CU Athletic Hall Of Fame To Induct Nine In 2022 Class
BOULDER — The 17th class to be inducted into the University of Colorado Athletic Hall of Fame this October will feature nine Golden Buffalo legends representing four different sports, and the administrator who created the Hall a quarter century ago.
All have their special place in the school's history. The inductees, including one who will be honored posthumously, cover a period starting in the 1940s through the 2000s, representing six different decades in all. Football (three athletes), skiing (two), track and field (two) and gymnastics (one) are the sports represented.
It's also only fitting that in this year, celebrating the 50th anniversary of Title IX, that the most female athletes in the 17 classes – four – will be inducted, including two of the school's original legends from the 1970s who were Olympians before their sports attained varsity status.
The 2022 Hall of Fame class will be the 17th inducted into the Hall since it was conceived in 1998, and the nine will join 131 individuals (and the 1959 ski team as a unit) who have been enshrined to date (18 previously have been honored posthumously).
Those to be inducted into the Athletic Hall of Fame are (click on each name for the complete bio):
- Greg Biekert, Football (1989-92)
- Charlie Davis, Football (1971-73)
- Jane Frederick, Track & Field (1970-73)
- Maria Grevsgaard, Skiing (2006-09)
- Jimmy Griffith, Skiing (1947-51)
- Yolanda Johnson, Track & Field (1987-91)
- Jay Leeuwenburg, Football (1988-91)
- Dick Tharp, Athletic Director (1996-2004)
- Debbie Willcox, Gymnastics (1978-80)
They will be joined by Athletic Hall of Honor selections Jim Hansen and Dr. Eric McCarty along with the inaugural inductees of the Hall's "Legacy Wing," Peggy Coppom and the late Betty Hoover; as it was announced Monday that the school has restored the Hall of Honor after a 35-year dormancy and the creation of the Legacy Wing.
Athletic director Rick George personally notified most of the living members of every class of their impending induction, as well as the next of kin for those who have passed, often the selection of the veteran's committee. This year's choice was skier Jimmy Griffith, CU's first star athlete in the sport back in the late 1940's. He was set to become the Buffs' first Olympian skier, but two months before the 1952 Oslo winter games, he died days after an accident in a training run in Utah.
Four of the nine were elected on their first year on the ballot: Biekert, Davis, Johnson and Tharp; Griffith was the selection of the veteran's committee. 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.
Tharp will become the fifth CU athletic director to be inducted, joining Harry Carlson (1927-65), Eddie Crowder (1965-84), Dr. Jane Wahl (CU's first women's AD, 1975-79) and Bill Marolt (1984-96). The Hall wouldn't exist for it not being Tharp's brainchild to create one back in 1997. CU had its Athletic Hall of Honor as noted above, but never had a Hall of Fame that strictly honored athletic achievements. In addition to leading the department for the better part of nine years from 1996 through 2004, Tharp also came up with the idea for CU's unique Living Legends program, created the BuffVision department and oversaw the addition of the club seats and suites on the east side of Folsom Field, among numerous other accomplishments.
"I am truly surprised, humbled and honored by this special recognition, Tharp said. "My first assignment for Athletics was 50 years ago this month when I started as a research assistant in the Office of University Counsel. Through it all, my family and I remain loyal Buffs. I want to thank the committee and A.D. Rick George for the opportunity to join a group of individuals who make up the special history of Colorado Athletics."
Frederick enrolled at CU two years before Title IX came into being, but used the athletic department facilities to train for the '72 Olympics and played a key role in establishing a varsity track and field program before she graduated in 1973. The Association for Intercollegiate Athletics for Women (AIAW) was founded in 1971, and she became CU's first female national champion in any sport when she won the pentathlon title in the organization's second national meet, held in San Francisco in May 1973.
"There were five of us I think who established the first CU women's track team in late 1972 and early 1973," Frederick said. "After some legal advice, Eddie Crowder had capitulated to our requests to create an official women's track and field team, which under the first-stage requirements of Title IX, gave us access to athletic department facilities, the right to officially represent CU in competition, and a coach (Lyle Knudsen, a math teacher at Broomfield High School and the coach of the local AAU club, the Colorado Gold). We all had previously been working with him, so Crowder hired him for $500 to make him official and he got the keys to the equipment, gates to the track, etc."
"I look forward to having my family be present so that we can finally enjoy together, what after all these years of being unofficial, has always been their loving vision of my legacy at CU," she added.
