Three individuals, one team inducted into Hot Springs Bison Athletics Hall of Fame

Photos by Brett Nachtigall/Fall River County Herald-Star

The latest individual inductees into the Hot Springs Bison Athletics Hall of Fame include, above, the 1963 undefeated Bison football team, and below left, Joe Beehler, Joyce Farrell and Cameron Weiss.  Special guests and honorary members of the Hall of Fame included Hot Springs’ own Miss South Dakotas, below right, from left: Susan Inman Thelen (1971), Penni Larget Hansen (1981), Amy DeHeer Larson (1985), Autumn Simunek Conrad (2015) and Amber Hulse (2019).


By Richard Anderson

HOT SPRINGS – Humble and dedication best describes the two individual athletes, one contributor and one undefeated team that was inducted to the Hot Springs High School Athletics Hall of Fame this Saturday night, Sept. 17, at a packed American Legion.

Named to the 2022 class were athletes Joe Beehler and Cameron Weiss, contributor Joyce Farrell and the 1963 Bison football team that finished unbeaten and won the Black Hills Conference title.

Custer High School boys’ basketball coach Larry Luitjens was also the keynote speaker as he talked about his school’s rivalry with Hot Springs, his Hall of Fame career and his faith.

The 1963 football team, under head coach Don Mathis, was picked second from last in the preseason Black Hills Conference Coaches football poll. But Hot Springs went unbeaten and won the BHC title.

Speaking for the team, former player Sam Zimiga shared a few stories on the team that will celebrate its 60th anniversary in 2023.

Zimiga said that they were a team that enjoyed socializing and Coach Mathis did a good job of getting them to focus on the game of football when needed. But he said the team was dedicated to each other, on and off the playing field.

“The night of our Homecoming game with Spearfish, we had six inches of snow and we lost our tailback right before halftime and it was a really close game,” Zimiga said. “But the next morning to show the dedication that we had to the game, Terry Thompson called me at 7 o’clock in the morning, and he said, ‘Can you come over and play some football?’ I said, ‘Terry are crazy, it is 7 o’clock in the morning?’ He said, ‘No, I am not crazy, but last night I snuck out of the basement window and I need you to come over and help me cover up the tracks in the snow.

“So I came over and we threw the ball around and covered up his tracks.”

On a more serious side about the team, Zimiga said they had some really good players and they improved when “the two D’s” – Don Tillotson and Don Chancellor -- moved to Hot Springs and joined the team their senior year.

“Let me say, the great thing about our team was that each player contributed tremendously in their own way to our success,” Zimiga said.

The Bison earned wins over Provo, 7-6; Deadwood, 32-0, Custer 26-0; Spearfish, 13-6; Belle Fourche 12-7; Lead, 14-6; Douglas, 31-0 and Sturgis, 20-6.

“To quote the Rapid City Journal in 1963, the Bison became one of the biggest surprise teams in conference history. A preseason poll had picked us to finish next to last in the conference,” Zimiga said. “Also that year the Sioux Falls Argus Leader named us as the upset team of the year.”

Zimiga then asked his teammates and some of their representatives to come up and speak to the crowd. Among the 1963 Bison in attendance were Ron Bergan, Steve Colgan, Calvin Hill, Phil Hiller, Duane McClure, Lin Seder, Marilyn Varick representing her late husband Bob Varick; Shauna Smith representing her father Fred Smith; and Pete Neimann representing his uncle George Niemann

“We were a team that succeeded and went on to become undefeated because we were dedicated, worked hard and played as a team,” Zimiga said. “We loved football, and last but not least, we had tremendous support from our classmates and our community. Go Bison!”

Weiss is the school’s first-ever two-time State Class A wrestling champion (2005, 2006). He is the only Bison wrestler to finish with an undefeated season record (43-0 in 2005) and earned an 82-1 record over his junior and senior seasons.

In football, Weiss holds the school record for career rushing yards with 3,590 (2003-2005) and he was one touchdown shy of school record for most touchdowns in a season (29 in 2004). He was a multiple all-state and all-conference performer in football.

Weiss was introduced by his aunt, Dana Nachtigall, who also spoke for him during the ceremony.

