All nine members of the 1959 CU ski team will be inducted into the CU Athletic Hall of Fame on Oct. 12 for being the first athletic team in CU history to win a national championship.
Head Coach Bob Beattie led the team to an NCAA victory at Winter Park on March 29, 1959. The all male, all American-born team included skiers Frank Brown, Dave Butts, John Dendahl, Norris Durham, Gary Gisle, Bob Gray and Harold Schaeffer. These seven, along with coach Beattie and assistant coach Helge Gagnum, have been nominated as a group to join the class of 2006 inductees.
In individual events at the Winter Park championship, Butts won titles in men’s jumping and men’s Skimeister in 1959. Butts also won the men’s downhill in 1960. The Skimeister award, made popular in Europe in the 1930’s and 1940’s, is given to the skier who has the best combined score of all four events: downhill, Nordic, slalom and cross country.
Dendahl won titles in the men’s Nordic combined and men’s cross country in 1960. He was also a member of the 1960 Winter Olympic team.
Gisle, who was a sophomore at the time, placed 10th in the cross country event and became the youngest skier ever to place that high in that event.
“It was the only event that I could compete in at the varsity level. Either way, I was happy to start as a sophomore,” Gisle said.
Remembering the day of the championship in 1959, Gisle spoke about memories of his team’s persistent efforts.
“It’s hard to describe how we felt at that time. The spirit of our team was that we hung in there and we fought, fought, fought. I think we set a precedent and a legacy for the whole school. You don’t forget those things very easily,” Gisle said.
Also included in the 2006 inductees is Bill Marolt. Although not a member of the 1959 team, Marolt graduated from CU in 1967 and became CU’s head ski coach in 1969, leading the team to seven consecutive national titles from 1972 to 1978. He competed in the world championships in 1962 and 1966 and in the Olympics in 1964. In 1984, he coached the U.S. ski team to a record five medals in the Sarajevo Olympics and later returned to CU in the fall to take the position of athletic director.
According to Bill Harris, director of the Alumni C Club, this is the first year a team has been selected as a whole for nomination. Harris said that the 1959 ski team has been on the voting ballot for four or five years.
“It was just their turn. They took all the votes this year,” Harris said.
Harris explained that the nomination process is an arduous process that is conducted by sending ballots out to numerous CU affiliated persons. Among them include: the board of directors of the C Club, active due paying members of the C Club, members of the athletic club, and former hall of fame inductees. After returned ballots are reviewed, another committee makes the final decision based upon a number of criteria.
All nominees must wait five years after leaving CU, must have achieved All-American standards by the NCAA, have been nationally awarded and trophy winning, and must have been an American record holder.
Nominee coach Beattie came to Colorado from New Hampshire in 1956 fresh out of Middlebury College. Besides coaching the varsity ski team, he also worked as the assistant football coach and director of the intramural sports program. He led the team to its first national championship in 1959 and its second in 1960. The 1959 title was not only a first for CU, but also a first for Beattie, and what he considers to be his greatest accomplishment ever.
“We never had felt that we had it made going into it. We knew it was going to be real tough. (After we won) I cried all night,” Beattie said.
Beattie explained that the greatest challenge the team faced that year was the fact that it was an all America-born team.
“Our greatest competitor was DU, which had mostly foreign kids. Most all other teams had foreigners,” Beattie said.
Beattie has already been inducted into the U.S. National Ski Hall of Fame in 1984 and the Colorado Sports Hall of Fame in 1993. But it is teamwork that makes his 2006 nomination into the CU Hall of Fame a special honor.
“It really means a lot to me. It was a tremendous experience. Skiing is an individual event, but we got along really well and operated as a team,” Beattie said.
Since then, the CU ski team has won 14 more NCAA titles, including their victory last year in Steamboat Springs. Five of these titles were won under the current coach, Richard Rokos.
The induction ceremony will be held at 6 p.m. on Oct. 12 at the Omni Interlocken Hotel. The event is free of charge and open to the public. Eight of the nine members of the nominated ski team are expected to be present.