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Rich Boys Town sports legacy recalled

I remember as a kid learning about the rich sports legacy at Boys Town, the youth development center founded by Father Edward Flanagan and forever immortalized in the MGM movie classic. When I looked into that athletic history a few years ago for a story I was struck by the amazing success Boys Town teams enjoyed for several decades and by how the football team in particular became a national powerhouse that actually traveled coast to cosat to play games against elite prep teams before big crowds in college and professional stadiums.  Flanagan and his immediate successor seized upon athletics as a healthy outlet and socialization model for residents and as a promotional tool for the campus.  The story of the football team’s many triumphs and travels would make a good movie itself.  Football was the school’s poster sport, but Boys Town enjoyed tremendous success and followings in basketball, baseball, wrestling, and track and field as well.  All the changes that came down at Boys Town beginning in the late 1960s and early 1970s resulted in the athletic program suffering several lean years.  It’s only in the last decade that there’s been a resurgence in Boys Town sports, not to the heights of its former glory perhaps, but enough to link this era to that earlier Golden Age.

If you’re interested in another Boys Town sports story, then check out my story, “A Good Deal: George Pfeifer and Tom Krehbiel are the Ties that Bind Boys Town Hoops” on this blog.  More o f my Boys Town stories on this site cover various topics, including the classic 1938 MGM film Boys Town, the friendship of Fr. Edward Flanagan and Jewish attorney Henry Monsky, and the 1972 Sun Newspapers Pulitzer Prize-winning investigation of Boys Town finances.

The following story originally appeared in Nebraska Life Magazine. Look for more Boys Town stories in future posts.


Rich Boys Town sports legacy recalled

©by Leo Adam Biga

Originally published in Nebraska Life Magazine


“I didn’t know a jock strap from a toothbrush,” said alumnus George Pfeifer of his arrival at Boys Town from a Kansas farm in 1939. Like some of the finest athletes at Rev. Edward Flanagan’s home for “lost” boys, the future coach had never played organized sports before coming there. Most of the boys were either poor inner city or rural kids who’d played only sandlot ball or street ball. They came from all parts of the country, boys with different racial, ethnic and religious backgrounds, and on their shoulders was built an athletic dynasty that became the envy of the nation.

From the Great Depression through the 1960s, the Boys Town football team played elite Catholic prep schools and military academies in Los Angeles, Chicago, Detroit, Pittsburgh, New York, Miami and other cites. The games attracted dignitaries and made headlines. Playing against the nation’s toughest competition in large stadiums before tens of thousands of fans, the Cowboys won more than twice as often as they lost.

During the same era, Boys Town won multiple state championships in football and basketball, and produced scores of all-state athletes and individual champions, even some high school All-Americans. Its great track-and-field athletes include two-time Olympian Charles “Deacon” Jones (1956 and 1960) and quarter-miler Jimmy Johnson, who won the Pan Am Games only a few years after graduating.

It began with the dream of Boys Town’s founder, Father Flanagan, who was a fair soccer and handball player in his day, and a vocal champion of sports. He made sports an integral, even compulsory part of residents’ experience at Boys Town. Intramural athletics became a big deal. In those days, the boys lived in dorms and staged competitions between their respective buildings to see who were kings of the field or the court. By the mid-1930s, Flanagan hired a coach and pushed for Boys Town to compete in sanctioned interscholastic events.

Born and raised in Ireland, Flanagan made his long-held dream for Boys Town a reality through conviction, blarney and bluff. With his silver-tongued brogue and big sad eyes, he elicited sympathy and loosened purse strings for the plight of America’s orphaned. With his politician’s ability to build consensus, he got people of all persuasions and faiths to contribute to the home.

It didn’t hurt that Flanagan harbored a bit of P.T. Barnum in his soul. Almost from the start of the home in 1917, he made use of the media to further the cause of children’s care and rights. In the 1920s he hosted a nationally syndicated Sunday radio program, “Links of Love,” broadcast from the old WOW studios in Omaha. On a larger scale, there was the 1938 MGM box office smash “Boys Town,” starring Spencer Tracy and Mickey Rooney. Tracy won the Best Actor Oscar for his portrayal of Flanagan.

