1968 Hall of Honor
Lack of stature in a game dominated by big men has never hampered Johnny Erickson’s career. In two short decades, he has risen in basketball circles from Little All-American player to successful coach to enthusiastic executive. Although failing to letter in high school, John won five basketball B’s at Beloit college –playing three full campaigns and two halfs seasons—and was the first Buccaneer to score 1,000 points. He also wielded a wicked tennis racquet, capturing singles championships in Midwest Conference and State AAU meets and representing Beloit in three NCAA tourneys. Prep basketball coaching stints at Stevens Point and Beloit preceded his entry into the collegiate ranks at Lake Forest. In 1959, he became an assistant at the University of Wisconsin and the following year was named the Badgers’ head coach. His teams finished in the Big Ten’s first division three times in nine years, taking second in 1962. In 1968, he was appointed general manager of the new Milwaukee Bucks in the National Basketball Association. An inspiration to youth as advisory board member for the Fellowship of Christian Athletes, John Erickson also has been termed “one of the best public relations men Wisconsin ever had.”
The leadership ability which Major Griffith demonstrated as the first “Big Ten Commissioner” for twenty-two years was evident in his undergraduate days at Beloit where, although not an outstanding athlete, he was prominent in the managerial side of collegiate sports. He was later director of athletics and coach at Yankton and Morningside Colleges and while serving in that capacity at Drake University for nine years, established the Drake Relays, nationally famous spring track event. In World War I, as a major, he had charge of physical education and bayonet training for the entire United States Army. While at the University of Illinois after the war, he founded the Athletic Journal, still published by his son. From that institution he was called to the full time post of Commissioner of the Western Collegiate Conference known as the Big Ten, a post he retained until his death in 1944. He had been president of the National collegiate Athletic Association and served that group for ten years as secretary-treasurer. In his selection for the Helms Hall of Fame in 1951, he was described as “one of America’s foremost athletic leaders of all time.”
“Pill” Nelson’s lifelong love affair with athletics began in the West, and during the next half-century, he earned honors and respect both as a player and as a coach, A prep All-Stater in Montana, he came “east” to play at Beloit college during a football heyday under Tommy Mills in the early ‘20’s. He was described as a youth “who hid in the corner at parties but was a tiger on the gridiron Saturday afternoons.” In his first game, Beloit upset mighty Northwestern; in 1922, he was the standout fullback on the College’s first championship team; as a senior, he was captain and won All-Conference recognition. After 25 highly successful years of high school coaching the last five in Beloit, where he won two football titles and state championships in basketball and track. Nelson answered his Alma Mater’s call in 1950 to be head football and wrestling coach. Two years later, he produced the College’s only undefeated football team. His over-all gridiron record of 195 wins, 104 losses, and 21 ties includes seven champions and four undefeated campaigns. “A modest tactician but strict fundamentalist,” Pill is held in high esteem by his coaching colleagues and was revered by his players.