CU Athletic Hall Of Fame To Induct Nine In 2021 Class
BOULDER — The 16th class to be inducted into the University of Colorado Athletic Hall of Fame this November will feature nine Golden Buffalo legends representing eight different sports, one who lettered in four of those along with a national championship coach, and all who have their special place in history created during their careers in a group that collectively covers over a century of CU athletics.
The nine, including one who will be honored posthumously, cover a period starting in the 1910s through this past winter, representing eight different decades in all. Two in the group won NCAA individual titles, while a recently retired head coach led the Buffaloes to eight national crowns. One was an Olympian; two others on U.S national teams; one was at one time the school's all-time leading scorer in basketball but had his career end sadly with a broken leg; and three football players who all played key roles at various stages or in memorable games for the Buffaloes, one of whom crossed the goal line six times in a certain victory over a rival draped in red.
Athletic director Rick George, as always, personally notified the living members of the upcoming class of their impending induction, as well as the next of kin for Lee Willard, arguably CU's first star athlete. And that could be an understatement: he earned 16 letters in four sports – football, basketball, baseball and track – graduating from the school almost 100 years ago in 1922. Predating state legends like Dutch Clark (Colorado College) and Jack Dempsey (boxing, both late 1920s), as well as Kayo Lam and Byron White (both CU, mid-1930s), Willard may very well have been the state's finest all-around athlete in the first half century after Colorado was granted statehood in 1876 (Clark, Dempsey and White, co-incidentally, comprised the inaugural class of the Colorado Sports Hall of Fame in 1965).
The 2021 class will be the 16th inducted into the Hall since it was conceived in 1998, and the nine will join 122 individuals (and the 1959 ski team as a unit) who have been enshrined to date (17 have been honored previously after their deaths).
The group will officially be inducted in the Hall of Fame over the course of Nov. 4-6 (final details pending); they will also be featured in the Pearl Street Stampede parade on Friday night and will be introduced at halftime of the CU-Oregon State football game on Saturday, Nov. 6, the centerpiece of Homecoming, to complete the weekend.
Those to be inducted are (click on each name for the complete bio):
- Donnie Boyce, Basketball (1991-95)
- Chris Brown, Football (2001-02)
- Nikki Marshall, Soccer (2006-09)
- Chris Naeole, Football (1992-96)
- Mickey Pruitt, Football (1984-87)
- Dathan Ritzenhein, Cross Country & Track (2001-04)
- Richard Rokos, Ski Coach (1987-2021)
- Jack Ryan, Gymnastics (1966-68)
- Lee Willard, Football, Basketball, Baseball & Track (1918-22)
Six of the nine were elected on their first year on the ballot: Boyce, Marshall, Naeole, Pruitt, Ritzenhein and Rokos; Willard was the selection of the veteran's committee. Marshall and Rokos join Jenny Barringer Simpson, Chauncey Billups, Ceal Barry and Lucie Zikova as inductees selected in their first year of eligibility (not including the first inductee in 1998, Byron White; Marshall was actually eligible last year but the pandemic forced no class to be selected for 2020). An athlete must be at least 10 years removed from their CU career and if on a professional team, retired from that sport to be considered for induction (it was five years at one point until upped to 10 last decade).
Rokos retired this past March after serving as the head coach of the men's and women's ski team since the summer of 1990. Counting three years as an assistant coach, he is the ninth-longest to work in CU athletics, the third-longest tenured head coach. He led the Buffaloes to eight NCAA championships, besting Bill Marolt's total of seven in the sport; Mark Wetmore caught Rokos with his eighth title in cross country in 2018. Rokos' teams also won 14 Rocky Mountain Intercollegiate Ski Association titles and won 73 of 187 meets overall.
"It's obviously a great honor that cements my relationship with the university for the past, present and future," Rokos said. "It's something that I will cherish forever. In a way, it wraps up my career at CU. It really makes it come full-circle."
