Schaake paved the way

Saturday, May 30, 2009

It’s always amazing how the all-around brilliance of the late Elmer Schaake falls through the cracks when Lawrence High and Kansas University sports stars are recounted. He was a super athlete at LHS and KU, posted a nifty football coaching record at LHS, enjoyed coaching success in seven other collegiate and high school venues and is included in the Kansas All-Sports Hall of Fame.

Why is somebody of that caliber so often semi-overlooked? My guess is that he came along too early to tantalize today’s media “historians” and died too soon to have his amazing record reviewed with any element of longevity.

Doug Vance has been doing what is a terrific article on locally oriented athletic legends for the Lawrence Magazine. It was Doug’s research that renewed my reverence for the achievements of Elmer, pronounced Shockey.

After streaking brilliantly across the high school horizon as an all-sport Lion, Elmer went to KU and starred as a sophomore halfback on the 1930 Jayhawk team. That was the LAST Crimson and Blue grid unit to win an outright league (Big Six) championship. Elmer glistened again in 1931 and ’32 and earned all-league honors while leading the loop in scoring.

Basketball coach Phog Allen loved to have football types to rattle enemy bones and installed Elmer as a starting guard when Schaake was a 1932-33 senior. At 5-foot-10 and 195 pounds, Elmer helped Phog and KU win another league court title. One year, he was chosen all-league second-team.

In the fall of ’33, Schaake played pro football with the Portsmouth, Ohio, Spartans, who by ’34 became the Detroit Lions. Weary of the battering, Elmer began coaching, which he enjoyed the most, with four years at Bethany College in Lindsborg. Then he came home for the 1938-42 seasons to coach Lawrence High. Schaake set the stage for later leaders such as Chalmer Woodard, Al Woolard, Bill Freeman and Dick Purdy with a 29-11-4 record. That included a departing 8-0 in ’42.

In wartime 1943, Henry Shenk asked Elmer to help him as a Kansas football assistant; he did so, also assisting Phog Allen in basketball. The next season, Schaake got a good offer and went West. He lived and worked there until his death in January of 1966 after a heart attack. He was only 54.

He successfully coached at Willamette University in Salem, Ore.; Modesto, Calif., Junior College; and at Dinuba and Burlingame high schools in California. Burlingame liked him so much it gave him a lifetime contract.

Elmer’s wife was the former Lois Parker of Lawrence; they had a son, Bruce, and a daughter, Joann. A nephew, Bill, was a sports standout at Lawrence High and lettered in football and basketball at KU.

Kansas state high school football titles weren’t in vogue until after World War II. For a while, media polls determined them; finally the playoffs began. At last check, LHS is still the only prep team in the nation with 31 unbeaten seasons.

Give Elmer Schaake credit for setting the stage for Woodard’s 58-6-2 record here (four state titles) before leaving for McPherson. Woolard followed with 154-12-5 for 19 seasons (13 titles).

All the later guys benefited from the firm foundation Elmer Schaake helped build.