Willcox was an Olympian prior to enrolling at CU as she competed in the 1976 summer games in Montreal as a 17-year old; she had an impressive amateur resume and was fourth in the individual qualifying to earn a spot on the roster. There, she played a major role in upgrading the United States' international image by finishing 18th – 10 places higher than any previous U.S. gymnast in Olympic competition.
She was pivotal in helping CU to a 13-2 record and a second place finish in the Big Eight as a freshman in 1978-79. She was the Big Eight and AIAW regional individual champion and was nearly undefeated throughout the season; she likely would have been the national champion had she not suffered torn ligaments in her last event at the regional.
"This means a lot to me, it was so exciting when I found out," she said. "I am so grateful and honored to be inducted into the CU Athletic Hall of Fame. I am excited to be joining such great athletes, coaches and directors."
"Thinking back, I had so much fun, we worked hard in the gym, but we really had a great time overall, both the men's and women's teams – we were a very close group," Willcox recalled. "We had all these contests together that really built up strength and discipline. The coaches were amazing and really cared about outr lives and characters, and really helped us not only in the sport but in life. They really structured things for our future, and I believe all of my future was built on my gymnastics career. When I interviewed for jobs, I told employers that I'm dedicated, determined, willing to work long hours and strive for excellence and it really helped my career path."
Two distinct memories she had included, "people I really appreciated like my trainer Andy Pruitt. He put me back together and never let me get depressed. And I remember selling visors at football games (to raise money for the program). That alone was a great workout going up and down the stadium steps all day."
Davis is the third player along with head coach Eddie Crowder to be inducted who played on CU's 1971 football team, which finished 10-2 and ranked third in the nation. It was the first 10-win season in school history and the highest final ranking at the time, and with Nebraska No. 1 and Oklahoma No. 2, the only time in college football history one conference had the top three teams in the final rankings. Receiver/kick returner Cliff Branch was inducted in 2010, defensive end Herb Orvis in 2014.
A key performer on offense, he ran for a school record 1,386 yards that season (still the fifth-most through 2021), including two "monster" games in September. He ran for 174 yards and two touchdowns in CU's 31-21 win at No. 9 Louisiana State, and two weeks later rushed for 135 yards in the Buffaloes' 20-14 win at No. 6 Ohio State. Later that year, he set a record that still stands 51 years later when he galloped for 342 yards (on 34 carries) in a 40-6 rout of Oklahoma State in Boulder.
Grevsgaard is the fourth member of CU's 2006 NCAA championship team who will be inducted into the Hall. She joins head coach Richard Rokos, alpine skier Lucie Zikova and fellow Nordic performer Jana (Rehemaa) Weinberger in the Hall. That was a special team, the first and only one in NCAA history that went from sixth after the first day to winning the title, from 52 points down to one of the largest margins of victory (98); the Buffs also did it one skier short of a full squad.
An eight-time All-American (out of eight possible honors), CU's first eight-timer in skiing, Grevsgaard was CU's Female Athlete of the Year for 2007-08 and the Female Career Athletic Achievement Award winner as a senior. She won 24 career races (15 classic, nine freestyle), the most by any skier, male or female, in CU's illustrious skiing history.
"I am still a proud buffalo and am really honored to be inducted to CU's Athletic Hall of Fame," Grevsgaard said. "The four years in Boulder, at CU and on the ski team, are by far some of the best years of my life. Early morning training at Eldora, long van rides to training camp and races, and hours of training and studying at Dal Ward with all the other athletes. It was all like a dream. The ski team was like a family throughout my college career."
"I feel really honored to join my former teammates and coach in the Hall of Fame," she continued. "They were all great teammates and friends that accomplished so much for the ski team. The 2006 NCAA championship is a great memory as is 2008, when both Lucie and I won both our races and reached the top of the podium.
George let Weinberger call her former teammate to inform her of her selection.
"I was really surprised when Jana called me about the news," Grevsgaard said. "Jana was my teammate and role model my first year at CU. We developed a great friendship and still keep in touch. I am really excited to come back to Colorado in October to see her, Richie and hopefully more members of the ski team family."
Johnson was affectionately known as "Yo-Yo" – the Colorado Sportswoman of the Year and the Colorado Sports Hall of Fame Amateur Athlete of the Year for 1986, then Governor Dick Lamm proclaimed June 25, 1986 at "Yolanda Johnson Day." One of the first premier female high school track recruits in state history, then CU head coach, the late Jerry Quiller, signed her to a letter-of-intent in the spring that year when she was also named Gatorade's National Track & Field Athlete of the Year.
