This article was originally published Aug. 12, 2016.
One of the most widely-attended baseball games in history didn’t include major league players, proper lighting or an audience that understood the game. It wasn’t played on U.S. soil, and the outcome didn’t crown a champion. In fact, it didn’t even really have opponents.
What it did have was a widely-recognized Nebraskan coaching both squads, two Huskers on the field and Adolf Hitler in attendance.
On Aug. 12, 1936, Les Mann, a Lincoln native, coached a U.S. demonstration team featuring mostly college players at the Berlin Olympics. Japan, which was scheduled to be the U.S. team's opponent, backed out of the contest, leaving Mann in a bit of a pickle.
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Mann, along with the United States Amateur Baseball Association, had previously worked to demonstrate the sport at the 1932 Olympics in Los Angeles, but had his request denied. Now, with a chance to finally showcase the game, he would show the sport to the world with a split-squad game. The American teams were dubbed the World Champions and the U.S. Olympics teams, with the Champions eventually coming out on top 6-5 in walk-off fashion.
Two Huskers were in action that day, too. Paul Amen, who went on to have a minor league career, played at first base. But Dow Wilson, a Husker shortstop, may have had the most interesting experience of any U.S. player.
The 19-year-old played cards with Jesse Owens, who went on to become an Olympic icon during those games, and reportedly made small talk with one notable audience member at the game: Hitler. Wilson didn't realize who he was talking to at the time, and later described the German leader as "a very bad man," according to author Josh Chetwynd.
An estimated crowd of between 90,000 and 125,000 spectators were in attendance, but many couldn’t see — or understand — anything that was happening in the game.
“Three announcers, a German, a Frenchman and an Englishman, were brought before the microphone to explain the game,” United Press Staff Correspondent Henry M’Lemore wrote in an article published in The World-Herald on Aug. 13, 1936.
The German had nearly no knowledge of the rules, the Frenchman stated that it was only necessary to watch the "thrower tossing the sphere against the baton of the striker," and the Englishman compared baseball to a combination of lacrosse and cricket.
Even the fans that comprehended the rules had difficulty enjoying the game. It was played on a makeshift field that lacked a pitching mound and had lighting too dim to make out the ball. "I think they had one 20-watt bulb in centerfield," Gordon Mallatrat said in Pete Cava's Baseball in the Olympics.
Despite the game's issues, baseball had made a big enough impression to have a world tournament in the works for the 1940 Tokyo Games, but politics trumped athletics and it was canceled due to World War II.
Those who could appreciate the 1936 demonstration game were in for a treat. The action began immediately, with Hubert Shaw hitting an inside-the-park homer in the top of the first for the U.S. Olympics team, though the thrills of baseball were lost on much of the audience at hand.
There was a silence in the crowd immediately after the bases were rounded, and it remained that way until an announcement in German informed the audience that the feat was worthy of recognition.
The game concluded when Les McNeece blasted a walk-off homer for the World Champions squad.
Temple pitcher Bill Sayles started for the winning squad, but may have had his most memorable moment off the field:
“(Sayles) had been selected to explain the game to one of the narrators of an Olympic documentary film,” according to Cava. “Thompson told Phil Elderkin of the Christian Science Monitor that the narrator turned out to be ‘a charming woman,’ with whom he spent an entire afternoon.”
The woman allegedly was Eva Braun, the longtime companion and future wife of Hitler.
Of course, none of this would have happened without Mann, who was one of the greatest competitors in Nebraska athletics history.
“Les did everything well. He was tops at football, basketball, track and baseball. He would have been equally great in other sports,” said Mann’s close friend, Scott Dye, in a newspaper account following Mann’s 1962 death in a car accident.
Mann eventually decided on baseball. His first professional game came as a member of the Boston Braves, where he was an outfielder on a World Series team. Over 16 seasons with five teams, Mann finished with a .282 batting average, 44 home runs and 503 RBIs.
In 2015, he was ranked No. 67 on The World-Herald's ranking of the state's top 100 athletes of all time.
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After his days as a three-sport standout at McCook, Jeff Kinney came to Nebraska in 1968 to play quarterback. But two other QBs also joined the Huskers that season. So Kinney moved to flanker and eventually I-back, and that's where he flourished over the next three seasons.