The movie made Flanagan and BT household names. He used his and the home’s growing reputation to bring national figures, including sports stars, to “the city of little men.” The BT archives detail visits by such sports icons as Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, Jack Dempsey and Joe Louis. Hollywood celebrities were also frequent visitors. “Deacon” Jones, then learning the barber trade at BT, recalls being summoned with his clippers to the quarters of Flanagan’s successor, Rev. Nicholas Wegner, where he found Spencer Tracy in need of a haircut. Jones complied.


The coach had a great influence on the start of Boys Town's famous sports teams.

Coach Skip Palrang had a great influence on the start of Boys Town’s famous sports teams


Just as Flanagan earlier made the school band and choir ambassadors for BT, so he did with football. The same year the movie “Boys Town” was released, the football squad boarded the Challenger super liner at Omaha’s Union Station for a trip west, where they played a benefit game against Black Foxe Military Institute of Los Angeles. The film’s producer, John Considine, Jr., made it happen. Among the 10,000 or so in attendance at Gilmore Stadium were numerous Hollywood stars. Boys Town won, 20-12.

The good turnout seems to have convinced Flanagan to take his football team on the road as a gypsy, bring-on-all-comers sideshow featuring orphans from the world-famous Boys Town. The bigger the stage, the tougher the opponent, the more Flanagan liked it.

He would often wend his way to wherever the football team appeared, posing for photos, making pre-game or halftime on-the-field speeches, and generally getting the Boys Town name in the press. A big banquet, often in his honor, usually preceded or followed the game, giving Flanagan another chance to spread the gospel.

BT alum Ed Novotny of Omaha, who played for Boys Town in the early 1940s, recalls the time Flanagan was on the field during pre-game festivities in New Jersey. Novotny says a press photographer asked to snap a few pictures of the famous priest doing a mock kickoff. Sensing a good photo op, Flanagan obliged. As he lined up for the kick, Novotny turned to an opposing player and said, “He’s in a bad spot” – meaning the photographer crouched in front of the ball, holding a Speed Graphic camera overhead.

“What do you mean?” the other player said.

“Father Flanagan can kick. He’ll blast that thing right over the goal post.”

“Really? A priest?”

Novotny will never forget what happened next. “No sooner did I say, ‘Yeah,’ than he kicked that ball and knocked that camera right out of the guy’s hands.”

Novotny recalls Flanagan as an enthusiastic presence on the sideline or in the locker room. The priest stood in the players’ circle to lead pre-game prayers. At basketball games he sat on the end of the bench with players and coaches. He greeted guys by name or with his favorite terms of endearment, “Dear” or “Laddie.”

To compete with the nation’s best, Flanagan hired Maurice “Skip” Palrang, who came to Boys Town after successful stints at Omaha Creighton Prep and Creighton University. Over his 29-year career at Boys Town, he led Cowboy teams to football, basketball and baseball titles. He won National Coach of the Year honors from the Pop Warner Foundation of Philadelphia, Pa., and Nebraska High School coaching plaudits from the Omaha World-Herald.

As athletic director, Palrang oversaw construction of a mammoth field house, modeled after those at Purdue and Michigan State. Its classic brick facade features sculpted panels of Greek-like figures in various athletic poses, stained glass windows and a vast arched metal roof that spans the length of a football field. Great facilities like these helped set BT apart.

Palrang hired coaches to carry BT’s dominance into other sports, but it was best known for football. “It wasn’t like Boys Town would play the weakest teams we could find – we’d play the baddest teams we could find,” said ’50s star halfback “Deacon” Jones. “We knew we played the best teams Skip could get to play. A lot of the players we played against went on to make All-American in college. Some went to the pros. We traveled to play Aquinas in Rochester, N.Y. That was like a Notre Dame prep school. And, whew, they had some tough players.”