During his tenure, 247 different Buffaloes earned All-America honors, 46 of whom claimed individual NCAA championships in either alpine or Nordic events. Rokos has even presided over at least 20 "intra-ski team" marriages between his athletes and coaches and has officiated over 40 overall.
"They are all members of our family, my wife Helena's and myself, for over 30 years," Rokos said of when speaking about all the students that skied for him. "Those relationships are all very special and forever for us, and I know that is the feeling both ways."
Rokos has a passion for skiing and will remain involved in the sport in however many ways he can. He joins Marolt and the late Bob Beattie as ski coaches in CU's Hall of Fame. Only football has more head coaches in the Hall: Fred Folsom, Dal Ward, Eddie Crowder, Bill McCartney and Gary Barnett.
Willard passed away at the age of 73 in 1974. The 16 letters he earned are believed to be the most ever earned by a CU athlete. Accomplished in all his sports, some of his highlights included batting over .500 twice in baseball and posting a 9.8 time in the 100-yard dash, the latter making him one of the fastest athletes in the nation when he ran that over 100 years ago (and doing so at altitude).
"I've still got goose bumps after getting the call from Rick and talking about it since," said Steve Willard, a CU graduate himself and at one time CU's head athletic trainer. Lee was his great uncle.
"There is a lot of history at CU with our family, and it all started with him. Back in the day, (the late) Fred Casotti took me as a young kid into the Flatirons Club, where there was art work of Lee. What was cool is that we had seats in the Flatirons Club section, but you needed a special badge to get into the club where the food and beverage was. I had never been back to the club room before, it was always, 'What's behind that curtain?' Fred eventually gave me the picture as he thought it should be with our family.
"That's when I started researching everything I could about him," the younger Willard continued. "I came to realize the depth of what he accomplished here, and why our family had always been so involved with CU, even including some relatives that didn't go to school here."
"When I tell people about my uncle, some come back and say, 'Wait a minute. He earned 16 letters and you can't hit a golf ball 100 yards? You obviously got the wrong genes.'"
Ryan, who will turn 75 later this week, noted that from his days as a gymnast, he has had three knee and one shoulder replacement surgeries.
"I've had three knee replacements but only have two knees," he relayed. "My doctor asked me what I do for a living and didn't believe I had a desk job. Then I told him I was a gymnast and then he understood. I keep looking down, and as long as they keep making spare parts, I guess I'll be around."
But there was nothing funny about what CU accomplished his senior year in the winter of 1968. The Buffs won their only Big Eight title and finished their highest in seven appearances as a team – sixth – in the NCAAs.
"I had been to nationals twice before, but as an individual," he recalled. "My senior year, the entire team qualified because we won the Big Eight Championship. I think that made the difference for me – I had my team with me instead of competing as an individual, and having them around me made all the difference in the world. We wound up finishing sixth in the nation that year because we had very good performers in several events."
This was his fifth year on the ballot, and each year he kept getting more and more votes until securing enough for induction this time around.
"I was informed four or five years ago that my name was put in, but I thought it would be a slim to none chance because of the minor sport gymnastics was, and then of course it was eliminated. But Rick explained to me the emphasis that the school has put on in engaging those sports and their contributions through the years."
Pruitt was the third football player in school history to earn first-team All-Conference honors three times when he was recognized at his strong safety spot from 1985 through 1987; just four have done it since. A member of the 1983 recruiting class, he wasn't overly highlighted as head coach Bill McCartney and his staff concentrated on keeping the state's top prospects at home, of which 11 would sign with CU. Pruitt actually was headed to Miami, Fla., but was in Boulder for that last recruiting weekend with all the Colorado recruits and would switch his commitment to CU because he felt it was a much better fit and he could contribute fairly quickly. It was a bonus that his older brother Tony had transferred to CU from Creighton two years earlier to follow basketball coach Tom Apke to Boulder.
