Editor's Note: “A Look at Times Gone By” is an in-depth look at weekly Times Gone By entries compiled since 2015. These articles will appear in each edition as local teams anticipate new seasons, whenever they should resume.
Steve Lane arrived in Herman as an elementary student.
He was a Nebraska native who'd spent time living in Indiana, but moved back home into a community getting ready to break out in basketball. The neighborhood kids grew close in the late 1950s and early 60s, and earned their stripes, playing aggressive games on dirt courts. Often times the youngsters would mix in with the rough teenagers.
“I had my nose broke twice in one day,” Lane said.
But the outdoor games were just following the strategy of coach Glen Blakeman, a 1949 Norfolk High School standout athlete who went onto serve in the Air Force. The coach pulled junior high basketball players up to the high school level, providing invaluable experience for kids with big futures.
“He was probably the toughest coach around when it came to conditioning,” said Rob Andrew, one of those hoopers who played high school ball as a seventh-grader. “He worked our tail off.”
The efforts paid off.
“(Blakeman) was the key to everything,” Lane said.
A dominant 1964
After a come-from-behind loss to DeWitt in the 1963 Class D state championship game, the Cardinals returned the next season in search of retribution. They routed opponents every week during the 1963-64 campaign, notching 100-point games four times and 90-point games five.
Coach Blakeman's squad won its third straight league title in dominant fashion and swept through the district tournament at Dana College with no trouble. Tom Green scored 22 points, while Lane had 20 during the 93-59 finals win against Uehling.
“We didn't care what the score was,” Andrew said, explaining that the Herman squad just played on no matter how lopsided the games would get.
In the playoff round, the final series of games before the state tourney, the Omaha World-Herald's No. 1 ranked team topped Pilger and Creston in Howells to improve to 22-0.
“They were really loaded,” Steve Tucker said of the Cardinals.
He was a sophomore who played sparingly, but still greatly enjoyed his time with the program during its prime.
Tucker said Blakeman once told him Lane was the workhorse of the team, the player who could turn the tide when necessary. Tucker also noted Green as a “man among boys” and Andrew as a “great shooter.”
But unselfishness was Herman's real strength.
“If you had the shot, you took it,” Andrew added. Lane, Green and he started alongside Steve Fitch — a 10-plus points a game scorer — and the team's height — Marv Enger.
According to the former Cardinals, Enger was either 6-foot-6 or 6-7 as a teenager in a basketball jersey. Lane added that his teammate was a rebounding machine who'd hurt you with his elbows if you got too close.
In addition to the roster, strategy played into Herman's success. Blakeman projected discipline from his golf game to his smoking habit. Andrew said his coach would quit smoking during the season to deter his own players from doing it.
And when Blakeman spoke, the players listened. In the loudest gyms, “We could hear him whisper,” Tucker said.
One of the staples of coach's program was its full-court press, which helped keep teams running up and down the court, exposing their lack of conditioning compared to the Herman's.
“We turned people over constantly,” Lane said.
The Cardinals wouldn't stop either.
“There was a blood thirst to us, too,” Tucker added.
“We never got tired,” Lane said.
The end result was an 87.7 points per game scoring average with a 45-point average margin of victory heading into the state tournament. Herman was rarely challenged, but they would be at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln's Coliseum.
A state tournament finish
After a 75-50 win over Milligan to start the state tournament, the Cardinals faced their toughest challenge to date in the semifinals. Andrew noted that Sumner, like Herman, was unbeaten.
Things got more hairy as the game went on, too. Green sprained his ankle early on and didn't play again until after halftime.
Andrew, meanwhile, took a shot below the belt and to the head during the game. The Enterprise newspaper later shot down rumors that the Cardinals' standout was attacked by Sumner fans after Herman's 56-54 win.
Ultimately, Blakeman's team had pulled out the win with Lane scoring a team-high 16 points.
“The atmosphere was unbelievable,” Andrew said of the next game — the finals at the Coliseum. The small pep club and group of Herman cheerleaders, including his future wife Jonnie, were in attendance, but so, too, were players and supporters of the upcoming Class A finals game.
The A teams chose sides in the Class D championship with one cheering for the Cardinals and the other for their opponent — Beaver Crossing.
“It was a hell of a ballgame,” Tucker said.
And it looked like Herman would earn its first state title after 1963's shortcoming. It led 50-45 with 1:03 left and would hold that advantage until 59 seconds later. Steve Eberspacher's bucket put the Cardinals' foe ahead 51-50.
“We should have never lost that game,” Andrew said.
But Herman did, leaving the crowd stunned.
“Why does it have to happen to us two years in a row?” Blakeman was quoted saying when it was all said and done.
“Sometimes it's just not meant to be,” Tucker added 56 years later.
Despite the end result, the 1964 Herman basketball team was treated like the champion when it got home. The Cardinals and their fans gathered a Freeman's Service Station, which is a patch of grass today, and took part in a parade. The Enterprise newspaper reported fire trucks and flat beds, while Andrew said the route was the “Boulevard,” the name locals had for a gravel road around town.
“Our opinion — the Herman Cardinals were a credit to their school, their town and all of Washington County,” the Enterprise printed alongside the final game story of the 1964 season.
No, Blakeman's squad didn't win the state title, but basketball provides talking points for reunions and phone conversations between lifetime friends to this day.
After arriving in Herman in elementary school, Lane left again in 1965 to attend junior college. He played hoops in California and lives there today, but still says he's “lucky to have lived in Herman.”
Four years after his graduation, and five after the Cardinals' last run to the title game, the Herman school district was absorbed by Tekamah's. Now, the elementary school is closed, too.
Basketball is the bond that “holds us altogether,” Lane said.
Today, his grandchildren are making their own marks in athletics. One could be heard in the background of a phone call about her grandfather's Herman Cardinals.