KEARNEY — To hear Jenni (Miller) Croy tell the story, she owes her athletic success to competitive siblings who found her a bit annoying.
As a youngster, she’d sometimes get her hands on the basketball during games and would do nothing but dribble.
“Shoot the ball!” they’d holler at her.
Once she started shooting, she rarely stopped. Now, she is a member of the inaugural class in the Kearney High School Athletics Hall of Fame.
The Bulldogs honored six individuals and two teams at a banquet Saturday, Sept. 2, at Kearney High School.
“I was blessed when I played here to be surrounded by great teammates and great coaches,” Croy said. “I’m the youngest of four, and my siblings set the bar high for me.
“It’s a huge honor to be here, especially when you see the other inductees.”
In addition to Croy, the individual inductees were:
- Denise (Toney) Bridgeman — basketball, volleyball, track and field;
- Jenifer (Faunce) Fletcher — track and field, cross country;
- Tommy Saunders — football, basketball;
- Brock Christopher — football, basketball; and
- Beau Brinkley — football, basketball.
The 1961 state championship basketball team and the 1998 state championship baseball team were inducted as units.
“It was just amazing,” Randy Grubbs (1963) said about the basketball championship. “We knew we had a great team and we knew we could pull it off. But we had some nail-biters. Highlight of my life.”
Bridgeman graduated in 1975, Fletcher in 1985 and Croy in 1993, yet despite the difference in years, all were trailblazers for female Bulldogs to follow.
Bridgeman remembers when girls didn’t do weight training like the boys did. Despite those characteristics, of the time, she achieved at a high level.
She still holds school rebounding records for a single game, single season and career.
As a track athlete, she participated in the first-ever female state track and field championships, and still owns the school high jump record.
“I feel blessed and privileged,” Bridgeman said about the induction. “That was an exciting time for me.
“I feel blessed that God made me an athlete to do that and now the Hall of Fame. I’m grinning from ear to ear.”
Croy overcame her dribbling habit to set career Bulldog records in points and steals that still stand. At Pittsburg State, she established more records and now leads her own program at North Central Missouri College.
She is the only female Kearney athlete to have her uniform number retired.
“My dad’s 1961 team is being inducted today, my brother-in-law’s 1998 baseball team is being inducted today,” Croy said. “It is a great community to be a part of.”
Fletcher still holds the school’s 1600-meter run record.
All of the inductees have similar accomplishments on their resumes.
Saunders, Christopher and Brinkley all played football at the University of Missouri. Brinkley is the starting long-snapper for the NFL’s Tennessee Titans after his Kearney teammates told Mizzou coaches he had that talent.
“It’s family,” Brinkley said. “It doesn’t matter when you graduated or what sport you played. It’s what I love about this community. It’s one big family.”
The 1961 basketball team went 23-3 and ended the season on a 13-game winning streak. It became Kearney’s first state championship team.
The team endured a few overtime games in the state tournament, but would not be denied its place in school history.
The 1998 baseball team started out a bit rocky. Then coach Doug Starzl held a team meeting.
“I told them they would not lose another game the rest of the year,” he recalled about the 6-5 start. “I told them no one on our schedule was as talented as they were.”
His players rattled off 19 straight wins — and didn’t lose again that season — en route to a Missouri state title.