Boys Town Bus Travels to Florida for exhibition game

Boys Town Bus Travels to Florida for exhibition game


Under Palrang, the Cowboys went 75-33-6 in these intersectional matchups. BT also participated in intersectional basketball and baseball contests, but on a far more limited basis.

Jones said players got “five dollars per trip for eating and fun money.” For some, like him, it was their first time on a train, a big deal for “kids that didn’t have anything,” he added. Seeing the sights was part of the experience – Chicago’s Field Museum, New York’s Rockefeller Center and Radio City Music Hall. But the road trips, which lasted up to three weeks, were not all fun and games. An instructor traveled with the team and made sure they kept up on their schoolwork.

Lessons of another kind came on the few road trips south of the Mason-Dixon Line. “We would go to some areas where they wouldn’t allow the black kids on our team to stay in the same hotel as the whites,” Pfeifer said. “A few times we had to arrange for those kids to stay with some people in the community. It was a terrible blow to Fr. Flanagan. That’s probably why we didn’t play that much in the South.”

Wilburn Hollis was among a black contingent denied access to a hotel. Although from the Jim Crow South, he’d been shielded from the worst of segregation – the same at color-blind Boys Town. “We were buddies, but even more than that we felt like we were brothers and we just lived like that,” said Hollis, a Possum Trot, Miss. native who became a high school All America quarterback at Boys Town and a signal caller for an Iowa University team that won a share of the Big 10 title. “I never heard anything racial.”

“At Boys Town I never thought about ethnicity or race,” said Ken Geddes, who grew up in Florida and went on to play for Nebraska and in the National Football League. “…We were all part of a family.”

Within that family of athletes, Palrang was the unchallenged head of household. “He was about six-four and probably 220 pounds and he was mean as a goat,” Hollis said. “But he was a wonderful coach. He loved the kids, he loved Boys Town….”

Hollis told of an incident involving Flanagan’s successor, Rev. Nicholas Wegner. (Flanagan died in 1948 on a goodwill mission in Berlin, Germany). Like his predecessor, Wegner was a sports booster, but apparently didn’t share Skip Palrang’s competitive philosophy. Once when BT was losing a football game, the priest tried to deliver a halftime pep talk. Wegner advised the team to do their best, Hollis recalls, “and honestly he used that old cliché, ‘It’s not if you win or lose, it’s how you play the game.’ Well, Skip was pretty hot and he said, ‘Bulls__t. We’re going to win this game.’ Monsignor was like, Oh-oh. And we went out and won the game.”

But Palrang’s success was based on more than force of will. Stern but fair, he was known for his precise preparation, a quality that fit his favorite hobby of watch repair. Ex-sportscaster Jack Payne of Omaha recalls Palrang in his field house office “hovered over a well-lighted table…wearing an eye shade, jeweler’s glasses, meticulously at work on a watch.”

An innovator, Palrang used his vast contacts to learn new offensive and defensive schemes from college and professional colleagues, often implementing packages years before anyone else at the prep level. He’d get reels of game or practice film with the latest sets to study. Sought out for his expertise, he often conducted clinics around the country. Pfeifer said that once, at the request of an old buddy, Palrang sent BT quarterback Jimmy Mitchell to Kansas State to help Wildcat signal callers learn the T-formation Skip helped initiate in high school.

The Cowboys often played far from home, so Palrang sent an assistant ahead to scout. Palrang’s protégé, George Pfeifer, inherited the thankless job. In order to see distant teams, he traveled by plane, train, automobile or any available mode of transport. He once flew into Chicago’s Midway Airport on his way to see an opponent that night in Wisconsin. In Chicago he was bumped from the last connecting flight north. With only a few hours until game time and hundreds of miles between him and the stadium, he was stuck. Desperate, he asked, “Is there any other way?” He was directed to a helicopter pad. For $15 and a slight case of nausea, he arrived “just about the time they were kicking off.”


Boys Town graduate Charles “Deacon” Jones competes in the 1956 Olympic Games in Melbourne, Australia, finishing ninth in the 3,000-meter steeplechase. Four years later, he would finish seventh in the same event in the Rome Olympics.