In what turned out to be a star-studded signing class, no one would make a bigger impact in the Buffs turning their fortunes around after six straight seasons in the doldrums than Pruitt. And some of that can be traced to one key play.
After McCartney stunned the college football world in the spring of 1985 by announcing that CU would convert to the wishbone on offense, not many bought into it. It was viewed as a desperation attempt by a coach with a 7-25-1 record who was given a contract extension during the previous season (when the team was 1-7 at the time). The Buffaloes looked good in the season opener, defeating Colorado State, 23-10, and equally as good the following week against Oregon, but the chance for CU to open 2-0 for the first time since 1978 was in question.
With Colorado leading 21-17, a 68-yard punt by Barry Helton pinned the Ducks at their own 13-yard line with 5:23 to play. Behind its quarterback and Heisman candidate Chris Miller, Oregon worked to a first-and-goal at the CU 5 in just eight plays. After three stops by CU on defense, it was fourth-and-goal at the CU 3 with 22 seconds remaining. Miller dropped back to pass and was chased, then sacked by Pruitt for a 14-yard loss – game over. That was the impetus for a 7-4 regular season record and CU's first bowl invitation in eight years.
Pruitt would record back-to-back 100 tackle seasons as a junior and senior, finishing with 332 for his career, the most at the time by a defensive back and third in team history, numbers that still rank second by a DB and 12th overall some 34 years later.
"I was in awe when I got the call from Rick," Pruitt said. "He calls me most every time he comes through Chicago. I didn't expect this one to be about being selected for the Hall – I'm so elated and happy. We've developed a great relationship so it was extra special that he was the one to call and tell me.
"I really enjoyed my five years at the University of Colorado," Pruitt added. "You know, we built something from the ground up. Mac (McCartney) had a plan. He redshirted most of the '83 class and it worked to bring success back to the program as well as awareness back nationally across college football. The move to the wishbone made the team get tougher on both offense and defense, to the point where we felt we could play with anyone.
"What also really changed the atmosphere was when Mac put the Nebraska game in red. Nebraska and Oklahoma had been on the top of heap in the Big Eight for so long, to target them, that really inspired us. We worked hard, everyone stayed around in the summer after we switched to the wishbone and it made us tougher, stronger and faster that offseason." (The Buffs finally broke through to beat the Huskers in 1986 when they were No. 3; the 20-10 win at the time was coined, "The Turning Point" as it ended a string of 18 straight losses to Nebraska.)
Pruitt recalls every detail about his sack against Oregon.
"Coach (Lou) Tepper made the right call on that play. He knew there was no way they were going to run it on fourth-and-goal, so knowing they were going to pass, he called a safety blitz. (Outside linebacker) Darin Schubeck penetrated from his side and cut Miller off from that angle and then I was able to fly through and get to him."
Almost every induction class has some kind of link between two or more members. Occasionally teammates are selected, or a coach and one of his or her players, ditto an administrator. This class has a unique connection between Pruitt and Boyce, two Chicagoans in two different sports whose careers missed overlapping by four years.
"When I was struggling my first semester with thoughts of transferring, I talked to Mickey," Boyce said. "He told me if you want to be good, at some point you have to overcome some adversity. "
Boyce stayed, and was more than good. He finished his career as CU's all-time leading scorer with 1,995 points, which still ranks third all-time. He was set to reach the 2,000-point plateau, needing just 11 points to do so, but suffered a broken leg just over 13 minutes into the first half of CU's 71-53 loss to Oklahoma in the first round of the 1995 Big Eight tournament, thus ending his collegiate career. His 46 points at Oklahoma State his junior year remain the second-most in school history, and the highest ever scored in a road game.
"It is a great honor to be selected to University of Colorado Athletic Hall of Fame," he said. "I would like to thank coach Joe Harrington and his coaching staff for helping me grow, mature from a green-eyed teenager into a young man.
