By Ken Hambleton ’72
The midnight train that ran from Denver to Chicago stopped in Crete, if you waved the flag at the Crete Depot.
“It was often cold and I’d shiver and wave that flag and be off to Chicago,” Al Papik ’50 said in an interview with me in 2006. Papik, Doane’s legendary football coach from 1955 to 1972, was also head track coach and director of admissions.
When school trustees decided to expand enrollment, diversity and athletics, Papik was at the head of the charge. The 1944 Crete High graduate and Army veteran graduated from Doane after a stellar athletic career. He passed away on May 7, 2022 at 95 years old.
Speaking at Papik’s memorial services in May in Lincoln, former University of Nebraska-Lincoln (UNL) football coach Tom Osborne said, “At 5-foot-8 and under 160 pounds, he was an all-conference offensive lineman. That’s a tough guy.”
Papik finished his career in education in 1999, after 18 years at UNL as senior associate athletic director.
The trips to Chicago and elsewhere, and the thousands of recruiting letters written by Papik and his family, and Doane basketball coach Bob Erickson and his family, helped change the Doane campus.
In Chicago, Papik recruited Paul Schelstraete ’70, Fred Davis ’69 and Paul Broussard ’69. Erickson recruited Les Grant ’69, one of the top basketball players in Doane history.
Even when Broussard moved to Port Arthur, Texas, Papik kept recruiting and built a pipeline to the predominantly Black Lincoln High in Port Arthur.
That led to recruiting football players Larry Green ’70 (quarterback), Mike Sallier ’71 (tailback) and Otis Bryant ’71 (tackle). Glen Mitchell ’70 came from Port Arthur and joined Chicagoan James Beatty ’70 to become dominant track stars. Along the way he recruited Craig Koinzan ’70, John Green ’73 and Tom Hood ’71 from the small Nebraska towns of Davenport, Sargent and Palisade, respectively.
“It was a mix of people from different backgrounds, little farm towns, Chicago, Pittsburgh and the Houston area,” said Hood, who later taught and coached at Doane. “It worked.”
Beatty, a Black student from St. Mell in Chicago, added, “The pipeline was open. The mix was life-altering for those of us who hadn’t been to Nebraska and farm country and kids who had never played against anybody who wasn’t white.”
“There was a lot going on around the country, but we never had a racial incident – never when I was at Doane,” said Beatty. “I think Al Papik had a lot to do with that.”
Mitchell said, “Our experiences in Port Arthur were all segregated and never integrated. Papik changed all that. I thank God for Al Papik for being placed in my life. For me to have the best experience that God could create for someone who was destined to work in a refinery and be poor.”
As a result, Doane grew in both diversity and recognition. Papik’s years at Doane established some of the college’s greatest moments in sports, including a 36-0-2 five-year run in football that gave Doane and Papik a national reputation.
“Al had the charisma and the character and demanded the discipline that made us a good team and a good start to expanding the campus and changing the student life,” said Larry Green, who later played in the Canadian Football League.
Papik was named to Hall of Fame spots at Crete High, Doane, Nebraska Football, NAIA football, Nebraska High School Sports, Nebraska Track and Field, and earned the Dick Herman Lifetime Achievement Award at UNL. In 2013, the Doane football field was renamed in his honor.