Boys Town graduate Charles “Deacon” Jones competes in the 1956 Olympic Games in Melbourne, Australia, finishing ninth in the 3,000-meter steeplechase. Four years later, he would finish seventh in the same event in the Rome Olympics.


Skip Palrang’s physician son, Art, who played for his father one year at BT, said besides the advantage Palrang got by scouting opponents “the Boys Town kids in those days… were really tough, tough boys. They weren’t very big but they were tough… There weren’t a lot of distractions out there, like girls. He had kind of a captive audience.”

Palrang also had the advantage of working with kids who came out of BT pee-wee, freshman and junior varsity programs imbued with his coaching systems. By the time they made varsity, kids were well-schooled in the Palrang way. It led to potent team chemistry.

Despite offers to leave, Palrang remained loyal to Boys Town. Art Palrang believes this allegiance stemmed from Skip being an orphan himself. “His mother died when he was two and left his father with three boys and three girls,” he said. “He was always sympathetic to the Boys Town kids, although he was typical Irish in that he would not show his emotions.”

Today, Palrang’s accomplishments are commemorated in a big memorial just inside the field house dedicated in his honor. The memorial is next to a long row of display cases reserved for trophies and plaques won by Boys Town coaches, athletes and teams. There are hundreds of items. There’d be more, except Palrang made a habit of giving them away to kids.

By the time Palrang retired in 1972, he was only coaching his main passion, football. Years earlier, he’d entrusted the basketball program to Pfeifer, another coach often described as a “no-nonsense father figure.” Pfeifer’s basketball teams went 202-45 (two state titles), and his track teams (two titles) were always a threat. He recently joined his mentor in the Nebraska High School Sports Hall of Fame.

Like his predecessor, Pfeifer encountered racist attitudes toward his players, as when he started five black players on his state championship basketball teams of 1965 and 1966. One morning after a game, a caller demanded, “Why you playing all them n_____s?”

“Because they’re my five best players,” Pfeifer replied.

Boys Town’s barnstorming era was prompted by publicity and the guaranteed payoff for its football games. But BT was also compelled to travel for another reason. Once it became a winner, it could find only a handful of area schools willing to schedule games.

Despite many attempts, BT was long denied membership in the Omaha Inter-City League, comprised of large Omaha area schools. Pfeifer said Wegner reportedly had to threaten to withdraw funds from local banks to gain admittance. It finally happened when the Inter-City League was disbanded and the new Metropolitan High School Activities Association was created in 1964.

Everyone has a theory about the blacklisting. Speculation ranges from envy over BT’s athletic riches to rumors, denied by BT alums, that it practiced off-season, suited older student-athletes, or recruited prospects. An image of BT suiting up juvenile delinquents, true or not, may have also accounted for schools not wanting to schedule the Cowboys. BT athletic equipment manager and head baseball coach Jim Bayly said that when he was a player at Omaha South, “we were afraid of Boys Town.”

Shane Hankins, quarterback for BT this past season, senses that the “jail” or “criminal” perception still haunts BT. But far from intimidating foes, he said it makes them “want to fight us even harder to prove we’re not tougher.” He concedes BT has some rough players, but points out that the Cowboys win sportsmanship awards.

Even without conference membership, Boys Town had a metro rival. “In the middle ’40s, when Boys Town was really taking off,” Art Palrang said, “Creighton Prep was also in its heyday and they played bitter, bitter battles. Rumor has it the archbishop said, ‘Hey, you guys have got to stop this. We can’t have two Catholic teams fighting each other.’” Adding fuel to the fire was the fact Palrang once coached Prep. There was no one he enjoyed beating more.

Aside from Prep, Palrang said, “Boys Town was obviously cleaning up on everybody and Omaha didn’t want ’em in their league because… Boys Town would have won everything.” By contrast, Prep had long been a conference member. And once let in, BT proved as dominant as feared by soon piling up Metro titles.

Perhaps nothing explains the ostracism better than what one alum called BT being “an island unto itself.” A certain arrogance surely came with all that independence, winning and notoriety. Besides, there was the perception – if not reality – that BT didn’t really need to be in a local athletic league. In fact, cross-country travel was expensive and eventually became cost-prohibitive.


