Subscribe for 33¢ / day

LEWISTON -- Don't get caught standing underneath the basket when Wilt Chamberlain went in for a dunk.

That was a lesson learned early on by Wilson Fitzpatrick during his playing days at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln.

"(Wilt Chamberlain) could break your neck with the ball," Fitzpatrick said Saturday night during the Lewiston Alumni Banquet.

Fitzpatrick served as the head Lewiston boys basketball coach for five years during the 1960's, but prior to that, he played basketball for Nebraska and was part of one of the most famous games in Nebraska basketball history.

Fitzpatrick returned to Lewiston from his home in Colorado to be a guest speaker at Saturday's banquet. He reminisced about that famous game in which Nebraska beat the Wilt Chamberlain-led Kansas Jayhawks at the Coliseum in Lincoln.

Also at the banquet to tell stories was Gene Steinmeyer, an author who has written a book about Fitzpatrick entitled "I'm not Irish," which was what Fitzpatrick wrote on the board his first day teaching at Lewiston.

The highly ranked Jayhawks  had previously beaten Nebraska earlier in the season 102-46 in Kansas. Chamberlain had 46 points in that game, which equaled Nebraska's total as a team.

Despite the lopsided loss, Fitzpatrick said their coach was confident they could beat Kansas in Lincoln just 12 days later.

"We are going to beat them," Fitzpatrick recalled his coach saying.

With no shot clock and no three pointer, the Huskers pulled off a strategy of keeping it a low scoring game. One of Fitzpatrick's teammates hit a shot at the buzzer to give Nebraska the 41-40 win.

"We pulled it off," Fitzpatrick said. "The Coliseum was loaded that night and the place went absolutely nuts."

Fitzpatrick recalls the crowd chanting "We want a holiday," after the monumental upset -- and UNL's Chancellor at the time granted them their wish by declaring a holiday the following week.

Wilt Chamberlain went on to become one of the greatest players in NBA history, but on that night in 1958, the Huskers found a way to stop him.

"We just wanted to get Wilt frustrated," Fitzpatrick said. "He couldn't shoot free throws very well, so whenever he got close to the basket, we just fouled him."

According to Steinmeyer, after Fitzpatrick's playing days at Nebraska were over, Fitzpatrick wanted to coach basketball at Papillion, but school officials didn't think the city was ready for black head basketball coach.

It was a Lewiston connection that had discovered Fitzpatrick playing town team basketball while he was in the Air Force and got him a chance to play at Nebraska. That Lewiston connection came through again and he eventually became the head boys basketball coach at Lewiston in 1959. 

During his five years at Lewiston, Fitzpatrick led his team to a MUDECAS Championship. A photo in the Daily Sun showed the team throwing Fitzpatrick into the shower after the win, which was an image that inspired Steinmeyer to write his book.

Steinmeyer talked about how Fitzpatrick grew up in Marshall, Missouri. The town's school at that time didn't allow blacks in, so Fitzpatrick had to be bussed to school in a neighboring community.

Steinmeyer also told a humorous story about how 1958 was when Charles Starkweather was going on his murderous rampage across Nebraska. When a friend asked Fitzpatrick if he was worried about Starkweather, Fitzpatrick asked:

"How many black guys has he shot,?" drawing a roar of laughter from the crowd.

Despite overcoming many barriers in his life, Steinmeyer said Fitpatrick was a humble man who didn't consider himself a Martin Luther King Jr. --just a basketball coach.

"If other people have a problem with the color of my skin, that's their problem, not mine," Steinmeyer recalled Fitzpatrick saying.

Fitzpatrick said he will also have a special place in his heart for the community of Lewiston because they accepted him.

"It is just a wonderful thing to be welcomed and accepted into a community," Fitzpatrick said. "I will always be grateful to Lewiston for allowing me to coach and teach in this school."

1
0
0
0
0

Load comments