BROOMFIELD — The seventh and largest class that was inducted into the University of Colorado Athletic Hall of Fame here Friday night came from many different backgrounds and had accomplishments through the roof, but the one common theme was a love for their alma mater.
KOA’s Mark Johnson and Larry Zimmer served as co-emcees of the event, held at the Omni Interlocken Resort. Assistant athletic director Bill Harris, who heads up the Alumni C-Club, opened the evening by citing that this class “truly features trailblazers, groundbreakers, and outright stars” of their respective programs.
The nine inductees included the schools first African-American varsity-athletes Claude Walton (the first letterman of color, and the school’s first All-American in any sport), Frank Clarke and Billy Lewis; the most decorated female athlete in school history, Kara Grgas-Wheeler Goucher; world-class sprinter Don Campbell; two sport-stars Dave Logan (football, basketball) and John Stearns (baseball, football); CU’s first postseason trophy winner and one of key players on CU’s 1990 national champion football team, Alfred Williams; and the late Dal Ward, legendary football coach.
“Now I’ve heard stories, but I haven’t heard stories from 1932,” Harris said when telling a story about picking up Walton and his family at the airport on Thursday. Walton, who recently turned 95, was CU’s first All-American, earning the honor for the discus in the spring of 1936.
“For the things he went through during his time, and his never-wavering love for CU he has constantly expressed, Claude, you’re one helluva man.” Harris also read a letter from John Wooten, a member of the 2004 Hall of Fame class, who could not be in attendance due to a death in the family. Wooten was a teammate of Clarke’s, and in his letter, he stated, “Claude Walton, when I read your story, I wanted to meet you.”
Athletic director Mike Bohn also spoke and announced that funding has been obtained to finally build a permanent display of the Hall of Fame, which will be located at the Coors Events Center
The late Dallas “Dal” Ward, who passed away in 1983, was the first to be honored with his credentials presented to the crowd of about 400 by Zimmer.
Ward blazed the trail for the Buffaloes as they left the old Mountain States Conference and turned things up a notch on the national scale when CU joined the Big Seven Conference in 1948. Many credit him with putting Colorado on the national football map and keeping it there, spending 11 seasons as head coach walking the sidelines of Folsom Field. He was 76 at time of his death.
“He was an offensive genius. He took the T-formation and modified it and gave defensive coordinators headaches,” Zimmer said. “He took CU to a new level nationally, and coached the Buffaloes for 11 seasons, the fourth-longest tenure in school history, winning 60 percent of his games. And perhaps his greatest achievement was bringing Frank Clarke to Colorado from Trinidad Junior College, breaking the color lines in football.”
“For those of you remember my father, you might remember him on the sidelines wearing a coat, tie and fedora,” Ward’s daughter, Mary Ward-Metzger said. She talked about his commitment to education, and cited the saying on the etching of her father’s display in the building at the north end of Folsom Field that bears his name, “Son, you came here to get an education and play football, in that order.”
She also mentioned an autographed picture that astronaut Jack Swigert of Apollo 13 fame gave her father which read, “Dal, with gratitude for education, for sportsmanship, and competition that has served me beyond the playing field.” She closed by saying that her father “would be proud to be a member of this great club.”
The “Colorado Comet,” Don Campbell compiled an impressive track resume for the Buffaloes. Considered the top collegiate sprinter of his day and among the top 10 in the world, he was a seven-time conference champion in three events and a 1948 All-American in the 100-yard dash, all after surviving machine gun fire to his upper leg and hip areas from his service in World War II as an Army private in the Philippines.
I came to the University of Colorado, simply because I wanted to be coached by Frank Potts,” Campbell said. “I want to answer four questions that have always been asked of me'
'When in the world did they start calling you the comet?’ Chet Nelson (the old sportswriter from the Rocky Mountain News), when I was in high school, referred to be as the Sterling Comet. So when I came to CU, it became the Colorado comet. Now it’s been said that I was wounded in (World War II) in 1945, which is true. A lot of people asked me, 'Didn’t that affect your sprinting?’ I would say I am sure it did, but I can’t tell you how, if it made me slower, or made me faster. Now people often say I won a purple heart. Let me say this: nobody wins a purple heart, it’s not a competition. I tried to tell people what my goals were, but it’s hard because I get so emotional about it.” He then relayed a story about having doubts about returning to running or to just give it up, but was convinced by an Army superior to set a goal give it his all. His goal was to “run around the world.” Fourth was 'What’s the difference between you and Hussein Bolt (current Olympic champion)?’ One, he’s faster, two he’s taller, and three, he lifts weights. Frank Potts would not allow us to lift weights back in my day.”
Logan and Stearns’ careers overlapped in 1972, when Stearns was a senior and Logan a true freshman on the football teal; the two kidded each other when they took the podium on whether or not Stearns “clothes-lined” Logan in practice.