The Cowboys basketball team wins its second straight state basketball championship.

The 1985-1966 Cowboys basketball team wins the school’s second straight state basketball championship.


By the time Boys Town’s reign ended in the mid-1970s, BT had evolved from a place where boys lived in dormitories to a family housing model where residents – girls too – live with teacher parents. Changes in the way BT works with youth lowered the number of residents from a high of about a thousand (elementary and high school combined) to about half that today, and decreased the average stay from six or eight years to about 18 months. The smaller enrollment forced BT to drop from the big school to small school ranks, and the shorter stays gave coaches less time to develop athletes and mold teams. For years, BT athletic prowess declined.

Today’s BT coaches are again turning out winning teams and top athletes, their job complicated by kids who present complex behavioral disorders. BT teams again compete for titles, but in Class C1, not Class A. The football team has its rivals, but a road trip today is an hour by bus, not overnight by train.

Girls and Boys Town (as the institution has been known since 2000) still uses athletics to further its mission of helping at-risk youth develop life skills that prepare them for adulthood. Head football coach Kevin Kush sets a high bar for his players, and makes no exceptions in holding them accountable. By late September 2006, he’d already let a few of his best players go for violating team rules, which brought his varsity squad down to 26. He could have supplemented the varsity by promoting JV players, but he refused, saying, “They haven’t paid the price. I’m not going to change my philosophy. I’m not going to lower my standards. See, these kids have standards lowered for them for their whole lives. We don’t do that. We want our kids to be committed to something and a lot of them have never been committed to anything.”

This past season’s star quarterback, Shane Hankins, said he appreciates that coaches and others care enough to make football special again. “Our goal is to achieve, to shoot for something in our lives some people say is impossible for us to do since we’re here. But we prove them wrong. We want to bring more winning to this campus because before we came here, most of us weren’t recognized as winners.”

All last basketball season, head boys basketball coach Tom Krehbiel relied heavily on an unofficial assistant, the 81-year-old George Pfeifer who, despite health woes, came to practices weekly to distill some of his wisdom to players young enough to be his great-grandchildren. Pfeifer’s championship teams of 1965 and ’66 are still regarded as two of Nebraska’s best high school basketball teams ever.

“I wanted to get him involved in the program,” Krehbiel said of Pfeifer. “I reached out to him. We ate lunch, hit it off and he’s been a big part of our program ever since. I don’t think it’s a coincidence we started winning since then. Coach has been a great mentor to me and just a great resource for us. For our current players he’s a link to success.”

After last year’s team won Boys Town’s first state basketball championship in 40 years, guard Dwaine Wright dedicated the victory to Pfeifer live on Nebraska Educational Television.

Pfeifer said that after a period of adjustment, he and the team forged a strong bond. “When I’d come out there, some of the kids warming up before the game would come over and say, ‘God, we’re glad to see you coach. You feeling alright? We’re going to play hard for you.’ That last night when they accepted the trophy the one kid held it up and said, ‘This is for you, Coach Pfeifer…’ Those are the kind of kids….” Choked with emotion, Pfeifer’s voice trailed off.

The experience brought him full circle to how as a kid he was welcomed and encouraged by Father Flanagan, Skip Palrang and others, and how he did the same for kids as a BT coach, vocational education teacher and middle school principal. “I knew I wanted to be there to help those type of kids,” Pfeifer said of Boys Town students past and present. “You know, they come there with a hole in their heart. Nobody cares about them, nobody encourages them – they just think there’s no way they can make it. We set up goals and objectives. We praise them when they succeed. When a kid comes up to you and says, ‘God, I wish you were my dad’…then you know you made a difference.”

Note:  The Boys Town Hall of History features displays and a film that relive some of BT’s glory years in football.

  1. Robert L. Cross '58'
    April 28, 2011 at 1:15 pm

    I was part of the Boys Town family from 54 to 58. I played for Palrang and Pfeifer and it was one of the greatest experiences of my life. I learned a lot from them which prepared me for life challenges. If if were not for Father Flanagan’s dream, those two guys would not had been of my life.


