Greatness in sports can come in different forms, compressed into a singular moment and/or spread across time. So it is now with the 2013 class of new members for the Colorado Springs Sports Hall of Fame, unveiled this week for induction at the annual banquet on Oct. 29.
The six individuals clearly stand out for their achievements over time: Matt Carpenter, such a dominant presence in the Pikes Peak Marathon; Nick Sanborn, who influenced the Pikes Peak International Hill Climb as a five-time winner in the stock-car division before later guiding the race's operations; Dick Westbay, who coached Wasson High School to years of football success and a state title; Jeff Sauer, former Colorado College hockey player and head coach en route to a sterling career; Bonnie Blair, the U.S. speedskating superstar who ruled at the 1988, 1992 and 1994 Winter Olympics; and Luis Medina, a remarkable hitter and role model playing for the Colorado Springs Sky Sox (1988-91) after their local rebirth.
The Hall of Fame's team inductee, Rampart High School's boys basketball state champions of 1987, distinguished themselves by winning the Class 3A title with a perfect 24-0 record, coached by Rick Starzecki and led by Kevin Belt, Dave Tomlinson, Mike Nelson, Tim Cameron and Mike Schroath.
Besides their lengthy credentials, the individuals had their own extraordinary moments. For instance, Carpenter twice has pulled off the amazing double of winning the Pikes Peak Ascent and Marathon on consecutive days. Westbay, an outstanding athlete at Colorado Springs High School, later coached many superior teams at Wasson, in particular the 1971 state champions (previously inducted). Blair, who calls Colorado Springs her adopted home after so many training camps (and with a few relatives) here, won the 500-meter Olympic gold in three of her four Winter Games.
I'd like to single out Sauer here. His coaching career eventually led him to Wisconsin, where he took the Badgers to NCAA championships in 1983 and 1990, and he remains involved today with various USA Hockey programs. But perhaps his best coaching job came in 1978.
After a subpar regular season, he took Colorado College into the Western Collegiate Hockey Association playoffs with a losing record. But the Tigers had a good mixture of veterans and younger players, including Dave Delich (an earlier inductee into the Springs Hall of Fame), Greg Whyte, Dave Feamster, Dean Magee, Jim Warner, Tom Frame, Paul Mitchell and a backup goaltender named Scott Owens, the CC head coach today.
For the first round, the Tigers had to travel to Minnesota, coached by the legendary Herb Brooks and with several players who later would join Brooks to create the Miracle on Ice at the 1980 Winter Olympics in Lake Placid, N.Y. But the "miracle" in 1978 belonged to the Tigers. After a 3-3 tie the first night, CC stunned the Gophers 5-4 to prevail in total goals, 8-7.
That meant the Tigers then had to visit arch-rival University of Denver for a two-game series against a powerhouse DU team, considered by many as the nation's best that season. It was a deafening atmosphere inside the musty old DU arena, with Queen's "We Are the Champions" (it was new then) blaring and fans screaming.
CC entered that series as a decided underdog, but shocked the Pioneers in the opener, 6-3. Denver actually won the finale, 4-3, but that wasn't enough to overcome the total-goals deficit.
If you check WCHA records since 1960, that year is the only time when Colorado College won or shared the WCHA postseason title. (The WCHA's Final Five tournament replaced the old series format in the mid-1980s.) Wisconsin and CC, recognized as co-champions for the 1978 playoffs, didn't meet again as both advanced to the six-team NCAA tourney, but lost in the next round.
That historical note takes on added meaning now, with Colorado College leaving the WCHA with others to start the National Collegiate Hockey Conference. Meanwhile, Minnesota and Wisconsin will join the Big Ten's hockey league.
But Jeff Sauer stands among the WCHA's most influential figures of the past half-century, which makes him a fitting choice now as part of this Hall of Fame class.