When I was seven years old, my parents, Bill and Arlene Steinmeyer, and their friends, Steve and Hilda Henke, made a major decision. They would load up the family cars, leave the safe confines of small-town Clatonia, Nebraska and drive to the happiest place on earth, Disneyland.
In the Steinmeyer car were my five-year old brother, Roger, and myself, who was seven at the time. I remember Dad made a bench that just fit into the back seat, so it was like a bed or couch, rather than a normal back seat. In the Henke car was Carlin, who was Roger’s age, and Steve, who was two grades ahead of me.
It was a memorable three weeks on the road. We followed each other to the Grand Canyon. We visited a Sinclair gas refinery. Steve was a co-owner of a Sinclair station in Clatonia. After finally making it to Disneyland, we split up and made our own way back to Nebraska. It was a life-changing trip.
During the following school year, my dad sat Roger and I down and told us we would be getting a little brother or sister. My mom was pregnant. During that winter, as the pregnancy seemed to be going well, the Clatonia High School basketball team was cruising to an undefeated state championship. Much more happened that year that would in some way shape the rest of my life. Sometimes, things just happen.
The birth of my sibling was getting close. On February 19, 1958, my brother and I were spending the night at my grandparents. It was my mom’s parents, George and Alma Schachenmeyer. My mom was their only child. They owned a television set. They had just purchased it.
That night, February 19, Wilt Chamberlain and his Kansas Jayhawks teammates came to Lincoln to play the Cornhuskers. The old Coliseum was packed with 9,000 fans. KOLN-TV, Channel 10, decided to broadcast the game. Channel 10 was the only station that came in fairly clear, although there would be a lot of snow on the screen at times.
That night, Jim Kubacki, a small guard for Nebraska, was sitting on the bench in street clothes. When one of the players came out with cramps, Jim went to the locker room to put on his uniform. When he came out, Coach Jerry Bush put him in the game. Only a couple of minutes remained.
The score was tied at 41 when Jim hit a 15-foot shot with two seconds remaining. The mighty Wilt Chamberlain had been beaten. I had watched it all on my grandparents new black and white television. It was the first athletic contest I can remember watching from start to finish.
A couple of weeks later, my grandparent’s only daughter went to the hospital for the birth of her third baby. What I didn’t know is the baby had been choked by the umbilical cord and was dead in the womb. Something went terrible wrong and my mother died, too, a week after entering the hospital.
Eight days later, I sat in the same building that Nebraska had defeated Wilt Chamberlain. I watched the Clatonia Cardinals win their 27th consecutive game over Red Willow High School. They were state champs. The team allowed my brother and I to carry the trophy home in our car. Sometimes, things just happen.
A very eventful 1958 concluded with another significant sporting event. On December 28th, just after the first Christmas without my mother, I sat at home on a Sunday afternoon and watched my dad’s black and white television set.
That day, the New York Giants played the Baltimore Colts at Yankee Stadium in the NFL Championship game. In the first championship game ever to go into overtime, Baltimore won. I watched the entire game, the first football game I had ever watched from start to finish.
I know this is a shock to many, but I was a huge New York Yankee fan in the 1960’s. In 1961, it was the M & M boys that made all the news. That stood for Mickey Mantle and Roger Maris. Both looked like they could break Babe Ruth’s single season home run record of 60. Everyone figured it would be Mickey, but he got hurt and Roger got hot.
On the last day of the season, October 1, 1961, Roger Maris stepped to the plate for the last time that season. He had 60 home runs. With a 2 – 0 count and the crowd booing because the figured the pitcher would walk Maris, he blasted one into the right field stands.
I watched the entire game, again on a snowy television set. I went nuts when Maris hit that home run. Maris wasn’t the favorite Yankee, having come to New York in a trade with the Kansas City Athletics. Mickey was a home-grown Yankee but when the injury hit, Maris withstood the pressure and hit the historic home run as I was watching. Sometimes, things just happen.
My dad had remarried in 1959. I wasn’t all that fond of my step-mother, Mae, so I spent at lot of time with my Schachenmeyer grandparents. I was in school on Friday, November 22, 1963, when our superintendent, Don Clark, came to our classroom to tell our teacher, Mrs. Meints, that President Kennedy had died after being shot in Dallas.
The assignation of a president is shocking enough, but for a 13-year old sports fan that loved the Nebraska Cornhusker football team, it was a double tragedy. You see, the next day, Nebraska was to play Oklahoma for the Big 8 Championship and a trip to the Orange Bowl.
I remembered being doubly depressed when almost every football game for Saturday was cancelled. Only North Carolina State and Wake Forest played Friday night. On Saturday, the only college football game played was Nebraska – Oklahoma.
As it turned out, the Oklahoma coach, Bud Wilkinson, had been appointed by President Kennedy to be on a Fitness Council. The year before, the president had visited the Oklahoma locker room after an Orange Bowl win. After the assignation, Wilkinson called Bobby Kennedy, asking for advice. Bobby, the Attorney General, told the Oklahoma coach to play the game. His brother would have wanted it that way.
I sat at the same black and white television and watched the game. There were no commercials during the broadcast, only funeral music during breaks.
I guess you could say these athletic events helped shape my career in athletics. When I was 19 years old, my step-mother set me down and asked when I was going to give up on athletics and start a real profession. I didn’t have a good answer except, sometimes, things just happen.