In a town of 900, two Nebraska schools have three state-run basketball teams | NE staging area
HUMPHREY, Neb. – Ask people how it is in town during the state basketball tournament and all you get in return are puzzled looks.
Nobody seems to know. Almost everyone is in Lincoln.
“I can’t really say for sure,” Humphrey High athletic director Kandee Hanzel said. “I’m sure it’s pretty ghostly around here.”
Although Humphrey isn’t completely a ghost town, it’s probably the closest thing to it. People love their sport and support their teams.
The exodus from this town of about 900 residents will be even greater this week, when the boys’ and girls’ state tournaments are played for six consecutive days. This format – normally a three-day event with the girls one weekend and the boys the next – was done out of necessity because Nebraska hosted the Big Ten wrestling tournament on Saturday and Sunday, and the dates fell on the weekend. normal end for the state girls tournament.
The two high schools – Humphrey and Humphrey St. Francis – will send three teams to the tournament. Other than Omaha and Lincoln, it’s the most of any city.
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Humphrey High is cooperating with Lindsay Holy Family, and the boys’ and girls’ teams will face off this week. The St. Francis girls also made it to state while the boys were short of a win, losing in a district final.
Teams don’t just make a habit of reaching the state, they know what to do when they get there. Consider:
The Humphrey/Lindsay Holy Family boys have been three straight years, winning the title twice and finishing third the other time.
The Bulldog girls have reached the state four times since starting co-op before the 2013-14 season.
The St. Francis boys have made 27 trips to the state and won seven titles, the most recent in 2016. The Flyers have also finished runners-up seven times.
The women’s teams have been in state 14 times and won four championships, most recently last year with All-Nebraska guard Allison Weidner — now a Nebraska contributor — leading the way.
How does such a small city continue to produce quality teams?
“It doesn’t happen by accident,” Humphrey Public School superintendent Greg Sjuts said. “You need committed players and parents and quality coaches who know how to teach.”
St. Francis girls’ coach Bryan Reichmuth said the stability of the coaching staff also plays a major role.
“I’m in my 19th year and the other coaches have been doing it for a while as well,” he said. “Our city is very proud of its teams and the players are proud to represent their schools.”
It should also be noted that the schools get along well. They are also located within half a block of each other which helps.
“We have students taking a course there and they have students taking a course here,” St. Francis athletic director Eric Kessler said. “When you’re so close, it’s good to get along.”
Administrators from both schools said that was not necessarily the case when the schools were competing in the same conference and class. That changed with Humphrey’s co-op with Holy Family Catholic School, located about 11 miles from Lindsay.
“I think that’s one of the best things to come out of it,” Kessler said. “We don’t play each other now, and that’s been a big positive.”
Sjuts, a Humphrey graduate and father of twin boys who are the Bulldogs’ leading scorers, agrees.
“It’s good not to bang your head all the time anymore,” he said. “Fans of both schools are now doing a great job of supporting each other.”
Someone who enjoys this shared success is Mayor Bob Preister (a St. Francis alumnus).
“It’s a good thing that we are able to send these teams out so often,” he said. “Around here, it seems to go without saying.”
The two schools also share a continuity, Preister said, and it shows.
“They’ve been playing in the same teams since they were young. They almost know what the other is thinking.”
The mayor added that he doesn’t care when so many Humphrey residents make the 90-mile trip to Lincoln.
“The city pretty much runs on its own,” he said. “We have to support our teams.”
A resident making this trip will be John Keller, owner of the Main Street Market. His store will remain open, but Keller will watch his son perform for Humphrey/Holy Family.
“He’s a senior and I’m not going to miss his senior year,” he said. “There will be someone here at the store, although I don’t think we will have many customers.”
Keller, who wears a Humphrey Bulldogs t-shirt, supported both schools. The St. Francis graduate sent seven of his nine children to this school and one to Humphrey High.
Anyone can guess which secondary school the youngest Keller child will attend.
“It’s really not unusual to see so many graduates of either school still living here,” Sjuts said. “It’s a great place to raise a family.”
The city also has an interesting history. It was named after Humphrey, New York – the former hometown of the first postmaster.
It could therefore just as well have been called Albany, Buffalo or Schenectady. But Humphrey seems a perfect fit for this town of red-brick streets and porch swings.
When it comes to the two state tournaments taking place in the same week, most agree that’s not ideal. The Nebraska School Activities Association worked hard this week to avoid scheduling conflicts between teams at a school.
“It created some problems, I’m sure,” Sjuts said. “But the good thing is we have teams in the state and we have to worry about things like that.”
Sjuts said the people of Humphrey are eager to declare whichever team they support.
“The last person out of town is turning off the lights,” he said. “We’re all heading to Lincoln.”