Decorated college and high school football and wrestling star. High school teacher, coach and administrator. But Charles Bryant was foremost a pioneer. Bryant, an all-state athlete at Omaha South before graduating in 1950, became the first black football player of the modern era at Nebraska in 1952.
George Flippin was once described by Lincoln Star sports editor Cy Sherman as a "charged bull, into which was bred the tenacity of the bulldog, the ferocity of the tiger and the gameness of the man who knows no fear." He was Nebraska's first black athlete, in 1891, before black athletes were banned by the university from 1917 until the late 1940s.
Former Broken Bow cowboy Paul Tierney has won arguably the two most prestigious titles in rodeo. He finished his 10-year professional career by topping $1 million in career earnings, and his 2008 induction into the ProRodeo Hall of Fame makes him the most accomplished cowboy from Nebraska.
Shelby, Nebraska, is one of the flattest towns in one of the flattest states in America. The elevation difference between the highest and lowest points is 7 feet. It is literally a town without a hill, one of the last places you’d expect to produce an Olympic gold medalist in bobsled. But that didn't stop Tomasevicz.
Rhodes did it all. The Ansley native held three state high school track records at the same time (vault, long jump, high jump); was player-coach of Ansley’s first football team in 1920, which went undefeated that season; helped Ansley win a pair of state basketball titles; and played baseball. After graduating from high school in 1922, Rhodes went on to earn eight varsity letters at Nebraska — three in football and track, and two in baseball.
After a stellar three-sport high school career at Cambridge, Houghtelling surprised many by signing to play volleyball instead of basketball at NU.
Even though basketball had been her first love, she’s never regretted the decision.
Ruud is Nebraska’s all-time leading tackler with 432 stops. As a senior captain in 2004, he was a third-third All-American, a first-team All-Big 12 performer and NU’s defensive MVP. He was selected in the second round of the NFL draft. Ruud played eight NFL seasons, leading Tampa Bay in tackles for four of those.
Trotter starred at Omaha Creighton Prep, where he was a two-time all-state selection, and was Nebraska's first — and only — player named to the McDonald's High School All-American team.
Grand Island coach Doug Whitman once noted that swimmer Scott Usher was "one to watch." As it turned out, the entire country had the chance to watch Usher. Usher finished seventh in the 200 breaststroke in the 2004 Olympics and in 2008 fell just short of returning for a second Olympics.
Ron Kellogg is considered one of the best pure shooters in Nebraska prep history. The Omaha Northwest grad wasn't bad in college, either, according to then-Kansas coach Larry Brown.
Skinny 14-year-old Geddes left his father, eight brothers and eight sisters in Jacksonville, Florida, and arrived at Boys Town in 1962. Geddes had played football just once before arriving but took such a beating in a sandlot game against older players that he didn’t plan to play again. But Boys Town coach Skip Palrang spotted him and talked him into giving it a try. He eventually thrived and helped the Cowboys win a state title.
The 1978 Holdrege graduate turned down multiple scholarship offers from other schools, including a football and track package from Iowa State, to walk on with the Nebraska football team. The 150-pound walk-on became an integral part of the Husker offense. The three-year starter ranked in the top 10 in receptions and yards by the time he left in 1982.
While a career in the NBA never materialized for the Omaha Benson and Iowa graduate, Woolridge played overseas for 13 years. Leagues in Turkey, France, Germany, Venezuela, Israel and Cyprus. And the money was good. "To do what I loved professionally for 13 years, I can't complain about it," he said in 2013.
Louise Pound, in so many fields, was the trailblazer for women's athletics in the state. And this while becoming a preeminent educator in the University of Nebraska-Lincoln English department over a half-century. In 1890, Pound won the Lincoln city tennis championship. She captured the university's men's singles and doubles titles in 1891 and 1892 — the only female in school history to receive a men's varsity letter.
The best softball teams used to hail only from the West Coast. Keaton changed that. The former Papillion-La Vista and Nebraska star put Nebraska softball on the map with her dominating presence and performances in the pitcher's circle.
Once the last player to survive the cut on Nebraska's recruiting board, Noonan ultimately became a household Husker name. He earned first-team All-America honors and was named the Big Eight athlete of the year as a senior. His 12 sacks that season are tied for third in school history, and his 24 career sacks are tied for fourth.
John Parrella was Nebraska raised, the pride of Grand Island. NU defensive coordinator Charlie McBride once ranked him among the top three defensive tackles he had ever coached.