"Coach Harrington also help me understand the true meaning of words such as commitment, discipline and loyalty," Boyce continued. "I also want to thank all my teammates for the bond we will always share in our pursuit of building Colorado basketball to an elite level. Even though we didn't attain the team success we worked for, we have memories of our journey. I would like to recognize two teammates who are no longer with us – James Hunter and Randy Robinson – for helping me understand the true meaning of toughness and work ethic. I want to thank everyone involved with my selection and I look forward to seeing all the Buffs family."
He was the second player in school history to lead the team in scoring for all four years of his career (joining the late Emmett Lewis, 1976-79; Richard Roby later did it from 2005-08). He averaged 14.9 points per game as a freshman, 19.1 as a sophomore, 22.4 as a junior (the third-highest mark for a single-season at CU) and 18.5 as a senior, and averaged 18.8 points per game over his career. He is now a highly successful high school coach in the Chicago area at his prep alma mater, Proviso East.
Marshall is the soccer program's second inductee, joining Fran Munnelly of the 2016 class. The most decorated performer in the 25-year history of the program, she still holds 20 school records, including the mark for most career goals with 42. During her career, CU went the deepest it ever has in the postseason (third round) with the Buffs compiling a 47-27-12 record with her as a Buff. She quite possibly was CU's first (and only) only four-time, first-team All-Conference performer in any sport (only because records are sketchy for some Olympic sports in the early 1900s).
"It's means everything to be selected," Marshall said. "It's an honor and I'm just really grateful. And I'm especially grateful to all the people who believed in me. It's really a testament to all the people, coaches and players, who surrounded me at the time."
Ritzenhein retired recently after nearly a two-decade career in professional running. He lived in his native Michigan for over six years before moving his family back to Colorado last year, specifically to Niwot, practically in CU's shadow and where is now coaching.
"It's an honor for sure, especially after so many years, moving back here again and being able to work with some former Buffs like Joe Klecker," Ritzenhein said. "Things have kind of come full circle. It's kind of reliving the glory days. After I retired from competing professionally, I've had time to think back fondly on all the memories created here, the NCAA titles, the Big 12 Conference and team titles. I have a lot of great teammates and friends I have continued to keep in contact with from CU. All of that makes this a great honor."
He joked about getting the confirmation call from George.
"It was great to get the call from Rick," he said. "You really don't know why the athletic director is calling you after so many years, I wondered maybe I did something wrong. But then he tells me that I have been selected for CU's Hall and you realize in a flash from that call you are going to join so many great names who have come through and left their mark at CU."
Brown had two back-to-back performances that rank with the best across the board in all CU sports. In 2001, the Buffaloes were facing No. 3 Nebraska in Boulder (with the Cornhuskers a top the BCS computer rankings), and a win would give CU the Big 12 North Division title (NU was 7-0, CU 6-1 going in). Brown ran for 198 yards and six touchdowns in a 62-36 romp, which sent CU to the league's title game the following week against Texas. Playing in Irving, essentially what amounted to a home game for the Longhorns, Colorado would prevail by a score of 39-37, earning the conference crown. Brown had 182 yards and three more scores, giving him 380 yards and nine TD's in eight days.
"It is definitely humbling to be selected, and truth be told, I never really expected to get that call," Brown said. "It seems like I've been gone for so long, it just caught me off guard."
He has great memories of his overall CU career, but those two games stand out in particular.
"Wow, those two games against Nebraska and Texas, let me think back for a minute," he recalled. "Those were two games that nobody gave us a chance to win. But we believed in ourselves, even when Texas got the jump on us early. That was a great two-game stretch, you really can't put into words what that meant to everybody – players, coaches, everyone who worked for the school and of course, our fans. I'll never forget being smack in the middle of that 'sea of gold' on the field after the final gun sounded when the Nebraska game was over.
