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What do you call an attorney who spends six months a year refereeing in the NFL?
A man who’s so obsessed with statutes and rules that he doesn’t have any time for fun?
Not so fast, my Husker friends.
Clete Blakeman may be steeped in facts and buried in regulations, but he’s hoping his newest gig will be as liberating – and as fun – as anything he’s experienced since he played quarterback at Nebraska two decades ago.
So why would such a busy man become president of the N-Club?
“Because I was elected,” Blakeman said. “I never would have accepted the challenge if I didn’t think we could re-energize the organization and get some things done. As much as I enjoy law and as much as I love officiating, I also wanted to do something that would keep me connected to Husker athletics. This should be fun because the main goal is to unify letterwinners across all Nebraska sports, and the most appealing thing to me is how much this job will be driven by tradition – something everyone seems ready to embrace.”
Blakeman, 44, is a Norfolk, Nebraska, native who lettered three years at Nebraska. He last played in 1987 when he backed up Steve Taylor on a team that was ranked No. 1 nationally before Oklahoma beat the Huskers that November.
Through the Years, His Interests Broadened
“I wish I would have known then what I know now,” Blakeman said. “I was so busy with football that the only other Nebraska sporting event I attended was basketball. Now, I’m a fan of so many other sports. The products we’re putting out there are incredible – volleyball, wrestling, track, gymnastics, baseball . . . you name it, and we’re competing at a high level. The volleyball Final Four in December was one of the most exciting Nebraska events I’ve ever seen.”
Yes, Clete Blakeman has come full circle and is now truly “a man for all seasons.”
“I’m excited to say that we have every sport – men’s and women’s – represented on our new 35-member N-Club Board of Directors,” he said. “Tom Osborne coming back as athletic director was a boost for all of us in every sport. He thought it was time to give the N-Club back to the letterwinners, and everyone in the organization seems to agree.”
According to Osborne, the N-Club “should be what the N-Club members want it to be and not necessarily what the athletic department administration dictates that it should be. So if they want to have four events a year or two events a year, it should be up to them. What type of event they want should be pretty much up to them as well.”
Don’t, however, confuse empowered decision-making with Laissez-faire policy. “We feel it’s important that the N-Club dovetail in some way with the overall mission of the athletic department or the purpose of the university,” Osborne said.
That’s why the N-Club plans to run all funds through the Husker Athletic Fund – to make sure there are no violations. “We don’t want anything that could even be perceived as wrong,” Osborne said. “We will be in sync with all rules and regulations.”
In attorney/referee/president Clete Blakeman, the bases are all covered. “I’ve been impressed with the way Clete is getting this organization restructured,” Osborne said. “I think he has good vision and relates well with people. He understands that the N-Club is not just for football. It should represent all sports, and Clete is making sure there is leadership representation for everyone. He made that an important part of the group’s new mission.”
Attention to Detail Took Him to the NFL
Osborne wasn’t surprised. Blakeman’s former coach continues to see him as thoughtful, intelligent and a quick study. “Clete started some games for us and was a very good quarterback,” he said. “Of course, his attention to detail and his organizational leadership is reflected in how quickly he’s risen in the officiating ranks. He was one of the top officials in the Big 12 Conference, and now he’s in the NFL. He’s obviously a person that picks things up quickly and is able to make good judgments.”
Nebraska’s man for all seasons is also a leader for all age groups. “In our first organizational meeting, we had some athletes who played here in the 1950s and others who played here in just the last couple of years,” Osborne pointed out. “Having played in the ‘80s, Clete is right in the middle of those groups. He’s old enough to be recognizable to some of the older players and relates well with them, yet he’s young enough to relate to the younger student-athletes as well.”
Larry Frost, a wingback for the Huskers in the late 1960s and father of 1997 Nebraska national champion quarterback Scott Frost, is vice president of the N-Club. “There are two things that excite me most about reviving the N-Club,” Frost said. “First, as an alum, we can actively support the future of Nebraska athletics in many ways. And secondly, we can locate and again interact with many of the athletic friends we enjoyed from our era and meet athletes who participated before and after our years at Nebraska.”
Jami (Kubik) Hagedorn, a four-time Nebraska women’s basketball letterwinner (1995-98), works in the athletic department as a manager in human resources and finance. She’s the N-Club’s new treasurer and is teaming with football letterman and fellow board member Dave Liegl (1978-80) to rewrite the bylaws, so the organization has tax-exempt status and can operate under the umbrella of the Husker Athletic Fund.
