Nebraska’s first Big Ten Medal of Honor winners were Ashley Miller and Tyler Hitchler in 2012.
Photo by Scott Bruhn/Nebraska Communications

100th Anniversary for Big Ten Medal of Honor

By NU Athletic Communications

Randy York's N-Sider

As Nebraska continues to assimilate itself in preparation of the Huskers’ 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 in college, and they are among the more than 8,200 student-athletes who currently compete in the Big Ten to earn that prestigious award in this the 100th anniversary celebration of the Big Ten Medal of Honor. The nation’s oldest intercollegiate conference considers the Medal of Honor the most exclusive award in collegiate athletics in its recognition of academic and athletic success that go well beyond sports. Big Ten Medal of Honor winners have made major contributions in business, education, finance, law, media, medicine, philanthropy, politics, science, sports, and yes, even writing with such distinguished alumni as Michigan State basketball player and graduate Pete Gent, the author of a semi-autobiographical novel entitled North Dallas Forty, published in 1973 and turned into a movie in 1979. Not to be outdone, former Michigan football player David M. Nelson authored seven books on football, including a year-by-year chronicle of how the collegiate football playing rules evolved from 1876 to 1971.  

Since one male and one female student-athlete from each member institution receives a Big Ten Medal of Honor 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. The 2014 winners will be announced at Nebraska’s Student-Athlete Recognition Banquet Sunday night at Lincoln’s Embassy Suites Hotel. Nearly three years ago, Nebraska’s senior management team decided to award the Big Ten Medal of Honor to the 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. 

100-Day Medal of Honor Campaign Ends June 18 

The Big Ten’s innovative launch of its 100-day campaign to help announce this year’s honorees celebrates the annual Medal of Honor winners from the current 12 schools in the Big Ten, which will add Maryland and Rutgers to 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 and stories each day on social channels and the conference website.

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