"The games our offensive line played, they made it so easy," he added. "Watch the tape and see the holes they opened up for me and Bobby (Purify) on almost every play. And don't forget (fullback) Brandon Drumm, he was knocking people out of the way all year. Brent Musburger (ABC) gave him one of the coolest nicknames ever – the 'Alaskan Assassin' – since he was from Anchorage. We were sometimes six- or eight yards downfield before we were even touched, if at all. Kind of like Forrest Gump — all I had to do was just run."
Those two games and a great start to the 2002 season had him set up as a Heisman Trophy candidate as a junior the following year, but a severely bruised sternum and a sprained ankle sidetracked him from the last two-and-a-half games of the season. He finished with 1,744 yards, still the second-most in a single season by a Buff, and he certainly stood a chance to become CU's second 2,000-yard rusher.
"That was disappointing for sure, but really because I just wanted to be out there playing," Brown said. "I know Nebraska had to be happy to not have to see me again."
Naeole, one of top offensive linemen (guard) in school history, was a two-time first-team All-Big Eight performer and a consensus All-American as a senior in 1996. The latter made headlines all across the 50th state admitted to the union: he was first native Hawai'ian to earn consensus All-America honors in 51 years (Herman Wedemeyer did it in 1945 for St. Mary's).
Naeole, who would go on to play 11 seasons in the National Football League, was both "excited yet shocked" when he took Rick's call.
"This is an honor I do not, and will not take lightly," Naeole said. "The moment I received the call from Rick George, my mind immediately reflected back to some of the best times of my life. I was fortunate to have awesome teammates - and be surrounded by excellent coaches, incredible support staff in all the people who worked as trainers, in equipment, academics, media relations and at training table.
"Football took me places I only dreamed of as a kid growing up here on the (Hawai'ian) islands, and the game I loved became a central part of my family," Naeole said. "I owe a lot to the University of Colorado for giving me a platform to pursue my dreams of playing in the NFL."
All inductees were nominated by their peers or by members of the selection committee; most of the 23 semifinalists emerged from over 30 new names submitted over the last three years. There will now be 131 members (plus the '59 ski team, CU's first national champions in any sport) in the CU Athletic Hall of Fame since its inception in 1998.
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University of Colorado Athletic Hall of Fame Members
(131 individuals, 1 team)
Inaugural Class (1998)
Byron "Whizzer" White (Football)
The Second Class (1999)
Gil Cruter (Track & Field), Burdette Haldorson (Basketball), William "Kayo" Lam (Football, Baseball), Joe Romig (football), Lisa Van Goor (Basketball)
The Third Class (2000)
Ambassador David Bolen (Track & Field), Jimmie Heuga (Skiing), Dean Lahr (Wrestling), J. Allen "Pat" Patten (Track & Field)
The Fourth Class (2002)
Dick Anderson (Football), Harry Carlson (Athletic Director, Baseball Coach), Darian Hagan (Football), Carroll Hardy (Football, Baseball, Track), Hale Irwin (Golf, Football), Russell "Sox" Walseth (Basketball Coach) [Special Guest Speaker: Keith Jackson, ABC]
The Fifth Class (2004)
Don Branby (Football), Eddie Crowder (Football Coach & Athletic Director), Cliff Meely (Basketball), Frank Potts (Cross Country & Track Coach), Shelley Sheetz (Basketball), Bill Toomey (Track & Field), John Wooten (Football).