“When Cameron asked me to introduce him I was beyond excited because I love to brag on these kids who were such exceptional athletes that went above and beyond to become some of the greats,” she said. “But tonight, when I get to talk about my nephew’s amazing talents and what hard work and what talent mixed can become, I feel very honored to be his aunt.”

Nachtigall said her nephew wrestled every chance he could as a youngster and played football in his grandparents back yard, as well as running sprints on the track and doing extra work in the weight room.

“He was always on the go, always moving and always improving, becoming the champion that he became,” she said. Weiss decided to follow in his family’s footsteps as his father (John Weiss) and both uncles (Jonas Weiss and Pat Weiss) were very accomplished wrestlers. Jonas was also his coach at Hot Springs and Pat was the school’s first state champion and in the HSHS Hall of Fame as well.

“Cameron didn’t win every single match when he was young, he was still learning and growing and finding his way,” she said. “What I remember most of Cameron is he did always have the will to win, the want to win and the willingness to learn and do what he needed to do to become as great as he became.

“So often when you see such a great athlete, as Cameron was, whether it was on the football field or on the wrestling mats, they tend to be very in your face kids, making sure all see them. But not Cameron. There are so many things I am so proud of, regarding Cameron, but one was and always has been how humble he stayed even then and now. With my kids we have always had the motto of staying humble, but hungry and be kind but always be the hardest worker in the room. I started this motto with my kids from being inspired by Cameron.”

Beehler was an outstanding all-around athlete, lettering 19 times in his career, who competed in football, basketball, track, soccer and baseball, graduating in 2004.

He was a three-time all-state and All-Black Hills Conference performer in football holding eight school records at the end of his senior year—most rushing yards in a career (3,447 – later 

surpassed only by the aforementioned Cameron Weiss with 3,590), most rushing yards in a season (1,955), most all-purpose yards in a season (2,501), most points scored in a season (182), most touchdowns in a season (30), longest kick-off return (99 yards), longest punt return (85 yards) and most return yards in a season (520).

In basketball, Beehler was a four-time letterwinner, a three-time All-BHC performer. In track and field, Beehler was a six-time state qualifier and state medalist for four years. He was the state runner-up in the long jump and held two school records (100-10.71 seconds and 200-21.76).  In baseball he was an all-regional and all-state performer for two seasons.

He was introduced by his father, Scott Beehler, who was also his basketball coach at Hot Springs. Scott Beehler said his son’s dedication to becoming the best athlete he could be and his knowledge and understanding of the sport he was in probably was the bigger success than just his outstanding speed.

“He has had a lot of success, but he doesn’t need to tell you how good he was,” Scott Beehler said. “He just has been a very humble kid.”

Joe Beehler said when he got a call that he had been elected to the Hall of Fame, he said that feeling was “nothing short of astronomical,” which is a word he used once in a television interview after beating Canton in the state semifinals. The Bison then became the first and only Hot Springs football team to date to make it to the state championship game.

“When they created this (the Hall of Fame), it was something that was on my mind but you never really say it outwardly. But to hear somebody call you and tell you that, it is very, very humbling,” he said as he went on to thank all of the people who helped him get to this day, especially his parents (Scott and Kathy).

Beehler said his love of sports started very young and he again credited his parents.

“The football field, the gym and the PE closet, they were my baby-sitters. It helped me become a much better athlete just by being around it all of the time,” he said. “I played about every sport imaginable – basketball, football, track, baseball and soccer. There was always a season and generally more than one at the same time. In sports you build amazing relationships. I have high school teammates that became college roommates, to people who we stood for at each other’s weddings. It is a very comradery thing that sports do that many other things just don’t.”

Farrell, a 1968 HSHS graduate, began an outstanding 45-year career in 1978 with Bison athletics that continues today.

She began her career as a scorekeeper, clock operator, announcer and whatever needed to be done for the high school and middle school athletic programs. She later worked every sport imaginable -- boys’ basketball, football, wrestling, soccer, gymnastics, cross country and track and field. She travelled on the team buses with the basketball squads for 35 years and with the volleyball teams for over 20 years.

