Photo courtesy Calvin Larive
Frank Ferguson of Hot Springs, far right, poses inside Evans Plunge recently with his two grandsons, from left, Jake and Joe, along with his son Brad. Both Jake and Joe starred on the University of Wisconsin football team with Jake now a tight end with the Dallas Cowboys. Brad played football for the University of Nebraska and was coached by the legendary Tom Osborne.
By Richard Anderson
HOT SPRINGS – You might say that Hot Springs resident Frank Ferguson kickstarted a plethora of athletic ability in his family.
Ferguson, an all-around athlete for Hot Springs High School in the early to mid-1950s and a member of the Chadron State College Athletics Hall of Fame as a track athlete, recently was visited by his son Brad Ferguson, who played football at the University of Nebraska. Brad was also joined by his two sons, Jake and Joe, who both starred on the University of Wisconsin football team, with Jake now a tight end with the Dallas Cowboys.
With six children and 14 grandchildren, Frank and his wife Sandy have kept busy following their achievements in all types of sporting activities throughout the years.
“Yeah, all of my kids played sports, and now most of my grandchildren,” Frank said recently after the visit. “I guess we do have a lot of good athletes in the family.”
That success likely all started with Ferguson, a Smithwick native, whose love for running was rewarded as one of the top sprinters on the Bison track and field teams nearly 70 years ago. He also found success on the football field as well on the basketball court.
After graduating in 1955, he would go on to becoming an All-American on the track at Chadron State, graduating in 1959. He then began a 42-year teaching career, first at Gordon High School in Nebraska for eight years before returning to his alma mater, where he taught math and was an athletic faculty advisor for 33 of his 34 years as an instructor for the Eagles.
Chadron State College capped his illustrious career by naming the track and field press box after him in 2021.
All in the family
When Jake, Joe and Brad stopped in Hot Springs for a couple of days in June to see Frank and his wife Sandy, they did the usual tour of the community, stopping at Evans Plunge and The Mammoth Site.
Although Frank didn’t play college football, Brad, Joe and Jake did at the highest level. Brad played for legendary head coach Tom Osborne from 1985-89, before retiring from the sport his senior season as he was accepted to physical therapy school. He began his career in Rapid City, where both Jake and Joe were born, before moving on to southeast Wisconsin.
Joe and Jake’s maternal grandfather is former Wisconsin head football coach and Director of Athletics Barry Alvarez.
Both Joe and Jake went on to star at Memorial High School in Madison. Joe walked on to Wisconsin and contributed to the Badger defense, playing in 58 games. In his career, he finished with 48 tackles, seven pass interceptions, including a 99-yard interception for a touchdown against Utah State his senior season.
Jake, meanwhile was a highly recruited tight end and became a two-time All-Big Ten performer for the Badgers, catching 145 passes for 1,618 yards and 13 touchdowns in his career. He was selected in the fourth round by the Cowboys in the 2022 NFL draft.
In his rookie season with the Cowboys, he caught 19 passes for 174 yards and two scores. He is expected to challenge for the starting position this season. He recently participated in the Tight End University, drawing praise from Kansas City Chiefs Super Bowl champion and All-Pro Travis Kelce.
In his recent visit to the Plunge, Frank said Jake was anxious to try the rings again, something he did as a youngster on visits.
“They were here a lot. Jake would say, ‘wait until I get tall enough to go across the rings,’” Frank said of his now 6-foot-5 grandson. “When he came this time he said, ’do you think I could go across the rings? I don’t know if I should.’”
Bill Ferguson, the oldest of Frank’s five boys, played football and was a track star at Chadron High School.
Bob Ferguson, who played football at Chadron State, continues to live in Chadron and has two daughters – Demi, who is a senior volleyball player at Chadron State and Allie, a senior basketball player at Chadron High.
Frank’s daughter, Christine Murray, was an all-around athlete and has two daughters who played lacrosse – Dani and Lauren – with Dani an All-American at Washington and Lee University.
Stepsons Michael and Bobby Joe Miller also were well-rounded athletes, Michael in basketball, cross country and golf while Bobby Joe played football and wrestled.
Country boy turned athlete
The son of Les and Leona Ferguson, Frank Ferguson can possibly credit some of his success on the track to those early days in the Smithwick country school. He got plenty of practice just running back and forth from the family farm, which was about one mile from the schoolhouse.
“I always ran, you know. I ran home for lunch at about a mile and ran back to school,” he said. “I had to have both knees replaced about 16 years ago because of all of the running I did.”
Back in the day, every year for students from the first grade to the eighth grade, there was a Fall River County track meet in Hot Springs.