    • Richard Paquette
      December 13, 2014 at 8:37 pm

      Hi Robert Cross, I am so glad to see your name come up when I was looking up some history on Willur Hollis. Sure game me some nice memories when we played football together. Hope you are well and I would love to hear from you. Class of 1958 Richard Paquette.


      • larry mulligan
        December 17, 2014 at 8:37 pm

        Richard – if you hear from Robert Cross, please let him know that my brother, Donald E. Mulligan, passed away in Milwaukee on Nov. 20, 2014.


    • Dennis Bateman
      January 1, 2019 at 9:36 pm

      I hope, at this late date, this finds you in good health and spirits. I was under your care as a councilor in Cottage 24 in ’58 and I am proud to have been even remotely associated with you. Your accomplishments in sports (particularly track and field) are, in my mind, legendary, and I believe are eclipsed by your mark as a gentleman and role model. I was then, and am now, a great admirer.


  2. Ed Wickliffe
    August 11, 2011 at 5:24 pm

    What a fine article about those decades when Boys Town traveled the nation in football. They played the toughest teams they could find, and won–what a legacy for a high school that never had more than four or five hundred boys. I was there from ’61 to ’64, which included an undefeated season in ’63. Even the few Nebraska teams we played were top teams in Nebraska. Our whole schedule was full of “key games” for our opponents, and the hostile crowds often numbered in the tens of thousands. What an experience for any kid. It was a memory just to suit up and be on the field. I’ll never forget Palrang (football) and Pfeifer (track). Fine article! Very accurate. Ed Wickliffe, ’64.


    • August 11, 2011 at 5:45 pm

      Thanks for the feedback. The story of how Boys Town’s football team traveled the nation always intrigued me and I’m very glad I got a chance to write about it and that you got a chance to read about it. Please share with others.


    • August 22, 2011 at 11:38 am

      Thanks so much for the feedback again. You were part of a special legacy at Boys Town allright, and you certainly have every reason to be proud. Boys Town’s take-on-all-comers jaunts across the country truly set it apart.


  3. Ed Wickliffe
    September 23, 2011 at 12:47 am

    Leo, maybe you are interested in a few other anecdotes about those years when Boys Town was a national powerhouse in high school football.

    First, we traveled by air in the early 60s. Train was obsolete by then. We went by jet, we stayed at the Hilton, ate steaks, and we played in places like Soldier Field (home of the Chicago Bears) and in Pittsburgh Stadium (home of Pittsburgh U.) In the season of ’62, we played to a tie in Soldier Field with St.Patrick; an Illinois powerhouse at the time. And we beat Hamtramck, a Michigan powerhouse. I don’t recall the rest of the schedule that year.

    Second, despite being a national power, Boys Town was never eligible for the Nebraska State Championship. In the season of ’63, for example, we beat Tech, the Omaha Metro Champion, 32-0 in three quarters (due to a stadium lighting issue). We beat Bishop Ryan, # 2 in the State, by 20-12 at Rosenblatt Municipal Stadium, a venue changed due to overflow ticket demand. Later I learned that Bishop Ryan did not practice as a whole team in full contact pads until the following Wednesday due to their injuries. Also we beat the Class B State Champion by 55-14 in a mercy killing. So much for Nebraska. No one else would schedule us. We were ignored by our own State athletic authorities.

    Third, that same year, the season of ’63, we played and won several inter-sectional games. One game was against Richfield, MN, or some team with a similar name in the Minneapolis area. They were ranked fourth in the nation before we beat them on their field, 14-7. They had more two hundred pounders than I had ever seen. We were small by comparison, but we were very fast, very tough, very strong, and very disciplined. We kicked their butts. We didn’t win by a big margin, but we should have, because we were on their two yard line at the half, and we also had a touchdown called back earlier. It was a road game with road officials, like most of our games, what can I say? Anyway, so much for them being fourth in the nation.