One press clipping described Hopp, a first baseman and outfielder, as "a dynamo who, perhaps more than anyone else, typifies the dashing, hell-for-leather play” of the St. Louis Cardinals. Hopp's 14-year career spanned five teams and as many World Series appearances, including back-to-back World Series victories with the Yankees. In all, he won four World Series and was an All-Star in 1946, when he hit .333 and drove in 48 runs for the Boston Braves.
Born in Holdrege in 1939 and raised near Axtell, Anderson began his quest at an early age and eventually built a makeshift shooting range as a high school senior at Axtell. After attending Nebraska for one year, Anderson joined the U.S. Army so he could pursue his Olympic dream.
Hare picked Nebraska from a slew of offers after starting for four years for Omaha Tech, where he averaged 26.4 points a game as a senior in 1963. Tech won the Class A title that year after going 22-2 and cruising through the state tournament by an average of 21 points a game. That team was voted into the Omaha Sports Hall of Fame and recently was chosen as having one of the best starting fives in Nebraska high school sports history.
Osborne remains just one of two men to win The World-Herald’s high school (1955) and state college (1959) athlete of the year awards. In high school, Osborne was all-state in football and basketball in 1954-55 and helped Hastings win a state title on the hardwood. In track, he won the discus at the state meet and placed second in the 440-yard dash. The future coach and congressman also stood out on the baseball diamond and had a pro football career.
Hoppen turned down a Kentucky scholarship offer. He also said no to Notre Dame, Missouri, Kansas and Colorado. And yes to Nebraska. Between 1982 and 1986, the 6-foot-11 center became NU’s all-time leading scorer, and he did it with clinical efficiency.
The only native Nebraskan to win a national wrestling championship at NU, Vering took his success to the international level, representing the U.S. in a pair of Olympics, claiming a world silver medal and winning gold at a Pan Am Games.
As a junior, Henry won golds for Bellevue West in the 200, 400 and long jump. Henry went on to set a national age-group record in the long jump and was part of the USA Junior World Team in 1995. At Nebraska, Henry won the NCAA indoor and outdoor long jump titles in 1996. All told, Henry was a three-time Big 12 champion and a 10-time All-American.
Kindig-Malone won gold medals at state in the long jump, hurdles and relays, but it wasn’t until she started getting scholarship offers from UCLA, Iowa and NU that she realized she might be good. Later, she won Big Eight heptathlon and pentathlon titles at Nebraska, becoming an All-American and helping the Huskers win their first indoor national championship in 1982. Kindig-Malone also won a Class C state basketball title with Hastings St. Cecilia in 1977.
Sauer and Bernie Masterson — No. 43 on the Nebraska 100 — paired together in the backfield to usher in one of the first great runs for Husker football. The two led Nebraska to Big Six championships in 1931, ’32 and ’33, when the Huskers went undefeated in league play. Sauer was an All-American in 1933 for the second-ranked Huskers. He also lettered in track, baseball and wrestling.
Cantwell, from Crete, won four straight Class B shot put and discus titles, including three consecutive all-class gold medals in the shot. She was a two-time NCAA shot put champion at SMU and was the 2002 U.S. indoor and outdoor champion as well as a 1999 world indoor bronze medalist. Cantwell also competed in the 2000 Olympic Games in Sydney.
Orduna lettered at running back for the Huskers in 1967, ’68 and ’70, running for 1,968 yards and 26 touchdowns. The Omaha Central graduate also played three NFL seasons.
A two-way football player even during his professional career with Green Bay, Charles Brock helped revolutionize the linebacker position in the pros while helping the Packers win two NFL championships. The Columbus native was recalled as a fierce competitor by the late Lee Remmel, a team historian who covered the Packers for nearly 30 years.
Lindsey, a Millard North graduate, was a standout defender for Notre Dame, the U.S. national team and San Jose of the WUSA, in which she played three seasons.
The image of Cory Schlesinger barreling into the end zone for the winning touchdown in the 1995 Orange Bowl burns brightly in the memories of Nebraska football fans. Schlesinger did some barreling in his day, but prided himself on being a bruiser. That trait served him well, especially in his 12 years with the Detroit Lions.
