With numerous titles, across numerous sports, North Central High School has an incredibly strong history of athletic achievement. But even among a sea of victorious seasons, the athletes from the 1969-1970 school year stand out. It is one of, if not the most, wining years in North Central history with football, cross country, wrestling, gymnastics, basketball, tennis, baseball and track all claiming County Championships and golf claiming the State Championship. It is important to note that these 9 sports represent EVERY athletic team possible at North Central at the time. The athletes of North Central did not just dominate in one sport that year… they dominated in them ALL.
Seasons like that generate sports memories that last a lifetime. They also, and more importantly, generate friendships that last a lifetime. Such is the case of 1970 classmates Steve Clayton, Dave Elliott, Bill Freeze, Jack Gangstad, Dave Highmark, Dave Hullett, Chuck Johnston and Doug Kniptash. These 8 share memories from participating on several of the same teams at North Central consisting of various combinations of Football, Basketball and Baseball. The team work fostered by coaches on the field and court translated to incredible bonds outside of athletics.
“These are still my best friends” –Doug Kniptash
However athletics will always be a tie that binds and as such, it comes as no surprise that when this group gathers they don’t just get together for dinner or lunch. At their gathering this summer they participated in their own version of “Senior Olympics”. The activities may have been less physically strenuous than those of their youth, but they were definitely no less competitive.
The group was kind enough to take a break at their gathering to share with The Advancement Center a little bit about their bond. The 8 recall being good influences on each other. They credit the investment of support from their parents who were all good friends and complimented each other’s parenting styles well. They looked out for and supported each boy as if they were their own. Many in the group still have as prized possessions, the poems Doug’s dad created for them at the end of every athletic season.
The men also credit the coaching staff at North Central for playing a pivotal role in their development as both athletes and people. Bill Freeze shared “We had a remarkable group of men/ coaches who set good examples. They worked us hard and had high expectations for us”. While the coaching may have had an overarching lifelong effect, there were other lessons learned that held a little more value in the moment. Dave Elliott laughed when remembering that you ALWAYS wanted to sit to the right of Coach Lickliter. If he pulled somebody for doing something wrong it was the guy to his right that was going to get some playing time.
Their high school careers may have been filled with a majority of victories, but not all of the lessons learned during their high school careers were easy ones. Steve recalls “the toughest lessons were actually the ones that stuck with us and taught us the most”. One of those tough lessons was the loss of the 1970 Baseball State Championship in extra innings. Almost 50 years later the men can recall with incredible detail each play of the game and the lessons they took from the experience. As athletes they knew that each season would have its highs and lows and they feel lucky that there were more of the former than the later. They also feel lucky to have each other.
While we can hope our current and future North Central athletes will have the opportunity to experience the same victories and successes on the field and court as those of the 1969-1970 school year. Our bigger hope for them are programs that foster lifelong friendships and supports that have them too creating their OWN Senior Olympics 50 years from now!