The North Bend Eagle

  NBHS 1966 basketballThe 1965-1966 Tiger varstiy basketball team was made up of Dan Dieckmann, Bill Leftwich, Pat McGinn, Steve Hamilton, Steve Wilke, Paul Emanuel, Steve Arneal, Greg Kucera, Dave Kaplan, Tom Pollard, Kent Johnson, Harlan Spath; (front) assistant coach Gordon Ohnoutka, head coach Gayle Cook and manager Tom Colgan.

1966 Tigers set standard teams still chasing 50 years later

by Nathan Arneal
Published 11/30/16

Fifty years ago, the 1965-1966 North Bend High School basketball team lost a heartbreaker of a district final by one point.

The Tigers fell one basket short of the school’s first state tournament of the modern era, but even a half century later, the squad’s 17-2 record still stands as the best record in program history with a .895 winning percentage.

That record was nearly surpassed on its 50th anniversary, when the 2016 NBC boys went 22-2 through districts. Last year’s Tigers probably don’t mind missing out on the record because what kept them from snapping it was a wildcard qualification to the state tournament. In Lincoln NBC absorbed its third loss to end with a .880 winning percentage. Meanwhile, the ‘66 team probably wishes it had the wildcard system in its day.

The 1966 Tigers got off to a hot start, winning its first five games by an average of 15 points, with 6-foot-5 center Paul Emanuel averaging 20 points during that span.

Bill Lambrecht was a sophomore in 1966 and the statistician for the basketball team. He said it didn’t take long for the Tigers to create a buzz around town.

“In my memory of growing up in North Bend, there weren’t any teams that were ranked or did outstanding things,” Lambrecht said. “Then to watch these guys go out there and play such great basketball and win and win and win ­— the community was very excited. It was a great time to be in high school.”

The Tigers’ first true test came in its sixth game against 6-1 Wahoo. NBHS trailed the whole game until tying it up late in the fourth period. Emanuel scored the winning basket in the second overtime, giving the Tigers a 55-54 win and keeping its record clean.

“The Wahoo game was fun,” Emanuel said in a recent interview. “That was the first really tough game, I thought. They were big. We kept getting a little more confidence all the time.”

Another test awaited the following week against undefeated Ceresco.

Again, Tigers fell behind as the Eagles took a 7-point halftime lead. Coach Gayle Cook switched from a zone defense to man-to-man for the second half and NBHS began its comeback. About halfway through the fourth period, North Bend took the lead but saw Emanuel foul out at about the same time.

Cook called for a delay game and the Tigers iced a 62-53 win at the free throw line with help from junior Bill Leftwich who came off the bench to make 6-of-7 free throws.

Those two games were just a tune-up for an even bigger game, as North Bend took a 9-0 record into showdown with Class B No. 8 Schuyler.
Rising above the Warrior quintet was sophomore Chuck Jura, a future all-Big Eight Husker, who at 6-foot-10 would be a third round pick of the Chicago Bulls. Two years later he would lead the famed Jolly Green Giants of Schuyler to a state championship with a team that many still consider to be the best non-Class A team in state history.

In 1965, a senior-dominated Schuyler team beat North Bend by 35 in Schuyler. The 1966 rematch was creating such a buzz that NBHS administration feared the North Bend Auditorium couldn’t handle the crowd the game would draw.

So the game was moved into one of the newer and bigger gyms in the area at Fremont Bergan. To make that happen, the game was moved up from Friday to Thursday, Jan. 27. At that time, Thursday night was church night in North Bend, so youth groups had to move to Friday. The post-game dance was also canceled.

A standing-room-only crowd estimated at 1,000 filled the Bergan gym as the two teams battled in a close first half.

“We were pretty confident at that time,” Emanuel said. “It was crazy. I mean, everyone was there. It was like a state tournament really.”

Schuyler took a 3-point lead early in the second half, but the Tigers took over with strong defense and rebounding. Dave Kaplan scored 17 for NBHS as the Tigers pulled away for a 57-48 win. Steve Arneal added 16 points while Emanuel recorded 12 points and 19 rebounds.

By that time, all of North Bend had caught Tiger Fever.

“We had so much fun that year,” Emanuel said. “You go to church and Father Hilt would say something all the time. People were very nice to us. It’s something you can’t explain really. It was nice. Very nice.”

NBHS was 11-0 heading into the Cornhusker Conference tournament. Balance was the key to the Tigers’ success. In those first 11 games, the senior trio of Emanuel, Arneal and Kaplan each led the team in scoring three times. Kaplan tallied 33 points against Dodge as the Tigers scored a then-school record 89 points. Emanuel had 20 points and 22 rebounds in the big win over Wahoo and Arneal registered 31 points and 17 rebounds against Tekamah.1 Senior point guard Pat McGinn and junior forward Kent Johnson rounded out the starting five.

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