    We also blew away a top-ranked team in Iowa that year (I don’t remember who, but I remember the game, because they surprised us in a close first half before we blew them away in the second half.)

    One of my favorites that year was against the Pittsburgh league champion at Pittsburgh Stadium. The stadium was not as big as it is now, but still, we played another perennial powerhouse on their field. It looked like the game was a sellout, and an overflow crowd was lining what looked like a bridge at one end of the stadium. If I remember, we beat them 38-0. No contest. Pittsburgh is big on football, I learned later.

    Fourth, we finished the year ranked fourth in the nation by whoever did rankings back then. Many All-Americans came from our team, selected by whoever did the several All American teams. There were several Senior All Americans, plus several Juniors who became All Americans the following year, plus several Sophomores who became eventual All Americans. I think there were eleven eventual All Americans from that one team in total. That is a lot of national stars for one team–the Boys Town team of 1963.

    Fifth, making the team was a bona fide ordeal. Consider this. There were only about 400 kids in high school at Boys Town. Now eliminate 100 Freshman from football because they are not ready physically or mentally. Of the remaining 300, a full 125 tried out for football. Of those 125, only 33 made the team after weeks of full-bore, maximum head-banging. Of those 33, only 26 made the inter-sectional travel team. We traveled the country with 26 players, all of whom played both sides of the ball. Being a national power with so few players probably never happened before, and will never happen again.

    Sixth, the rumors are untrue–Boys Town did not suit up 20 year olds. But yes, there were juvenile delinquents–kids from the Courts and reform schools were common, tough kids, kids with an attitude, physical kids, kids who grew up punching things. (One of my roomies played end on the football team and was also a Golden Gloves regional boxing champion.)

    Seventh, football is different now, but not necessarily better for it. Not many players today play both sides of the ball. Players are bigger now, and fast, but not faster or more durable than we were, and definitely not tougher. The rules are different now, too. I venture that many players today could deal with chop blocks, roll blocks, high-low tandem blocks, forearm shivers (best described as an elbow to the jaw), head-hunting (a legal smash to the brain at high speed), full-blast hits out of bounds, and face smashing in a pile up. You really had to pay attention in those days. People like to think football is a war today. With all the rule changes, it is not nearly a war compared to the way it used to be played.

    Well–that’s more than I expected to spill out about Boys Town football. Hope you enjoy it.



    • Paul Donnelly
      September 13, 2012 at 4:03 pm

      My uncles played for Boys Town in 1953, Pete and Paul Donnelly. Pete was Left HB and Paul was QB. The only information I have on the boys was from a Sioux Falls newspaper article w/picture. They had Beaten DeLassal of Kansas City in their first game of the season 30-0 and were playing Cathedral H.S. that week. Where can I find information in regard to the football history at Boys Town? I have scoured the internet and found very little.

      Kindest Regards,


      • ed wickliffe
        October 30, 2012 at 4:12 am


        You might contact the Boys Town archivist through their main phone number in Omaha. BT has a historical ‘collections’ department with many thousands of documents. You might find your uncles mentioned there, or possibly find leads on how to locate them. I imagine that their archives person would be happy to help.

        Good luck, and it’s not surprising to hear they beat some inter-sectional team, 30 – 0 in Missouri. That’s what BT did most of the time for decades. Be proud of your uncles. BT played the best teams they could find, no matter where, and almost always on the road. BT was probably the original national “travel team”.



      • ed wickliffe
        October 30, 2012 at 4:48 am


        Note #2, I found that BT in 1953 had a 6 – 3 record with 185 – 86 point differential. That would be your uncles. And their competition would have been stout compared to ordinary local teams.



    • Mary
      December 12, 2012 at 2:51 am

      My friend Ed Wright from Las Vegas went to boys town and knows a lot of the history.


      • ed wickliffe
        January 13, 2013 at 8:10 pm


        What a surprise. I was Ed Wright long ago. It was never my real name. Long story. Wow!


      • January 26, 2013 at 5:14 am

        My friend Ed and I road our bikes to school together. at St Joseph’s


      • January 29, 2013 at 6:03 pm

        At one time you wanted to be an ambassador.