Logan starred in football and basketball, enrolling in college right when freshmen were once again eligible to play four seasons, and was a preseason and postseason All-American on the gridiron. Now the voice of the Denver Broncos, he’s also the head football coach at Mullen High School. Stearns remains CU’s all-time interception leader (16), and holds several of the school’s baseball records set during his All-American career. Both went on to stardom in their professional sport of choice, Logan in the NFL with the Cleveland Browns and Stearns in major league baseball with the New York Mets.
“For myself and my family, this is really a tremendous honor, and I am humbled,” Logan said.“I was thinking about the first time I had a chance to be indoctrinated to the University of Colorado. In the 60s, we took a trip up to Boulder in the car to see a football game, and the story was told to me later on that I sat on the laps of my mother and father and so intently watched what was going on. I remembered a lot of the names when I went back a couple of years later, and soon realized that I had been at the 1961 CU-Kansas game, where Kansas led 19-0 at the end of the third quarter but came back to win, 20-19. I knew at that point that years’ later, it was going to be the University of Colorado for me.
“My first-ever trip on a plane was (a recruiting trip) to Lincoln, Nebraska, and I met with coach Bob Devenny and Tom Osborne, and they had just won the national championship,” Logan recounted. “I was pretty much in awe, and I remember them telling me that Nebraska was the place for me, and anywhere else would be a mistake, including Colorado
“Now aside from my mother and father, the single most important person in me going to the University of Colorado was Eddie Crowder. I met with Coach Crowder, and it was such a stark difference with what he told me, that CU and Nebraska were two fine programs and that I would have a good career at either place, and to do what was best for me. Well, that sealed it and the University of Colorado was definitely the place for me. It’s been an honor for me to 'steal’ from Coach Crowder and coach (Sox) Walseth (his basketball coach at CU) in what I try to do to teach young kids today.
“Anyone who has ever run out behind the buffalo, there is a special bond and a special feeling,” Logan concluded. “There is such a high to run out behind the buffalo that there’s nothing else that can match it in your life. Once you wear the black and gold, it’s black and gold forever.”
“When I arrived at CU in the fall of ’69, it was a dream come true for me,” Stearns said. “My grandmother, Virginia, graduated from CU in 1915, in a time when very few women went to college, and my father played on the football team in 1940, '41 and '42. I was raised to go to the University of Colorado, and we used to attend games there starting in the late 1950s. When Eddie Crowder and Steve Sidwell came to my house to offer me a scholarship to attend the University of Colorado, the only thing I asked was to be able to play baseball in the spring instead of participating in spring football, and Eddie said no problem. I was ecstatic.
Stearns thanked an impressive list of people, including former CU baseball coach Irv Brown, whom he credited with making him the professional baseball player he would become.
“When I went from freshman to sophomore to junior to senior, it just got better and better,” Stearns continued. “To be inducted into the University of Colorado Athletic Hall of Fame is the highest honor of my life.A person cannot stand up here and receive this kind of honor without the help of a lot people, and it’s such an honor to receive this prestigious award.”
Arguably the most decorated women’s athlete in CU history, Kara Grgas-Wheeler Goucher, was inducted, the only performer, male or female, to be named CU’s Athlete of the Year two times (1999-2000, 2000-01). One of just six Buffaloes to win as many as three individual NCAA titles, she led Colorado to its first national championship in women’s cross country in 2000. She ran in both the 5,000- and 10,000-meter runs at the Beijing Summer Olympics this past August (advancing to the finals in both), and her husband, Adam Goucher, was an accomplished distance runner at CU who was inducted in the Hall in 2006.
“This is a very big honor for me... I could run in front of 90,000 people and not be nervous, but this is harder to stand in front of a room of people and accept something like this,” Goucher said. “I need to thank the University of Colorado and acknowledge everything its done for women’s athletics. A lot of fine women athletes have come through CU, and there is a lot of history, and I want to accept this honor on behalf of all the women’s athletes at CU. I have to credit my coach, Mark Wetmore, for turning things around for me and for making me believe in everything I could accomplish.”
Williams is one of the area’s most popular sports figures, playing a pivotal role in the Buffaloes winning the 1990 national championship and back-to-back Big Eight Championships (1989-90). He became the first CU athlete to win a major postseason award when he received the Dick Butkus Award as the nation’s best linebacker his senior year. A two-time Big Eight defensive player of the year, he was a consensus All-American as a junior and then a unanimous choice as a senior. He went on to enjoy a long career in the NFL and won two Super Bowl rings with the Denver Broncos in 1997 and 1998 and is now a popular Denver radio sports personality.
“This is something that you never think that will happen to you,” Williams said of the honor. “When you play football, and you’re out there, and it’s cold, it’s raining, it’s even snowing some times, the only thing I was thinking about was, 'I want to go home to Houston. It’s cold out here.” But I had a guy, coach Bob Simmons, who said his job was to get me to play better each and every time out there. He kept me focused.