Schmidt represented the U.S. in the 2008 Olympics in the 800. Four years later, she returned to run the 800 and 1,500. The Olympic appearances are accompanied by plenty of other honors: a 2006 U.S. indoor 800 championship; a pair of U.S. outdoor silvers in the 800 (2006, 2008); and while with the North Carolina Tar Heels, two outdoor 800 titles and a distance-medley relay championship.
Mann was a jack of all trades, but a master of all of them, too. “Les did everything well. He was tops at football, basketball, track and baseball. He would have been equally great in other sports,” said Mann’s close friend, Scott Dye, in a newspaper account following Mann’s 1962 death in a car accident.
Dan Brand’s path to an Olympic wrestling medal was anything but typical. He competed in football, basketball and track at Bellevue High, but never was all-conference. He made the Nebraska freshman team in basketball, but after being cut, he signed up for the intramural wrestling tournament. He won and went on to compete in the Olympics.
Vinciquerra played football at Tech High and Creighton University, but is better remembered for making the 1936 U.S. Olympic boxing team. A natural heavyweight, he won a national Golden Gloves championship that year as a 175-pounder. He had a pro record of 42 wins (26 by knockout), four losses and five draws from 1937 through 1941, fighting over 20 times in 1937.
The résumé almost seems too much to comprehend. Four-sport star at Lincoln High. Nebraska football great. Pittsburgh Pirates baseball signee. Four-time football All-Pro with the Green Bay Packers.
At Beatrice, Hohn was a four-time state hurdles champion, a state basketball champion and an all-state football player. As a senior in 1960, he was the Nebraska high school athlete of the year.
Lincoln High football went 23-1-1 during Debus' three seasons on the varsity squad. Debus also played basketball and was all-state in American Legion baseball. But his best sport was track and field, where at state he single-handedly nearly doubled the point total of the second-place team.
Skinner won two high school state golf titles, two junior state championships and the 1980 state match-play crown. She went to Oklahoma State, where she was a two-time Big Eight champion and was named Golf Magazine’s 1982 college player of the year. On the LPGA Tour, Skinner won events in 1985, ’86, ’87, ’93, ’94 and ’95 before leaving in 2003.
Woohead rushed for the second-most yards (7,962) in the history of college football in all divisions and won the Harlon Hill Trophy (Division II’s version of the Heisman) twice. He finished his NFL career with 2,238 yards and 15 touchdowns rushing, along with 2,698 yards and 17 touchdowns receiving.
The 6-foot-5, 300-pound offensive tackle was a model of consistency. The three-time all-conference pick flattened plenty of defensive players, with an incredible one sack allowed in 46 career games with the Huskers. As a senior, he captained Tom Osborne's first national title team.
A 2009 inductee into the College Football Hall of Fame, the former Iowa and Omaha Central great was a two-time All-America linebacker, three-time first-team All-Big Ten selection and an NFL draft pick. At Omaha Central, he was twice named to the All-Nebraska team.
At Nebraska, Cahoy — an Omaha South grad — earned four NCAA national championships — two on the horizontal bar and two on the parallel bars. He made the 1980 U.S. Olympic team.
As a senior in 1985, Rathman produced the best season ever by a Husker fullback. He ran for 881 yards, a position record by 164 yards. He went on to win two Super Bowls with the San Francisco 49ers in a nine-year NFL career. In 1989, he led NFC running backs with 73 catches, and he capped the season with two touchdowns in a Super Bowl victory over Denver.
A left-hander with a nearly unstoppable fadeaway hook, Witte, a Lincoln High grad, became a three-time All-American (1932-34) at Wyoming. He was the first collegian to score more than 1,000 points in a career (1,069), earning him the nickname "One Grand Witte."
Losing was something Olson never dealt with at Omaha Northwest, going 27-0 with a 0.76 ERA, 276 strikeouts, seven no-hitters — including four in the state playoffs and one in the state championship game — and four state titles before playing at Auburn and being drafted fourth overall in the 1988 MLB draft.
Stecher won the world wrestling championship on July 5, 1915, in Omaha, beating Charlie Cutler in two falls at Rourke Park in front of 15,000 fans. Stecher wore a championship belt studded with 308 diamonds. He became a celebrity across Nebraska. In 1920, he reportedly earned a winner’s purse of $40,000 — four times what Babe Ruth earned the year before.
