|PHOTO: Allen Ramsey, DWCPhoto.com. Retired Highlands Head Football Coach Dale Mueller (on left shaking hands) congratulates members of the undefeated Highlands 1957 team that was inducted into the Highlands Hall of Fame on Sunday.|
The team of distinction is the one that started the football team's run of greatness. That was the 1957 undefeated squad coached by Homer Rice and led by players like Billy Straub, Gary Cochran and Denny McAtee. Rice and McAtee were inducted into the hall of fame along with teammates Gary Herfel and John Burt.
That marked the last of three Highlands football state championships in the pre-playoff era. The other two came in 1930 and 1943.
McAtee also played on the basketball, golf and swimming teams at Highlands before graduating in 1958. He won the Most Outstanding Athlete Award as a senior and made the Honor Role.
McAtee played college football and golf at Western Kentucky University before graduating in 1962 with a Bachelor of Science in Business. While at Western, he earned the Football Sportsmanship Award and the Athlete with the Highest Grade Average Award.
McAtee is now deceased after being married to wife Gayle for 40 years. But his children Brad and Denise came to represent him.
Rice was one of two coaches honored. He led Highlands into the Kentucky playoff era that began in 1959. The Bluebirds played in the first three Class 2A title games losing 12-7 to Henderson in the 1959 title game before beating Lexington Lafayette (21-13) and Richmond Madison (12-0) in the next two championship games. The 1960 and 1961 teams finished undefeated at 12-0.
"It was a good year (in 1959) because we got into the playoffs," Rice said. "We should have won it, but we ran into some tough luck. It was a great planning session. The kids did well to get there. We had to earn it to get there."
The Bluebirds finished 70-11-6 during Rice's tenure as head coach between 1954 and 1961. Rice began coaching in the 1950s ultimately coming back to Highlands. He developed the Triple-Option play out of the T-Bone formation and was given the "Winningest Football Coach in America" honor in 1961 with a career record of 102-9-7. From Highlands, Rice went on to coach in college and with the Cincinnati Bengals before becoming the Director of Athletics at the University of North Carolina then Georgia Tech University.
This marks Rice's 15th Hall of Fame induction, but Rice said it is his most special because it is his hometown. Rice graduated from Highlands in 1945 after playing basketball, football and running track. He was an All-State Quarterback, All-Conference Point Guard and Sprint Champion. Rice served in the United States Navy before going on to Centre College to play football.
The other coach to be honored is former head basketball coach Ken Shields. Shields came to teach and coach at Highlands in 1975. The Bluebirds finished 261-144 during his 13-year career and won five 9th Region crowns.
Shields left Highlands in 1988 to take over the program at Northern Kentucky University. The Norse won 306 more games during his tenure pushing his combined high school and college win total to 766. That led to an induction into the KHSAA Hall of Fame in 2009. This marks his 11th Hall of Fame induction.
Shields and his wife for 50 years in Marie raised five children during that time. They currently have 16 grandchildren.
"I had a passion to stay involved in sports," Shields said. "I had the opportunity to come back and start teaching. It wasn't a lot of money back in those days. A year later, I got married and we started our family. I was blessed to do something I loved and had a passion for."
Burt played a huge role with the Highlands football and baseball teams before graduating in 1961. He served as captain of both teams his senior year and his football jersey (40) was the first retired jersey in school history.
Burt played fullback and linebacker for the football teams. He had just as vital of a role carrying out the fakes on the triple-option as he did carrying the ball with Roger Walz quarterbacking the team.
"What coach (Rice) did was move people around a bit and created a situation where the quarterback went through a series of movements," Burt said. "(Walz) did that every time and the backfield pretty much did the same thing. The key was knowing what your line was doing and the blocks they were making whether or not you were going to get the football because many times, you would carry the football and go into the line. You didn't know if you would get the football at all. The next thing you know, you find it stuffed in your hands and you go from there. But a lot of times, you think you're going to get the football and there's nothing there. The quarterback has gone on and done something with it or handed it to another halfback. It made the defense stay honest. They couldn't overplay one player. It was fun."
