt touched the floor and wasn't too short or revealing.

KHS1967 cheerleaders were invited to cheerleading clinics in Lincoln or Omaha, but unlike today, our girls never competed in cheerleading contests against other high schools in Nebraska or the West Big Ten conference.   By the way, the "Bearcat Cheer Squad" for 2022-2023 has expanded to 16 girls... and 1 boy.


KHS1967 Majorettes Jill Schmoker, Barb Knapp, Jeanne Thatcher, Vicki Richardson, Nancy Rogers, Carol Dobberstein

Girls tried out every year to be chosen for the Majorette squad.  They were required to be a member of the Band as well, so they also played musical instruments in the Concert Band or Orchestra.  The Majorettes led the Marching Band when they both performed in parades.

The Majorettes practiced and prepared their own twirling routines each week to the music that the Marching Band prepared for parades and halftime shows at football games or the music that the Pep Band performed at boys' basketball games.

During basketball games, the Majorettes proudly sat in the front row with the Pep Club and wore white skirts and royal blue sweaters with a large "K" to cheer on the boy's basketball team.


KHS Pep Club Officers organize the reversible blue & gold cards to spell a gigantic blue "K".
Anne Kotsiopulos, secretary; Marge Lehmanowsky, historian; Sue Ann Christensen, president; 
Cindy Hiner, vice president; Marcia Gulleen, treasurer.

Every Thursday before a game, the Pep Club painted blue & gold slogans (e.g., "Beat The Bisons")
on school windows in the Life-Science Court and Concourse, and posted construction paper signs
throughout the high school -- signs and paint that the girls had to remove before Friday night.

During weekly meetings in the Cafeteria, Squad Leaders trained their assigned row of Pep Club
members when to hold up a blue or gold card to spell out words during pep rallies and games.  KHS was the only Pep Club that had its own Card Section (similar to the University of Nebraska's Card Section), so visiting teams and their families were impressed by KHS!

Pep Club members also built a huge arch that each week was covered in new balloons and blue & gold crepe paper that the boys' team members ran through before the start of every game.

In 1967, Girls Physical Education Coach Mrs. Betty Willis was approached by several KHS girls on the intramural volleyball team who wanted to compete against girls' volleyball teams already formed in nearby towns.  Mrs. Willis said the KHS girls could play volleyball in their gym uniforms, so the high school wouldn't have to buy new uniforms for the girls' volleyball team.  KHS parents offered to drive the girls' team to area games, so no school buses or bus drivers would be needed.  When Mrs. Willis and the KHS girls sought permission from Principal Gerald Brummer, our school principal denied permission, claiming "girls are not emotionally equipped to play sports."  Yet, several KHS1967 girls went to college and became Girls' Physical Education instructors and coaches.

In 1972, President Nixon signed federal Title IX legislation prohibiting sex discrimination in any educational program or school activity, including sports.  Today KHS girls can compete in basketball, cross country, golf, soccer, softball, swimming & diving, tennis, track...  and volleyball.

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