Rare athlete Boehm recalls memorable times

By GREG ECKERLE
Special to the Herald

Four-sport athletes in high school are exceedingly rare. Ones who are good enough to earn 12 varsity letters are rarer still.

Lee Boehm, a 1970 Jasper High School graduate, was such an athlete.

Boehm earned four letters in tennis, three in football, three in baseball, and two in track and field. He started in left field as a sophomore on Jasper’s 1968 baseball state finalist team. He was a two-way football starter, first as a quarterback, then as a running back, and was also a defensive back and the punter. He was a two-year all-conference player, and was named Most Valuable Back on Jasper’s 1969 team. He was a pole vaulter on the track squad. He played varsity tennis for four years, despite never having had a tennis lesson as a youngster.

In the spring, he juggled the playing of three sports — baseball, tennis and track — sometimes competing in two of them on the same day. And he was probably good enough to have played a fifth varsity sport — basketball. He was a starting guard on a freshman basketball team that won the 1967 SIAC freshman tournament, beating teams from New Albany and Evansville. In 1969, he was a member of a Catholic Youth Organization team that won the Evansville Diocesan basketball tournament for high school boys. Boehm was the leading scorer with 17 points in the championship game victory at Haubstadt over an undefeated Haubstadt team. He nailed several late free throws to clinch the 48-47 victory as his team played the final few minutes with only four players, as three others had fouled out.

Boehm had a knack for being around such quirky, unusual incidents. He is good at remembering and telling the stories of the oddities that happened more than 50 years ago. And he doesn’t mind sharing the light-hearted ones that involved him that didn’t go exactly as planned.

Lee Booehm, 1969

He had two memorable punt plays, although on one he didn’t even touch the ball. The first came as a freshman quarterback. The freshman team had yet to designate a punter. So as he ran off the field the first time the team had to punt, a coach told Boehm to go back out and try to punt. “All the linemen ran to cover the punt, but my punt went almost straight up and landed maybe a yard past the line of scrimmage,” Boehm says, laughing, “so I ended up downing my own punt.” His senior year, one gameday downpour turned the field into a thick mud. On one punt, the snapper made the motion to hike the ball, but it was so mud-covered it stuck to his hand, and he sat the ball back down. The official called the ball dead at the spot. The official statistician, not knowing how to score such an unusual development, gave Boehm a punt of zero yards even though no punt occurred.

The summer after Boehm graduated, he visited the football practice field one day to watch some drills. A promising new punter, Jim Wenzel, was practicing his kicks. An assistant coach, Joe Rohleder, asked Boehm to go with Wenzel to the varsity field to watch him punt. “I noticed when Jim was holding the ball, he had it slanted the wrong way,” says Boehm, who suggested Wenzel turn the ball the other way. “We were at the 50 yard line, Jim took one punt, a high spiral, and it landed outside the end zone, meaning it went over 60 yards in the air, on just his first punt. We looked at each other, laughed and walked back to the practice field. I simply told Coach Rohleder, ‘I think he’s got it.’” Wenzel earned a scholarship to a Texas junior college as a punter, and then to Indiana University.

Boehm also had a couple of episodes with speedster Alan D. Dick, arguably Jasper’s best-ever track athlete. After competing in the 1968 state track meet, Dick joined the baseball team. In a game at Springs Valley, Boehm singled and stole second base. Already in scoring position, Boehm was then surprised when Dick came in to pinch run for him. The next batter hit a ground ball to the second baseman, who routinely threw to first for the force out. All the while, Dick was blazing toward home, and scored standing up. The first baseman was so surprised by Dick’s speed and unlikely attempt that he didn’t even throw home. In football, as a sophomore third-string quarterback in pregame warmups, Boehm recalled an unusual instruction from Dick, who was a senior receiver. “He told me to just throw it as high and as far as I can, and he would go get it,” Boehm recalls. Dick, who later played at Indiana University, knew he could run down any ball that had some air underneath it.

Later that season, Boehm played quarterback late in a game where Jasper had a huge lead. In the huddle, several seniors were yelling out plays they wanted Boehm to call. One senior said, “Let’s pass the ball, I’m going to run ‘the hidden route.’ I didn’t know what that play was,” Boehm says. “I had played junior varsity all year, we didn’t have some routes the varsity ran. So I threw the ball somewhere else. The senior comes back, upset, said he was wide open, he was going to run the hidden route again, and to throw it to him. I still don’t know what the route is, so he comes back after the second throw really upset, asking why I didn’t throw him the ball. I thought about how I was going to get out of this, so I said, ‘you’re doing such a good job running that hidden route that I can’t even find you.’ I hoped I wouldn’t get beat up on the bus, but the seniors took it easy on me. I always appreciated that.”

One quirk about high school tennis is that players normally make the calls when an opponent’s shot is out of bounds. Boehm remembers a 1969 match in Evansville when such a system stretched even further. He was playing on an end court in a close match and hit a shot past his opponent for a crucial point that the opponent initially said was good. “I’m getting ready to serve the next point and all of a sudden my opponent says, ‘wait a minute,’” Boehm says. “He turns around, walks back to the fence, where his dad is sitting in a lawn chair. They talk for a couple seconds. Finally, my opponent says, ‘My dad said it was out, so it’s my point.’ I look around, there’s nobody else watching, so what am I going to do?” So Boehm was stuck, and eventually lost the set.

Boehm also recalled the inadvertent burning of almost all the baseball team’s bats on a 1970 trip to Tennessee to play three doubleheaders in three days. The first night was bitterly cold, so some players gathered to warm up around a 55-gallon barrel that had some lit charcoal in the bottom. Someone then hatched the idea to have a student manager lay a bunch of bats across the barrel to heat them up. They figured the heating scheme could be done while they were playing defense, and counted on a routine half inning of 5 to 10 minutes. Except the opponents drew some walks, stroked several hits and scored run after run. “We were probably out on the field for 30 minutes,” Boehm says. “When we came back to get the bats, all the handles were charred black. We maybe had one or two good bats left. A student manager had to tell Coach Noblitt we burned the bats. So he borrowed a couple bats from the other team. And the next morning, he and WITZ sportscaster Bob Simmers got up early to go find a sporting goods store to buy a new supply of bats.”     

 

Greg Eckerle can be reached at gregeckerle@twc.com




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