She spent over 30 years voluntarily developing and supervising the Summer Recreation program which produced generations of athletes.

Farrell was introduced by nieces Katherine and Mary Ginsbach and her nephew Frank Ginsbach.

“As we have heard tonight, everyone has a Joyce Farrell story, whether it is a sporting event, summer rec or getting roped in to some other volunteer activities,” Katherine Ginsbach said. “Growing up Joyce led by example, often spending her weekends giving back to her community.”

Farrell said it is a humbling honor to stand up in front of the audience for simply doing something she enjoys doing and that is helping students succeed.

“I have been blessed by God to be able to do what I can do to help within the community,” she said. “As a family we grew up knowing that those who were given much were asked to give back. We’ve always had the feeling or sense that we should give back and I found the way I could give back, mainly by helping the kids and the students.”

Farrell said that sports were always in her life as they grew up playing outside.

“We didn’t have a television until I was about 12 or 13. We played football and kick the can,” she said. “The football, by the way, was not flag football or touch football, it was football. We played hide and seek and we played a lot of softball in the summer.”

Farrell’s work as a volunteer for Hot Springs High School athletes is second to none and that was noted early in the program by Luitjens, who got to know her in their rivalry with Custer.

Her years of riding the Bison basketball bus for 35 years was memorable as well.

“I’ve seen coaches cry, I’ve seen coaches sit silently for the long bus ride home and I’ve seen coaches sit on the bus and spending time with students to allay their fears or help them make a decision,” she said. “Each athlete that you have when you put them all together as a composite, they all have different skills and ability. The coach needs to figure out who can do what and what the best plays are. Maybe the best plays for the 1995 team are not the best plays for the 1996 team, depending what your athletes are.”

Luitjens was introduced by former Hot Springs and Custer coach Rich Hinseth and former player Kurt Venekemp.

After his first two years at Webster, he spent four years at De Smet and went 90-16, winning two state championships. He was lured away by a priest to New England St. Mary’s, North Dakota, for one year but was told he would be fired if he didn’t win a state title the way the priest told him too (run a zone defense and walk the ball up the court). He ran the program the way he wanted to and after his team lost in the districts, he was fired.

Luitjens went back to the farm and decided he was never going to coach again.

But a former neighbor (Dick Vonsen) in Britton told him there was an opening in Custer and he should apply for the job. Luitjens balked at the idea but finally applied and got the job. He immediately got the Wildcats turned in the right direction, winning 16 games his first season and the rest was history. He finished his career with seven state titles and 748 wins, the most in South Dakota history. He broke the all-time wins record, ironically, at the Case Auditorium against Hot Springs.

“I went down to interview and I saw Kurt (Venekamp) and about seven other freshmen kids out there going five-on-five, and I said, ‘Oh, I think maybe I will come to Custer,’” he said. “I stayed in Custer for 40 years and I loved it.”

Luitjens also signed copies of his book, “Larry Luitjens, A Coach of Influence,” written by longtime assistant coach Bob Parson and his son, Lance Luitjens. He told a story that Lance had written about his seventh state championship.

Custer ended up beating Lennox 54-50 and had led comfortably for most of the game before Lennox came back to cut the lead to two with just seconds to play.

Luitjens said he had one player, Travis Meyer, who had hit 85 percent from the free-throw line all season and hadn’t missed a free throw in the game. He called a timeout with 23 seconds left and told the team to inbound the pass to Meyer, and he told Meyer not to move but fake pivot and not pass the ball.

“So he does, fakes, pivots and moves around. They (Lennox) are standing there and the people in the crowd are going nuts and booing,” he said.

Luitjens had told the head referee he was going to call a timeout with 12 seconds remaining and he does. The Wildcats again inbound the pass to Meyer and he is fouled with nine seconds to play. As Luitjens said he knew Meyer would do, he made both free throws and Custer won the title game 54-50.

“Somebody said, ‘Where did you come up with that play” Luitjens says.’ I said, ‘well, I think God must have helped me because I have never seen that play before. It just popped in my head and I think maybe God helped me out.’ It was kind of nice to see him do that, because that was kind of a big game.”

Fall River County Herald Star

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