“I really liked track. I used to run just to be running,” he said. “We had about 12 country schools in Fall River County. When we had graduation back at that time it was eighth grade. We had 40 some kids graduate at the old city auditorium in Hot springs. I didn’t know but a few of them, but Marvin Stevens was one of my best friends in high school.”
After eighth-grade graduation, the country kids would go on to high school in Hot Springs. Ferguson excelled for the Bison track team.
“I was a quarter miler. I wasn’t a sprinter then. I mean, I was faster than about anybody else but I didn’t have time to do the shorter sprints,” he said. “I ran the open quarter, the quarter in the mile relay and the quarter in the sprint medley and the 880 relay. You could only run four events then, so I didn’t run the shorter sprints but one time.”
Back then there were just two track classifications – A and B – and the Bison were a Class A program, meaning they had to compete against the Sioux Falls teams, as well as Rapid City High School and the bigger Black Hills schools.
“Marvin Stevens was a good half miler and close to two minutes and I ran about a 52-second quarter,” he said. “One year I never got beat in the quarter, but when we went to state and I qualified, Fay Smith, our track coach, said, ‘You know, you run that too soon before the sprint medley relay, so I’m scratching you.’ The sprint medley relay team finished third at state.
Ferguson also was a starting halfback and safety on the football team, excelling his junior season before a knee injury hampered him during his senior season.
“My senior year I made several touchdowns in the first game and then I hurt my knee,” he said. “I was out for a while and when I came back I told the coach I’d rather play defense because they’re going after them (knees) when I am on offense. But the coach wanted me to play offense and I got hurt again, so my senior year didn’t amount of much.”
Ferguson said he didn’t know much about basketball while in Smithwick, but he was intrigued with the game when he came to Hot Springs.
“You know, we had a basketball in our country school, but we used it for dodgeball,” he said with a laugh. “Coming to Hot Springs in my freshman year, I walked by the tennis court and they’re playing basketball. I thought, ‘I want to get into that. It looks like a lot of fun.’ I got the basketball passed to me and I ran to the basket – I traveled. I thought, ‘my gosh, how do I get to the basket?’ I didn’t know you had to dribble the ball.”
All-American and Hall of Famer at Chadron State
Ferguson said he loved living in the country and wasn’t originally planning to attend college. But somebody told him Chadron State had an agriculture program, so he checked on it and it was just for two years. He then decided to become a teacher as it was the only four-year degree.
Ferguson came to Chadron State as a middle distance runner and set the school record of 50.3 seconds in the 440 while placing third at the Nebraska College Conference Meet.
As a sophomore, he won the 100-yard dash in 10.2 seconds at the conference meet. Teammate Virgil Meyer edged Ferguson in the 100 and 220 much of the time the next two years, but Ferguson joined fellow hall of famers Dick Boness, Keith Kyser and Meyer along with Jerry Chapin to give the Eagles some outstanding relay teams. Their best time of 42.7 in the 440-yard relay wasn’t broken until 1995 and their time of 1:29.1 in the 880-yard relay lasted until 2004.The 880-yard relay team placed third at the NAIA National Meet his senior year in 1959. In addition, their time of 3:22.8 in the mile relay in 1958 was a conference record and is still the seventh best in Chadron State history when converted from yards to meters.
“I thought I could only run the quarter (440 yards), so I went out for the quarter mile and I broke the school record, the oldest record in the books,” he said. “And then one night I was running with the sprinters -- six of them because only had a six-lane track. So I just said I want to run with them and I beat them.”
Ferguson was elected to the Chadron State College Athletics Hall of Fame in 1984. With a new track stadium, his name now dons the press box – The Dr. Frank F. Ferguson Press Box.
“That was really a great thing,” he said of the press box being named for him, “I had a lot of my family there and I thought it was a great honor to have the press box named after me.”
In the classroom
After graduating from Chadron State, Ferguson was hired at Gordon High School, where he taught math and also coached football, basketball and track. He spent eight years there and had signed his contract for a ninth season before the job came up at Chadron State that May.
Ferguson became chair of the Division of Science and Mathematics in 1980. He later served as chair of the Mathematics Department. He spent 34 years at Chadron State before officially retiring in 2001.
“The last three years I didn’t do much teaching, I just it was a lot of committees,” he said. “I moved back up to Hot Springs in 1995 (Cascade Road). My house is about a quarter mile off the highway. I bought some land there and I finally got my wish when I was going to get out of high school. I wanted to be a rancher and raise cattle and stuff. I’m glad I didn’t do that. I wouldn’t have made any money.”