“This place is about the spirit and giving your absolute best. What separates people is spirit. When it’s 3rd-and-1 at Nebraska, and they’re going down the field to try and get the winning points, it’s all about what are you made of. It’s giving your absolute best. It had nothing to do with the body I was given, it had to do with the spirit, the coaches, the support I had at CU.
“When I left Houston, and came down I-36 (actually U.S. 36) the first time, well, it was different, it wasn’t Houston,” Williams remembered. “I thought for sure I’d get a change in climate, in scenery. Houston was flat, in Colorado, you had the ability to go to a mountain top and look all around for miles and miles. I also grew up in the tough projects of Houston, and I wanted to do something different. I wanted to love, I wanted to hug, I wanted things to be different. The University Coloradowas an honest program, I’m not going to mention names, but other schools, right in this conference, were offering money. CU didn’t offer me a dime, and I liked that. I realized that Bill McCartney was the only man who came to my house, and would talk to my brothers, my mom, I mean, it was a love-fest. My mom just loved this guy. It was crazy. Coach Mac teamed up with Coach Simmons, and for me, it was a match made in heaven. I played in a lot of games at the professional level, and I’ve won two Super Bowls with the Broncos, and this is a professional town. But I am a (University of) Colorado man.”
Clarke and Lewis were also trailblazers, CU’s first blacks on the football and basketball teams, respectively, in the mid-1950s. Clarke was a wide receiver who went on to a great NFL career, while Lewis was a forward for Walseth and continued his accomplishments of firsts in the field of law after graduating from CU.
Along with Walton, these great gentlemen opened the door for many others in a pre-Civil Rights America, enduring unbelievable racism and forced segregation at times from their own teammates on the road. The accomplishments of all three in their respective sports along with what they went on to accomplish in their days after they left CU made the trio unanimous selections.
“When I got the call from Mike Bohn about the Hall of Fame, I went silent,” Clarke said. “I accept this award with incredible humility. I know for certain what it means for me to be here and to be inducted into the University of Colorado Athletic Hall of Fame. It is indeed an honor to be in this class. I was a pretty swift receiver here and with the Cleveland Browns and Dallas Cowboys. I had some wonderful fedora-wearing coaches, and it all started with my sweet coach here, Dal Ward. Something (eventually) was instilled in me and it was love. How we understand it, how we live it, and how we spread it. It became such a part of me.”
Clarke revealed publicly for the first time that just last year, when Terrell Owens broke the Dallas Cowboys record for he most touchdown receptions in season, one that Clarke had held for almost 45 years, that Owens sent him the game ball and signed it, “To Frank, it’s an honor to be in your class.”
“CU is one of the finest universities in the land,” Clarke said. “You can go anywhere in the world, and not find a finer university than the University of Colorado
“I am overwhelmed by the response I’ve gotten from family and friends here in Colorado,” Lewis said in noting that about a dozen relatives flew in from as far away as Atlanta, Baltimore and even Egypt. “In order to receive a full athletic scholarship at CU, or any other Division I school, one has to have above average skills and maintain those skills. They have to be able to compete before thousands of people and know that the pressure of the butterflies that all of us have experienced are character building. Those are the kinds of things that I experienced. My grandmother told me to never let anyone break my spirit. That and the chance to attend a multi-cultural school like (Denver’s) Manual High School enabled me to attend a school like CU. It’s a blessing for me to be successful and because of what I learned and what I was exposed to at CU, I was never afraid of anything.
“I hope in some small way I have contributed to the success of the university, as it has benefitted me in a myriad of ways.”
Walton’s induction completed the quartet of CU’s stars of the 1930s into the Hall, as he joined college buddies Byron White, Kayo Lam and Gil Cruter, who were previously inducted.
“Isn’t it awful when you get old, you need a half a dozen people to help you get up here,” Walton mused about needing some aid to take the stage, typical of an athlete being frustrated even though he’s lived longer than most of the population. He relayed a story about meeting with White years ago in Washington D.C., when he was a member of Supreme Court. He called his office and was transferred to White, who said, 'Court is in session, and I have a very busy schedule, so I regret that I can’t take you to lunch. But why don’t you come by the office, we can have lunch here and talk about our days at CU.’ “So I went over there, and after lunch, he then gave me a tour of the building, the chambers where they do their deliberations, and then to actually watch the court in action later that day.”
“When I came here, it was simply CU, the Silver & Gold. We didn’t have any buffaloes, there were no training tables, no dormitories, and you could waive across campus at your friends walking to class,” Walton recalled. “I want to thank the committee for voting me into the Hall of Fame. Alfred, I wasn’t offered anything, there were no scholarships back then. The only reason I came to CU was to get an education, and I am indebted to CU for the exposure, the lessons learned, and the experiences I had. They were the backbone that helped carry me through my life. Thank you, CU, and in terms of the modern day CU, 'Go Buffs!”
With the addition of the 2008 class, there are now 37 individuals and one entire team (the 1959 ski team, CU’s first national champions); the Hall was established in 1998. The nine will be honored at halftime of CU’s football game against Kansas State, which will kickoff at 5:10 p.m.