Meet the sports editor, boys

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Giltner native June Bierbower became first female sports editor for Daily Nebraskan in late 1930s

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  • This photo and cutline ran in the January 31, 1939 edition of the Daily Nebraskan as Giltner native June Bierbower began her career as a sportswriter. Courtesy photo
    This photo and cutline ran in the January 31, 1939 edition of the Daily Nebraskan as Giltner native June Bierbower began her career as a sportswriter. Courtesy photo
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“Athletes, mind your manners.”

This was part of an introductory piece for June Bierbower, a Giltner native who went on to become the first female sports editor for the Daily Nebraskan, the college newspaper at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln.

It was the late 1930s and Bierbower had graduated from Giltner High School at the age of 15. On Jan. 31, 1939, Bierbower made her debut in the Daily Nebraskan as the first female sports editor in the publication’s history.

Bierbower’s parents, James and Margaret, were publishers of the former Giltner Gazette, which ran through the 1950s.

Bierbower became a sports writer for the Daily Nebraskan and when she became a senior, was appointed to the sports editor position.

At that time, Bierbower selected her own All-American grid team. In fact, it was pointed out in the Aurora News on April 23, 1937 that June “can distinguish between double and single wingback formations, safeties, and touchbacks, and 6-2-2-1 and diamond defenses.”

In that same article, it noted Bierbower rarely missed a Husker athletic team workout, despite cold winds, sleet and rain.

In the age well before Twitter and other social media battles, those took place through the newspaper. Bierbower wasn’t avoided of criticism, but didn’t back down.

As the first female sports editor in the paper’s history, it made waves across the country. Californai sports writer Dick Kelly noted it to be an “unorthodox move of the Cornhusker Daily.”

Kelly questioned the unfairness of the move to the masculine members of the Daily Nebraskan, to which Bierbower pointed out members of the sports department were working just as hard for a “gal” editor as they did for a man.

Kelly then brought into question Bierbower’s knowledge of sports at all, though she had already worked two semesters as a sports columnist and reporter.

Before it was all said and done, Kelly also asked what Bierbower would think about not being allowed to visit the dressing room after the game because of the players walking around in their birthday suits.

To that, Bierbower pointed out she’s managed to get along thus far without any embarassing incidents, noting she could send someone else into the dressing room while also adding that she, as a woman, wasn’t allowed in the press box, either.

Even years later, when Bierbower wrote for the Lincoln Journal and covered Nebraska baseball, she wasn’t allowed to be in the press box for the games.

However, she found it necessary to take down the playby-play box scores from the Journal offices.

A headline showed up in the Daily Nebraskan later on that stated, “Dick ‘Dutch’ Kelly bows and bends in humble apology.”

In it, Kelly, the sports editor for the Daily Californian, wrote in his paper that he was extremely sorry “my clumsy efforts as a columnist provoked your feminine ire.”

However, from that point, Kelly’s comments seemed a bit more satirical.

“After all, the editorial board of the Daily Nebraskan wouldn’t have appointed you to the job of sports editor unless they felt you were qualified for the job... it wasn’t just a publicity stunt, was it? And there were one or two seniors eligible for the position, weren’t there?”

Kelly also claimed Bierbower spelled his name wrong, which she didn’t.

“You see, I knew how you would hate to be accused of being a relative of a certain ex-Yale end, so I took special pains to spell your name with but one ‘e.’

Bierbower made a guest appearance in the paper during the weeks leading up to Nebraska’s Rose Bowl on the heels of its 1940 regular season.

The Huskers entered the game with an 8-1 record, but came up short against Stanford, 21-13.

For those who don’t know, an iconic Rose Bowl moment came from this game as Nebraska held Stanford out of the end zone on four consecutive plays from the one-yard line.

Trailing by one late in the third quarter, Nebraska punted on first down as Stanford’s Pete Kmetovic, eventually the MVP of the game, ran it all the way back for a touchdown.

In her column before the Rose Bowl, Bierbower wrote, “Life is just a platitudinous Bowl of Roses, though we upon coming back to the campus to renew acquaintances, and bask in the Pasadenalike atmosphere around here which, very definitely is not to be mixed with the Pasadena weather.”

In another sign of the times, Bierbower wrote on March 19, 1940 that Oklahoma’s starting lineman averaged 216 pounds, with the heaviest coming in at 254.

Before graduating, Bierbower was a candidate for the May Queen honor. The candidate receiving the most votes would be recognized at the annual Ivy Day. Bierbower was not the winner.

Not only that, but Bierbower also served as a judge for the best dressed man competition on campus.

After graduating from Nebraska, Bierbower worked for the Lincoln Chamber of Commerce as well as the Associated Press Bureau before coming back to Nebraska and writing for the Lincoln Journal.

Bierbower then moved to Massachusetts and became the assistant manager of the News Bureau for Mt. Holyoke College and while there, had her byline on the front page of the New York Times.

Another career change sent Bierbower to Washington State University where she took up sports writing for the rest of her career.

Bierbower was named Washington Press Women’s Torch Bearer for distinguished contributions to journalism in 1975 while also helping to found the WSU athletic hall of fame.

Early on in her sports writing career, Bierbower also shared thoughts over the years on the Nebraska basketball team, hoping at some point they’d improve defensively, make more free throws and find a more dominant center.

The more things change, the more they stay the same.

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