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A total of 223 student-athletes have combined to earn Nebraska’s nation-leading 307 Academic All-America awards, and more than half of the individuals who produced them over the last half century were recognized at halftime of Saturday’s nationally televised Nebraska-Michigan State game. Fans remember those who succeeded at the highest levels in both athletics and academics, but the real celebration was a Friday night reception in West Memorial Stadium, the home of the Dick and Peg Herman Student Life Complex. Bjorn Barrefors, Nebraska’s 2013 Student-Athlete of the Year, attended the reunion and since he is the Huskers’ first and only four-time Academic All-American, he will lead Nebraska’s contingent onto the field Saturday.
Husker Academic All-Americans are an interesting bunch of high achievers, and their occupations reflect their diversified skill sets. Barrefors, for instance, is now a Ph.D. student in computer science at UNL. Once he achieves that degree, doors will open for multiple opportunities for the native of Sweden. A second-team Academic All-American his first year, Barrefors earned first-team honors in his last three years at Nebraska. Three other Huskers have won three first-team Academic All-America honors. One is former Husker National Basketball Player of the Year Karen Jennings, a physical therapist before switching careers and becoming one of Omaha’s top realtors. Two former volleyball players – Virginia Stahr Gee and Sarah Pavan Schultz – are NU’s other three-time, first-team Academic All-Americans. Stahr Gee is a physical therapist preparing to open her own integrative health clinic in Cody, Wyoming, and Pavan Schultz is a professional volleyball player who competed in Italy and Brazil before switching to beach volleyball last summer.
National Champion Adkins: Emergency Room Doctor
About 20 Academic All-Americans in Lincoln this weekend are doctors, including John Adkins, a defensive end starter on Bob Devaney’s first national championship team in 1970 and still an emergency room doctor at Bon Secours Hospital in Silver Spring, Maryland. The honored contingent also features its fair share of attorneys, including Omaha’s Rik Bonness, a 1975 first-team All-America center and first-team Academic All-American. Some honorees are retired. Some are presidents, CEOs, senior VPs and managing partners. The group includes athletic directors, auditors and analysts… coaches, counselors and consultants … scientists, stock brokers and sales managers. Some are in radiology, others in anesthesiology. There are teachers, researchers, service managers, business owners, farmers, veterinarians and dentists. Nebraska has pro football players and pro volleyball players. They are managing editors and managing directors. Some have the hardest job in the world – stay at home moms and at least one stay at home dad
In 2001, John Cole was a member of Nebraska’s baseball team and a first-team Academic All-American. That same year, Shannon Tanaka was a member of the Husker soccer team and a second-team Academic All-American. Perhaps you’ve guessed where this is going. As far as we can determine, Cole and Tanaka are the only two Nebraska Academic All-Americans who married within their elite ranks. John is now an equity trader for the Royal Bank of Canada’s Capital Markets group in Toronto. Shannon is the manager of Global Partnerships for Maple Leaf Sports & Entertainment in Toronto. John also was a first-team All-America second baseman, and Shannon became a midfielder on the Canadian National Soccer Team. Her hometown is Calgary, Alberta; his is Kanata, Ontario.
Academic Legacy: The Benchmark for College Athletics
Bjorn Barrefors may be in a league of his own, but so are John and Shannon Cole. Congratulations to them and every other Academic All-American who will be standing on Tom Osborne Field Saturday. They deserve to be recognized for achieving a goal that 450,000 student-athletes from 1,066 NCAA institutions strive for every year. They are, after all, Nebraska’s building blocks and Husker role models for an academic legacy that has become the benchmark for all of college athletics.
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