After an outstanding collegiate career, earning three first-team All-American honors with her name still all over the CU record book, Quiller hired her as an assistant coach in 1992, a position she held for eight years. Many of her athletes had key finishes in helping CU win the last Big Eight Outdoor title in 1996.
"I am so incredibly honored to receive this award," Johnson said. "Track and field has opened so many doors for me and it continues to be a blessing. As time passes, we forget about all the sweat, tears and hard work we've put into our sports. This award is a friendly reminder for me to celebrate my past accomplishments and the contributions I've made to the sport of track and field."
Almost every induction class has some kind of link between two or more members. This particular class has two teammates who knocked heads in practice from 1988 through 1991 in Leeuwenburg and Biekert. Leeuwenburg was in CU's small 1987 recruiting class, Biekert in the larger '88 group; both redshirted as true freshmen and before they both would play in the NFL, each would be a part of three Big Eight Conference champion teams and the 1990 national championship squad.
Biekert finished his career second all-time leading tackler with 441 behind Barry Remington; he still ranks third all-time some three decades later. He became just the second player at the time to lead the Buffs three straight years in tackles, joining Remington. A two-time recipient of CU's Dave Jones Award as the most outstanding defensive player and a two-time All-Big Eight performer, he remains the only player in CU history to score a defensive extra point, his 2-point runback against Nebraska in the 19-19 tie game in 1991 that eventually led to the two schools sharing the league crown.
Biekert was one of 10 semifinalists for the 1992 Butkus Award, with teammate and CU Hall of Famer Chad Brown also one of the ten; a member of the selection committee relayed that if you had added their votes together, they totaled more than eventual winner received (Florida State's Marvin Jones).
"I'm extremely honored to be included into the University of Colorado Athletic Hall of Fame," Biekert said. "Joining such a talented group of former athletes, coaches and administrators across all sports is truly humbling."
Leeuwenburg was CU's fourth unanimous All-American at the time when honored for his play at center in 1991; he was an honorable mention performer as a junior on Colorado's 1990 national champion team and a first-team Big Eight selection both seasons, the first CU center at the time to be honored twice with All-League honors. A three-year starter, he was the snapper on three Big Eight champion teams as he had over 2,200 plays in his career. One of the few offensive linemen to be selected as the Collegiate Athlete of the Year by the Colorado Sports Hall of Fame (for 1991).
"It's a great honor to be selected for induction and it's an honor to come in with Greg and join a group of previous teammates already in," Leeuwenburg said. "Football is a team sport and we had a heckuva team, so it's really a credit to the teams that I was on, winning the three Big Eight titles back-to-back-to-back and finishing as the number one ranked team. It's an honor joining so many previous teammates already in the Hall, and don't forget the coaching staff, Mac (Bill McCartney) and Brian (Cabral) are also in. Six of Mac's staff went on to become head coaches. It was a pretty exceptional time for CU football, there are some great people and legacies there, and I am proud to be a part of it."
Biekert and Leeuwenburg join 10 of their teammates between 1988 and 1991 previously selected for the Hall: Eric Bieniemy, Chad Brown, Deon Figures, Joe Garten, Darian Hagan, Chris Hudson, Mike Pritchard, Kordell Stewart, Michael Westbrook and Alfred Williams. Biekert was on the same '92 team with inductees Chris Naeole, Matt Russell and Rashaan Salaam.
Leeuwenburg was also was an inspiration to many, as he was diagnosed with Type I diabetes as an eighth grader, but it never let him deter from what he wanted to accomplish in life.
Griffith is considered CU's first star in its most heralded sport of skiing, as the Buffaloes own 20 national championships. He starred for the team before the NCAA took over sponsorship of the sport in the late 1940s. He was the first Buff to win a collegiate meet, doing so as a freshman in 1947, and was also crowned the 1950 U.S. champion in the downhill with several wins and top performances in-between. He was on the U.S. National Team and was named to the Olympic squad (in November '51) and was preparing to go to the 1952 Olympics is Oslo when he died in a training accident. He suffered a nasty fall in a downhill run at Utah's Alta ski area on Dec. 2, 1951 and died four days later of a blood clot (he was just 22).
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 140 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.
The group will officially be inducted in the Hall of Fame over the course of Oct. 27-29 (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-Arizona State football game on Saturday, Oct. 29, the centerpiece of Homecoming, to complete the weekend. The nine will be joined by the inaugural inductees into the Hall's new Legacy Wing, CU's superfans, "The Twins," Peggy Coppom and the late Betty Hoover, as well as the two new members of the resurrected Athletic Hall of Honor, Jim Hansen and Dr. Eric McCarty.