The Sixth Class (2006)
The 1959 NCAA Championship Ski Team, Bobby Anderson (Football, Baseball), Fred Casotti (Sports Information, Administrator), Adam Goucher (Cross Country & Track), Bill Marolt (Skiing, Ski Coach & Athletic Director), Bill McCartney (Football Coach)
The Seventh Class (2008)
Don Campbell (Track & Field), Frank Clarke (Football), Kara Grgas-Wheeler Goucher (Cross Country & Track), Billy Lewis (Basketball, Track), Dave Logan (Football, Basketball), John Stearns (Football, Baseball), Claude Walton (Track & Field), Dal Ward (Football Coach), Alfred Williams (Football)
The Eighth Class (2010)
Ceal Barry (Basketball Coach), Eric Bieniemy (Football), Tera Bjorklund (Basketball), Cliff Branch (Football, Track & Field), Kelly Campbell (Volleyball), Ken Charlton (Basketball), Dale Douglass (Golf), Bob Stransky (Football), Bridget Turner (Basketball), Buddy Werner (Skiing)
The Ninth Class (2012)
Frank Bernardi (Football, Baseball), Alan Culpepper (Cross Country & Track), Mary Decker-Slaney (Cross Country & Track), Boyd Dowler (Football), Joe Garten (Football), Jack Harvey (Basketball), Steve Jones (Golf), Leason "Pete" McCloud (Basketball), Vidar Nilsgard (Skiing), Matt Russell (Football), Rashaan Salaam (Football), Larry Zimmer (Broadcaster)
The 10th Class (2014)
Bob Beattie (Ski Coach), Forrest B. "Frosty" Cox (Basketball Coach), Jim Davis (Basketball), Deon Figures (Football), Bob Jeangerard (Basketball), Linn Long (Wrestling Coach), Don Meyers (Cross Country & Track, Athlete and Coach), Herb Orvis (Football), Yvonne Scott (Track & Field)
The 11th Class (2015)
Chauncey Billups (Basketball), Jon Burianek (Ticket & Business Manager, Administrator), Bill Fanning (Baseball), Stephan Hienzsch (Skiing), Frank Prentup (Baseball Coach), Mike Pritchard (Football), Mark Scrutton (Cross Country & Track), Erin Scholz (Basketball), Nicole Vranesh (Volleyball), Scott Wedman (Basketball), Tom Woodard (Golf)
The 12th Class (2016)
Dale "Pete" Atkins (Baseball), Bill Brundige (Football), Ted Castaneda (Cross Country & Track), Sara Gorton (Cross Country & Track), Jerry Hillebrand (Football), Chris Hudson (Football), Bob Justice (Wrestling), Bobby Kalinowski (Golf), Jim Miller (Track & Field), Fran Munnelly (Soccer), Shaun Vandiver (Basketball), Michael Westbrook (Football)
The 13th Class (2017)
Stan Brock (Football), Chad Brown (Football), Frank Brown (Skiing), Karrie Downey (Volleyball), Les Fowler (Golf Coach), Steve Hatchell (Administrator), Mark Haynes (Football), Jay Humphries (Basketball), Jamillah Lang (Basketball), Jorge Torres (Cross Country & Track)
The 14th Class (2018)
Pete Brock (Football), Hatfield Chilson (Football, Baseball), Charlie Gardner (Basketball), Daniel Graham (Football), Jay Howell (Baseball), Ron Scott (Football, Administrator), Steve Sidwell (Football Coach), Kordell Stewart (Football), Donna Waller (Track & Field) Chuck Williams (Basketball), Lucie Zikova (Skiing)
The 15th Class (2019)
Gary Barnett (Football Coach), Jenny Barringer Simpson (Cross Country & Track), Brian Cabral (Football, Player & Coach), Fred Folsom (Football Coach), Bruce Gamble (Skiing), Barry Helton (Football), Ed Pudlik (Football, Baseball), Dan Reese (Cross Country & Track), Jana Rehemaa-Weinberger (Skiing), Jane Wahl (Women's Athletic Director).
The 16th Class (2021)
Donnie Boyce (Basketball), Chris Brown (Football), Nikki Marshall (Soccer), Chris Naeole (Football), Mickey Pruitt (Football), Dathan Ritzenhein (Cross Country & Track), Richard Rokos (Skiing), Jack Ryan (Gymnastics), Lee Willard (Football, Basketball, Baseball, Track).
Note: No 2020 class due to COVID-19 pandemic.