Prologue -- 1987

When Jim Meister’s 19 foot jumper dropped through the net as the buzzer sounded at the Devaney Sports Center in Lincoln, Nebraska on March 13,1987, a dream ended for a group of young men from Wahoo, Nebraska. Wahoo High School’s boys basketball team had not made a trip to the Nebraska State Boys Basketball Tournament since 1948. The 1986-87 team was in the semifinals against Fremont Bergan High School. Meister’s shot ended their season with a 53 - 51 loss. As seniors Jim Wotipka, Jeff Ohnoutka and Randy Gerdts left the court, they must have experienced some decidedly mixed emotions. Certainly there was the disappointment that always accompanies a loss in a sporting event, and this disappointment was amplified by the fact that they knew it was their final high school game. And this loss had come so abruptly -- only seconds earlier, the dream of a championship was still alive. Now, that dream was gone.

But there was also a sense of pride in accomplishing a goal -- the goal of even playing in the state tournament. The season had begun with a “1948” imprinted on their practice jerseys -- a constant reminder of that goal. Although there would be no state championship, they had reached higher than any Wahoo basketball team in recent history. They had set a new standard that subsequent teams would point toward.

For Coach Mick Anderson the “1948” was just as much a reminder to him of a goal that had eluded him for eleven years as head coach at Wahoo. And when the 1986-87 season began, he was well aware his team had the talent and experience that made that goal a realistic one. But he also knew that talent didn’t always win out. He’d had some other teams that had the potential to reach the state tournament, but none had. Certainly, clear back in 1976, with All-State player Tim Shanahan, the Warriors could have made it to Lincoln. The 1981-82 team had only lost four games, but still could not claim a District crown. And just as recently as 1986, the Warriors had lost out in the District finals to eventual State Champion, Omaha Cathedral. So, for Coach Anderson, the sting of the defeat would eventually be soothed by the sense of accomplishment.

For the entire Wahoo community, the trip to the State Tournament in Lincoln had been nothing less than a thrill. The experience was a celebration of community pride, a sharing of youthful exuberance, and just plain fun. In the world of high school sports, often times it seems like there are the “haves” and the “have nots.” For communities like Wahoo, who had been on the outside looking in for such a long time, a District Championship that brings a trip to the State Tournament is a heady tonic. For parents, coaches, and players there is a venting of the jealousy they’d held towards those communities viewed as the “haves” -- the ones that seem to always be sending a team to state, or at lease they seem to be there every several years. And then there are those who can’t remember the last time they were there. There was celebration in Wahoo, because the basketball community could now view themselves as part of the “haves.”

Coach Anderson, Jim Wotipka, Randy Gerdts, and Jeff Ohnoutka left the court that day having no idea that they had set the stage for a basketball success record that is one of the greatest in state history and would even make a national mark. The other members of the ‘86-’87 team would tell you immediately that their goal was to be back the next year. Junior Steve Carmer had played since he was a freshman and knew his career was far from over. Sophomore Troy Glock had two years experience as the Wahoo point guard and was young enough that he probably assumed next year’s team would be even better. Coach Anderson might have tempered this optimism, knowing it was again a realistic goal, but also being more aware of the fickleness of basketball fortune. He knew he had talented players like Glock and Carmer, but he also knew the Warriors would be competing a class higher the next season, moving up from Class C-1 to Class B in the six class Nebraska system. But he had three starters returning (Kevin Jeppson along with Glock and Carmer) and he also knew that those players had a taste of the state tournament -- and that taste had just enough bitterness from the last-second defeat, to provide high octane motivation for the next season. So Coach Anderson was hopeful. If asked for a prediction on the future of Wahoo basketball, he’d give you a half grin and tell you “we’ll be competitive.” He had no way of knowing how much of an understatement that was.

The 1986-1987 season would launch Wahoo Warrior boys basketball on an eleven year run that would produce ten District Championships. After waiting 39 years, the community of Wahoo would soon start planning days off from work well in advance of their “annual” trip to Lincoln for the tournament. Of those ten trips to the tournament, eight would result in a Championship. There would be a state-tying record of four championships in succession. And at one point, the Warriors would rack up 114 consecutive wins, setting a new Nebraska state record, and ranking number two in the entire nation.

For the 1986-1987 team, such accomplishments were unimaginable. They had reached their goal, and had come close to reaching their dream. They did not know it at the time, but they had started the fire that would burn in Wahoo for the next eleven years. This is the story of that amazing basketball journey.
Jim Wotipka wearing the 1987 practice jersey

Jeff Ohnoutka's disappointment as the '87 season comes to an abrupt end

Jim Wotipka, Steve Carmer & Randy Gerdts proudly display the District Championship plaque that represented Wahoo's first trip to the State Tournament in 40 years.

Coach Anderson "shouts instructions" (according to the newspaper caption) during the 1987 Championship game. His frustration wouldn't be revisited until 1992.

The 11 year run that was about to begin is recognized by the 8 championship banners and the winning streak banner (gold) that hang in the Wahoo gym. (click to enlarge the photo).