Area's best athletes win recognition

Friday, August 26, 2005

McCook and Culbertson's reputation for producing outstanding people was enhanced this morning when the Omaha World-Herald selected two former area residents among the 100 greatest athletes in Nebraska history.

Honored today were Jeff Kinney of McCook, an All-American running back for the University of Nebraska football team and Steve Brooks of Culbertson, a jockey who rode Ponder to victory in the 1949 Kentucky Derby.

Kinney ranked 99th on the World-Herald's all-time greatest athlete list and Brooks ranked 93rd.

In terms of the single greatest athletic accomplishment, the men would have been even higher on the list. For Kinney, the greatest moment came in the "Game of the Century" against Oklahoma in 1971. In that historic and memorable game, Kinney "bulled trough Oklahoma for 171 yards and four touchdowns in 31 carries." It was the time of the tear-away jersey, and images of Kinney's tattered jersey are symbolic of the total effort given in the game.

Before he rose to stardom at the University of Nebraska, Jeff thrilled Bison fans during an outstanding athletic career at McCook High School.

Although Steve Brooks was identified in the World-Herald as being from McCook, author-historian Walt Sehnert of McCook said Brooks was actually from Culbertson. "Steve Brooks lived an amazing life," Sehnert said. "His family were itinerants who lived in a covered wagon. They camped at the Culbertson fairgrounds in between their travels ."

Brooks outstanding accomplishment came at the 1949 Kentucky Derby, when he rode the colt, Ponder, to a three-length victory at odds of 16-1. In that year alone, he was the top money winner in racing with $1,316,817.

Shortly after the Kentucky Derby win, Brooks had another huge day at Churchill Downs, the World-Herald wrote. On a single day, he won six races, finished second once and third in another.

Brooks, who was born in 1921, died in 1979 from injuries suffered when he was thrown from a horse. Kinney, born in 1949, now lives in the Kansas City area where he is employed by a bank.

It is a distinction for this area to have produced so many outstanding people. A number of governors, senators, corporate leaders and outstanding athletes started on the road to accomplishment in McCook and the other communities of Southwest Nebraska and Northwest Kansas. That says something special about those who have accomplished so much. It also says something special about the area which produced the high achievers.

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