Players had to be in shape to go both ways in those days. But Burt said that generally was not an issue.
"I don't know that I was ever out of shape," Burt said. "We had construction jobs in the summer. We really were encouraged not to ride in cars, but walk and ride bicycles or run, which we did. You have to realize today is a different game. The guys are so much bigger. They're so much faster and stronger. The expertise on both sides of the football are to a degree higher than what we had. You couldn't be an expert on both sides of the ball so choose one side and go from there."
Like McAtee, Burt also played college football at Western Kentucky University. He earned a Bachelor of Science degree before earning two other degrees. Burt and wife Catherine have three children and nine grandchildren.
Herfel played on the golf, football and track teams before graduating from Highlands in 1960. He was a solid offensive and defensive lineman during his time playing football and was inducited into the Northern Kentucky Golf Hall of Fame.
Herfel also helped the Highlands track team to a state championship in 1958. He held shot put and discus records at the school for more than 25 years.
Another inductee in Howard "Duke" Schneider played football, baseball, track and basketball after Rice graduated. He earned All-Conference, All-Greater Cincinnati and All-State honors and he lists his favorite accomplishment as being named to the Cincinnati Enquirer All-Star Team as the top running back in greater Cincinnati.
Schneider established Schneider Construction, Inc. after high school. He is also a member of the Northern Kentucky Sports Hall of Fame. Schneider is still involved with Highlands as a memberof the Foundation Club and continues to attend football games.
The Bluebirds football team also won state championships in 1964 under head coach Owen Hauck and 1968 under head coach Mike Murphy. One member from each squad also received an induction.
Chuck Kyle was the senior honored from the 1964 squad. He played football, swimming and track. Kyle earned All-American honors at football as a down lineman. He was also an All-American in swimming winning the state championship as a diver. Kyle also earned All-State honors in track in the high jump and shot put.
Kyle went on to Purdue University earning All-Big Ten honors for three years in football and All-American for two. He played in the 1966 Rose Bowl for the Boilermakers.
Tim Racke quarterbacked the Bluebirds to the 1968 state championship. He also served as a defensive back. He also excelled in swimming and track before earning the class Salutatorian honor in the Highands 1969 class.
Racke also played football at Purdue University. He started in 22 games in four years there. His accomplishments there included Most Valuable Freshman in 1969, All-Big Ten Second Team in 1973, All-Big Ten Academic Team in 1972. As a junior, Racke intercepted three passes against rival Indiana, which is second in school history. He also blocked two punts in a game against Iowa.
Panny Sarakatsannis earned the induction as a letterwinner 13 times in baseball, basketball, football and track. He especially excelled in hoops earning All-Conference Team honors three years and Honorable Mention All-State as a junior and senior. He was the school's all-time leading scorer for basketball in 1957.
Sarakatsannis earned a full scholarship to Western Kentucky University. He played at Madison Square Garden against Seton Hall while playing for the Hilltoppers. He played twice in the Basketball Sugar Bowl.
Loyce Meadows has been given a lot of credit for advancing female athletics at Highalnds. Meadows started teaching at Highlands in 1955 and strengthened the Girl's Athletic Association, which served as an afterschool intramural program. That program had sports like bowling, volleyball and basketball. The membership included more than 200 girls some years. From the group, Meadows selected girls to play on club teams and compete against other teams around the region.
Meadows helped found the Northern Kentucky High School Coaches Association. She also served on the KHSAA committes during the years of adding girls basketball as a state recognized sport. She became the first woman to be go into the NKY Athletic Directors Hall of Fame.
The inductees attended a dinner following the ceremony. They were also honored at halftime of the Bluebirds' 42-7 win over Dixie Heights on Friday.