Longtime Lincoln East coach Myron Oehlerking had 'major impact' on the sport, players

Myron Oehlerking

Not long after helping Nebraska win the 2006 national volleyball championship, Rachel Schwartz made a phone call.

It was to her former high school coach at Lincoln East, Myron Oehlerking.

“He was always like a grandfather to me,” she said. “He had a major impact on my life.”

Oehlerking, who guided the Spartans for 37 years, died last week at age 82. His funeral was Saturday at St. Paul United Methodist Church in Lincoln.

Oehlerking coached volleyball at Adams in the late 1950s and early 1960s before it was sanctioned by the Nebraska School Activities Association. He started the program at Lincoln East in 1972.

He led the Spartans to 793 wins, 22 state tournament appearances and six Class A titles. His 1994 squad drew national attention by winning the NIKE Challenge in Chicago and rising to a No. 1 ranking by USA Today.

The 2006 Nebraska High School Hall of Fame inductee retired in 2008 as the state’s career win leader. He’s now sixth on the all-time list.

But Schwartz — now Rachel Culwell — said Oehlerking’s legacy goes beyond all of those victories.

“He always wanted the best for his athletes,” she said. “He believed in me, and nothing is more important to a player than that.”

Culwell said she first met Oehlerking when she was 11, playing volleyball for the club he ran.

“He asked me my name,” she said. “I got the feeling that he saw something in me, even back then.”

Culwell added that Oehlerking had a way of coaching that wasn’t heavy-handed.

“He’d say something like, ‘Rachel, try to hit the ball harder,’” she said. “He simplified the game and tried to make me not take things so seriously.

Grand Island Central Catholic coach Sharon Zavala, the state’s career win leader with 947, said she enjoyed coaching with Oehlerking for more than three decades.

“When you think of volleyball, you thought of him,” she said. “It’s almost like he started the sport in this state.”

Zavala said she saw Oehlerking watching some matches this past fall.

“You could tell he still loved it,” she said. “He had a huge impact, not just on his players but on all of us coaches.”

Oehlerking coached several future collegiate players over the years. That list includes Creighton coach Kirsten Bernthal-Booth, who played at Lincoln East in the early 1990s before going on to star at Truman State in Missouri.

Culwell said Oehlerking’s influence helped draw her into coaching. She previously coached at Lincoln Christian and now coaches on the club level for Nebraska One.

She attended the church visitation for Oehlerking last Friday night and considered going to the funeral Saturday, though her volleyball team was playing in a national tournament that day in Omaha.

Culwell said she opted to coach her squad of 15-year-olds.

“It’s what Myron would have wanted me to do,’’ she said. “Everyone who knew him will never forget him.’’

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