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Friday, May 30, 2008

Mayer: LHS, Omaha and back

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The sports realm has a fabulous way of assembling people for a common goal, dispersing them like those whirlygigs that spin off in a zillion directions in a July 4 aerial display, then somehow re-assembling some of them in a single spot, in this case, Lawrence. Often, totally by happenstance.

This scenario deals with dentist Mark Edwards, physician Dan Severa, Free State football coach Bob Lisher, construction executive Lee Queen, Kansas football promoter Pat Henderson and their multi-talented families. Fiction writers on acid might not be able to concoct such a tale.

After athletic careers at Lawrence High, Edwards, Lisher and Queen apprenticed in football at the junior-college level, then were recruited to Division II Nebraska-Omaha by Henderson. Lisher couldn't finish out due to knee injuries and graduated at KU. Edwards, pre-dental, and Severa, a pre-med Nebraskan, started as defensive backs for UNO in 1980. Queen was a starting center on that team, rated No. 1 nationally most of the year.

Queen not only enjoyed football and got an education at UNO, but gained an extra-special bonus by meeting an Omaha girl named Lori. They celebrate their 25th wedding anniversary this year.

Head coach of that '80 crew was Sandy Buda, an Omahan who played end at KU and assistant-coached at both KU and Kansas State. Later, Lawrence High's Mike Nieder and Charlie Hagen also played UNO football.

Fast forward 28 years, without any communicative planning by any of the parties.

Queen is in construction here, and Lisher is the top-notch Free State grid coach. The Edwards, Severa and Pat Henderson families all have settled here, Edwards and Severa living only a block apart. Henderson's daughter, Kelli, born in Omaha, just started her Lawrence pediatric dentistry practice. Edwards, Severa and Kelli all practice their professions within a quarter-mile radius.

Henderson, about whom these guys can't say enough favorable, flattering things, has assisted at some 10 other schools. A former KU end under Don Fambrough, he joined Mark Mangino's Kansas staff six years ago. He is now assistant athletic director in charge of football relations/traditions. You couldn't get a better guy in that role.

Severa's daughter, Kendyll, and Edwards' son, Trent, were gifted three-sport athletes with 4.0 grade-point averages at Southwest Junior High and will attend Lawrence High. They were named the female and male Bulldog athletes of the year.

Asked about this incredible chain of happenstance, Mark Edwards stresses that the most special aspect is the role coach Henderson played in recruiting people like Mark, Queen, Lisher and Severa, then guiding them so productively. "I deeply appreciate what he has done for me and my family and how he helps people not only in football but in life," Mark says, with obvious feeling. "Pat has a gift that can't be taught. He can read each individual and figure out how to instill confidence, mold positive behavior and bring out their best. I hope he and his family realize how much I, and so many others, appreciate what he's done. He's had a great career as a coach, parent and boss. All of us should try to do what he has done and can do with young people."

The ex-players insist Pat Henderson is the focal point of a story so totally random yet marvelously uplifting.

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