  4. Ed Wickliffe
    September 23, 2011 at 12:54 am

    Sorry, I meant to say:

    “I venture that NOT many players today could deal with chop blocks, roll blocks, high-low tandem blocks, forearm shivers (best described as an elbow to the jaw), …etc.


  5. Sandra Sneed Walker
    September 26, 2011 at 6:57 pm

    I am trying to get in touch with a man named Wilburn Hollis. I believe him and my grandmother from Pontotoc Mississippi are brother and sister. Ive started to research our family history and would love to speak with him if anyone knows how i can please email me. Thank you very much..Sandra


    • larry mulligan
      February 3, 2012 at 6:23 pm

      Sandra – You might try the alumni office at Boys Town & at the Univ. of Iowa, where Wilbur played college football. Is Pontotoc near Possum Trot? That’s where he said he was from, & that became a point of contention where he was an All American candidate during his senior year at Iowa, as someone alleged the the name of his home town before Boys Town was just made up.

      larry mulligan, BT ’49 to ’61


      • Richard Paquette
        December 22, 2014 at 1:08 am

        Hi Larry, have not had any news from Robert Cross. Sorry to hear of your brother, my deepest sympathy. Richard Paquette class of 1958.


      • August 26, 2015 at 5:44 pm

        thanks, Richard


  6. ed wickliffe
    January 8, 2012 at 2:13 am


    Wilburn Hollis was a really good player around 1959-62. I think he had a pro tryout at quarterback. I have no idea how to reach him. Good luck.


  7. Chuck Ripple
    January 8, 2012 at 2:52 am

    I was in Boys Town for seven years from 1961 to 1968. I left after 10th grade so I would have been there nine years. There were many in my class that came to Boys Town at 9 or 10 years old. No recruiting ever went on at B.T. You can’t recruit a kid at nine years old and tell if he’s going to be a star in high school. Those were just rumors. To enter Boys Town you had to have a birth certificate. No B.T. athletes were 20 years old. Just rumors again. We had superior coach’s that coached several sports not just football on the grade school side and high school side. We never practiced against the rules, more rumors. On the grade school side we only watch TV on the weekend. This allowed us to play sand lot sports on our own. We also had choir and that was as big as any sport at B.T. and many great athletes sang in the choir.
    What made the sports programs so good was the desire of the athletes and the superior coaching. We looked up to our coach’s and listened to everything we were told and believed in the coach’s and the programs. We lived together as brothers and had a bond no other school had. We have a alumni convention every two years and hundreds of former boys come home to Boys Town to see their brothers former coach’s and teachers. We had and have a bond like no other school in this country. So Leo…when you get down to it, the bond of brothers, desire to succeed by the players and coach’s and the superior coaching (the varsity football team had three coach’s) is the reason Boys Town had the sucess it did.
    Everything I learned from my coach’s I have used as a high school coach or in life. For every one thing you could ever hear bad about Boys Town you can hear one hundred good things.
    Ed Wickliffe mentioned the 1963 football team. It may have been rated the 4th best team in the country, but the three rated higher would have been defeated by the Boys Town Cowboys also. Most high school football teams have 3 or 4 great hitters, Boys Town had one at every position every year from the 1940’s thru 1960’s. Boys Town had many great football teams and great players after the 1963 team but that team was special. You can take the boy out of Boys Town, but you can never take Boys Town out of the boy!
    Chuck Ripple
    “61 to 68”


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  11. C.A.
    May 10, 2013 at 2:58 am

    I just ironically ran across this web page. Great information!! My uncle is George Pfeifer, I’ve never been to boystown having grown up in suburban Chicago, but after just recently conversing with Uncle George I’m going to make it a point to get a personal tour of the famous landmark this summer. George occasionally sent me sports clips and pictures over the years and it amazes me the compassion and pride people have for this institution. I personally played college football in North Carolina, and for a high school I’ve never heard of anything like the compassion and commitment that exists in the boystown community. What a great molder of young men this institution is!!!


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  17. August 14, 2015 at 5:03 am

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