Former Husker basketball standout Beau Reid (1988-91) is helping the N-Club develop a new web site that will be integrated into what’s already on Huskers.com and enable members to connect, communicate and control the most timely and relevant information available.
Calling All Letterwinners: Check In and Sign Up
Former Husker I-back Tim Wurth (1977-79) is the N-Club’s new secretary. He’s helping Blakeman and fellow board members reach out and find another 4,293 all-time Nebraska letterwinners. Currently, the athletic director’s office has accurate contact information for 4,464 of the 8,757 NU letterwinners in all sports.
Hagedorn hopes letterwinners respond in droves to update their contact information on Huskers.com. “The best thing about revitalizing the N-Club,” she said, “is being able to bring everyone together again for a common cause. I have former teammates who now live in California, Florida and Oklahoma. With N-Club events as the draw, letterwinners can come back for a weekend reunion of sorts every year.”
Without accurate contact information for about half of its potential membership, communications is a challenge. “We have to rely on our existing members, as well as operations people in each sport, plus board members, to help us update our list and make it more relevant on a weekly basis,” Wurth said.
Most of the responsibility, though, will fall on the letterwinners themselves. “They need to connect to the new social network that’s being set up through the N-Club,” said Doak Ostergard, the athletic department’s outreach director who will work closely with the organization. “So many letterwinners from the past have fallen off the radar, so it’s pretty much up to them to get back on. It won’t be a quick process, but over time, as word gets out, members can create their own momentum.”
Wurth is ready to dig in and help. “It’s my time to give back, so I’ve strapped on my gear and started working,” he said. “For the first time since ‘Moon’ Mullins and Don Bryant approached me in 1980 about getting involved in the N-Club, we have an athletic director that understands the value of having an alumni letterwinners club. Now, we can take ownership in the club, based on a workable relationship with the athletic department and the support of the athletic director.
“I wanted to be a part of that effort, so I volunteered to be on the board and then was elected secretary,” Wurth said. “I’ve seen how Clete has taken on the captain’s role and hit the ground running, so the rest of us need to move fast, too. For the next year, this board has dedicated itself to getting the N-Club back on track – to support all letterwinners in any way that our membership sees fit. We’ve structured ourselves on principles we’ve learned from our coaches and mentors – unmatched work ethic, respect for others, teamwork and class. That’s how we’re building an organization that we think the athletic department and our letterwinners can be proud of.”
First Function – a Pre-Spring Game Tailgate
The N-Club will sponsor three or four events in its first year of revival. The board has approved its first official all-letterwinner event under its new leadership – a tailgate party before Nebraska’s annual Spring Football Game on Saturday, April 18. Non-football letterwinners who want a ticket to the Spring Game can purchase tickets on-line at Huskers.com, by phone at 1-800-8-BIG-RED, or in person at the NU Athletic Ticket Office. Reserved tickets are $10 each. A sellout is expected, so quick action is required.
On the Friday before the Spring Game, the football letterwinners also will host both their annual golf tournament at Lincoln’s Himark Golf Course and their annual dinner at the Hawks Championship Center. “The highlight of the banquet will be awarding letter jackets to our new football lettermen,” Blakeman said. “We think that’s a big deal, and we’re going to make it a big deal. We have some ideas that we hope all sports will follow in bringing in new letterwinners at their end-of-the-season banquets or whenever else it might be appropriate.”
Blakeman wants to unify the N-Club and give its members meaningful and memorable shared experiences. “It won’t be easy,” Osborne said, “but Clete is very structured, a good communicator and creative enough to pull some interesting events together – things that maybe we haven’t done at Nebraska before.”
For insight and advice, Blakeman went to his N-Club presidential predecessor, former walk-on tight end Mitch Krenk (1981-82).
“Over the last three or four years, Mitch breathed as much life into the N-Club as possible,” Blakeman said. “But he was among the first to agree that we needed to open this organization up and reach out to every Nebraska letterwinner we can find. We have a rich history in almost every sport, and now we’re all back under the same umbrella. I don’t know anyone who doesn’t feel good about being together again.”
Tradition will be emphasized in almost every decision the N-Club will make. “I stood next to Brett Favre for the coin flip before the last NFL game he ever played,” Blakeman said. “Everyone knew it was potentially his last game, and it was so emotional I could hardly speak.”
Every Nebraska letterwinner has probably experienced that same lump in their throat the last time they competed as a Husker.
“We want to bring as many of our letterwinners back together whenever we can,” Blakeman said. “And when we do, we want to honor our tradition every chance we get because the longer we’re all around, the more we realize that there really is no place like Nebraska.”