NU's first Big Ten Conference Medal of Honor winners were Ashley Miller and Tyler Hitchler.
Photo by Scott Bruhn/Nebraska Communications

100th Anniversary for Big Ten Medal of Honor

By NU Athletic Communications

Randy York's N-Sider

Official Blog of the Huskers

As Nebraska continues to assimilate and prepare for its fourth season in the Big Ten Conference, most Big Red fans remember such legendary names as John Wooden (Purdue), Jerry Lucas (Ohio State) and Tony Dungy (Minnesota). Most of us, however, probably don’t recognize such names as Mike Hopkins (Illinois), Jennifer Hsia (Indiana) and Keith Nosbusch (Wisconsin).

Wooden coached UCLA to an NCAA record 10 national basketball championships. Lucas was a three-time All-America player, two-time National Player of the Year, seven-time NBA All-Star and a member of the Basketball Hall of Fame. Dungy ended his career as Minnesota’s all-time leader in passing and touchdowns before going on to become the first African-American coach to win a Super Bowl Championship.

Hopkins (football), Hsia (tennis) and Nosbusch (football) were not necessarily well-known athletic names beyond their own schools, but all were solid academic student-athletes who became highly successful professionals – Hopkins as a flight engineer for the International Space Station who’s been orbiting in space for months before returning back on earth last month; Hsia as an otolaryngologist at Minnesota who cares for patients with obstructive sleep apnea and sleep-disorder breathing, and Nosbusch as the current chairman and CEO of Rockwell Automation.

8,200 Student-Athletes Competing in the Big Ten

All six of those former Big Ten student-athletes were Big Ten Medal of Honor winners, and their conference has grown in stature just like their legends have grown. More than 8,200 student-athletes now compete in the Big Ten, and the conference is rightfully making a big deal of its Big Ten Medal of Honor 100th anniversary celebration. The nation’s oldest intercollegiate conference considers the Medal of Honor the most exclusive and prestigious award in collegiate athletics because of 1) its rich and unparalleled history; and 2) its emphasis on and recognition of combined academic and athletic success.

The Big Ten fits Nebraska’s longtime goal of Success in Academics, Success in Athletics and Success in Life. The Big Ten Medal of Honor winners have, in fact, made major contributions in business, education, finance, law, media, medicine, philanthropy, politics, science, sports, and yes, even writing.

Pete Gent, for instance, is a Michigan State graduate and distinguished alum. He’s the author of a semi-autobiographical novel entitled North Dallas Forty, published in 1973 and turned into a pro football-related movie in 1979. A star basketball player for MSU in the 1960s, Gent did not play college football. But he tried out with Dallas as a receiver and ended up playing five NFL seasons with the Cowboys. Count Tom Osborne as one who read Gent’s best-selling novel. Not to be outdone, former Michigan football player David Nelson authored seven books on football, including a year-by-year chronicle of how collegiate football playing rules evolved from 1876 to 1971. A former player, coach, athletic director and author, Nelson was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame in 1987. He served three decades as Secretary-Editor of the NCAA’s Football Rules Committee.

Elite Company for Hitchler, Miller, Barrefors, Weatherholt

Since the Big Ten Medal of Honor is awarded to one male and one female student-athlete of each member institution each year, Nebraska has had four such honorees in its first two years in the conference. Tyler Hitchler and Ashley Miller, both Husker track and field student-athletes, received Big Ten Medals of Honor in 2012. Björn Barrefors (track and field) and Mary Weatherholt (tennis) earned 2013 Big Ten Medal of Honor awards.

Nebraska’s 2014 Student-Athlete of the Year/Big Ten Medal of Honor winners will be announced at its annual Student-Athlete Academic Banquet Sunday night at Lincoln’s Downtown Embassy Suites Hotel. Nearly three years ago, Nebraska Athletics’ senior management team decided to award the Big Ten Medal of Honor to its Student-Athlete of the Year winners on an annual basis. “We have a long history for our award, and the basic criteria is fairly similar to the Big Ten’s, so it’s only appropriate that we combine our awards to reflect the amazing 100-year history of the Big Ten’s Medal of Honor,” said Dennis Leblanc, Nebraska’s Senior Associate Athletic Director for Academics. 

The Big Ten’s innovative launch of its 100-day campaign to announce this year’s honorees celebrates the annual Medal of Honor winners from the 12 current Big Ten schools. That number will increase to 14 when Maryland and Rutgers join the conference this summer. The integrated effort to celebrate Medal of Honor winners from the past 99 years extends through June 18 and includes profiling notable winners with their inspiring stories each day through social media channels and on the official Big Ten Conference Website.

Keep up with and stay tuned to The N-Sider Sunday night and Monday as we announce the academic and leadership accomplishments of Nebraska student-athletes over the past year. The more you read, the more you’ll know why the Big Ten Medal of Honor is already a vital part of what we do best and why we consider this century-old award an inherent part of our overall brand.

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