As a senior, Jones earned all-state honors in football as a halfback and then as a point guard, helping Boys Town win the Class A state basketball championship. But where he really excelled was track. He was the state champion in the mile run, became an All-American at Iowa and was a two-time Olympian.
The first woman from Nebraska to make the U.S. Olympic team, Frost competed in the discus at the 1968 Mexico City Games. In June 2015, at the age of 70, Frost set one world (javelin) and two American records (shot put, discus) for the 70-74 age group. She already owned two USA Track and Field age group records in the discus — 60-64 and 65-69.
A native of St. Paul, Nebraska, Randy Rasmussen was part of one of the great upsets in Super Bowl history when he blocked for Joe Namath in the 1969 win over Baltimore. He was selected in the 12th round of the draft by the Jets. He stayed for 15 seasons and 207 games, including 144 in a row.
Schonewise had been a three-sport star at Bertrand High School, earning All-Nebraska honors in volleyball and basketball while winning state titles in the 100-meter low hurdles in 1981 and 1982. She helped Nebraska reach its first national title game in 1986 and won the Honda-Broderick Award, the Heisman Trophy of volleyball, in 1987.
Scott Frost — a Parade All-American in football and a state champion shot-putter in track at Wood River — battled through criticism to lead the Huskers to the 1997 national title. He became the first NU quarterback to accumulate more than 1,000 rushing yards and 1,000 passing yards in the same season.
Nicknamed "The Burr Oak" after his hometown, Steinkuhler rode a strong work ethic when he enrolled at Nebraska in 1979 as a freshman. In practices, he prided himself on finishing first in running drills. The effort paid off. Steinkuhler was a starter at guard for Husker teams that were never ranked lower than eighth in his junior or senior years. In his final season, he became one of only 13 players to win both the Lombardi and Outland — the most prestigious awards given to college lineman — and his No. 71 jersey became one of only 17 to ever be retired at Nebraska.
Reynolds garnered All-America honors as he scored 22 touchdowns in the 1950 season and added enough extra points to score 157 points. He finished second in the country with 1,342 yards rushing in just nine games, had eight straight 100-yard games and finished fifth in the Heisman Trophy voting.
Hokuf was twice All-Nebraska in football and basketball and state pentathlon champion at Crete High; three-time all-conference in football at Nebraska; two-time All-Big Six in basketball for the Huskers and a charter member of the school’s basketball hall of fame; the 1933 Big Six javelin champion while scoring in three events; played three years in the NFL with the Boston Redskins. Not to mention his versatility for the Husker football team.
Roland "Gip" Locke was called the "greatest of all time" by his coach, Henry Schulte — and for good reason. Locke held world records in the 100 and 220 (20.5 seconds on May 1, 1926). He went on to become the NCAA outdoor champion in both the 100 (9.9) and the 220 (20.9) in 1926. He captained the NU track team in 1925 and '26, and lettered in football and baseball.
Masterson helped lead the Huskers to 23 wins and a tie in 28 games under coach Dana X. Bible, never losing a home game as a Husker quarterback. Elected into the Nebraska Football Hall of Fame in 1977, Masterson was also a swimming and track star at Lincoln High and in college.
Presnell was a three-year letter winner at halfback for Nebraska, earning All-Missouri Valley Conference honors in 1926 and 1927. As a senior in 1927, he led the nation in total yards. The two-time All-Pro, who was 5-foot-10 and 190 pounds in his playing days, played halfback, quarterback, safety and kicker in the NFL. Presnell led the league in scoring in 1933 for the Portsmouth Spartans — the forerunners of the Lions.
Born near Blue Springs, Nebraska, he had no opportunity to play high school football. But he quickly caught on to the sport when he went to college at Nebraska Wesleyan. He then transferred to Nebraska, where he played mostly halfback his junior year — scoring on runs of 90, 85, 70 and 58 yards — before moving to end as a senior.
Hooper was All-Nebraska in basketball three times for Alliance High School. She was one of the best players in Nebraska basketball history, finishing first-team All-Big Ten three times, winning Big Ten Player of the Year in 2014 and finishing second at NU in career points and rebounds.
In 1976, Vollertsen led Palmyra to its first state tournament, earning all-state honors. After helping the Americans win bronze at the 1982 world championships, Vollertsen was part of a breakthrough for Team USA. The women won silver at the 1984 Los Angeles Games — the first Olympic medal in volleyball for the U.S.