Up in the left corner of a poster board-turned-scrapbook – the one dedicated to St. Elizabeth High School’s 2002 state championship softball team — the headline screams, “Lady Hornets sting ‘em at state.”
It’s a newspaper clipping from the Miller County Autogram-Sentinel, and see the other scrapbook items glued to the board? Look closely, because you hardly see the coach of that team even mentioned.
That’s the way it should be, Diane Juergensmeyer might tell you. As a farm girl who grew up on the edge of this central Missouri farming community and who returned after college in 1980, she saw the rise of fast-pitch softball here first-hand. In her opinion, parents, their daughters and others made it happen, and she only played a small role.
Put another way, call her upcoming induction into the Missouri Sports Hall of Fame on May 27 a community-wide celebration.
“I devote all of my success to all those girls I’ve coached in my 31 years,” Juergensmeyer said. “It’s not about me. Those girls did this for me.”
Juergensmeyer won 489 games from 1980 until retiring after the 2010 season, including 358 victories in the fall championship seasons. Her 1992, 1994 and 2002 teams won the Class 1 state championships, and she likes to joke that she has 3 ½ state titles to her name – given she was an assistant on the 2011 team that won it all.
A town, a team, a dream
She won with the Luetkemeyer sisters, Nikki and Brandy, and a sister battery of Glenda and Sheila Kemna, sluggers such as Dana Schulte as well as a battery of Kandi Wieberg and Jennifer Loethen.
That’s Wieberg and Loethen in a black-and-white photo on the poster board rushing to each other after the ’02 team beat Lone Jack to win state.
It could have just as easily been players from that 1992 team – Denise Bax, Vicky Otto, Lisa Heckemeyer, Paula Kleithermes, Nikki Luetkemeyer, Pam Wilde, Theresa Wilson, Paula Eddy, Kelly Doerhoff, Karen Wilson and Renee Wilde.
Or those from the 1994 team, including Ana Weckenberg, Tracy Kliethermes, Mindy Bruce and Joanne Bax. Nine seasons later, the names became Brandi Hendricks, Kelli Libbert, Jenna Schwartze, Terra Scheulen, Bridget Holtmeyer, Erica Bennett, Sarah Rehagen and the coach’s daughter, Jessica.
It’s certainly a Hall of Fame-worthy career in the eyes of Blaine Luetkemeyer, the father of Nikki and Brandy and now a U.S. Congressman. He also coached the town’s summer travel team.
“She watched them growing up,” the Congressman said. “As a teacher at school, she knew them very well. She knew what buttons to push and when to leave them alone.”
From the farm and back
What a journey it was.
Juergensmeyer, the daughter of Leonard and Marie Schanzmeyer, played on the school’s first softball teams, the ones that played only neighboring schools.
That’s the way it was for many girls sports in those days. Softball was only in the beginning stages.
Juergensmeyer graduated high school in 1976. It wasn’t until 1985 when the Lady Hornets won their first district title.
“I can’t remember many of our games. We only had a few,” Juergensmeyer said of her high school senior season. “And districts didn’t start until 1978. We were just playing for fun.”
Over the next decade, the town scraped together the money to enhance its city-owned softball field, and young girls began joining summer travel ball teams.
Those years would feed into an incredible run from 1989 to the mid-1990s. The Lady Hornets won their first sectional in 1989 and reached the final four five times from 1991 to 1997. They placed fourth in 1991 and second in 1993 and 1997.
Overall, the program won eight conference titles under Juergensmeyer, who served on the Missouri Softball Advisory Committee for eight years and the National Federation softball rules committee for four years. She was named the 115th District Outstanding Missourian in 2004.
At times, Juergensmeyer couldn’t help but be taken aback. She never dreamed softball would rise in popularity, to the point that a school of about 80 students would see roughly 25 girls turn out for the sport.
“I’m from a large family, grew up on a farm and, after chores were done in the evening, we’d get a ball and glove out,” Juergensmeyer said. “We didn’t have a large yard, so we probably broke a window or two.
“But you loved the sport.”
An MVP to all
She’ll always be the school’s MVP in the eyes of the district’s former superintendent, Sid Doerhoff. He attended high school with Juergensmeyer and arrived as a teacher a year before she graduated from Central Missouri University. He was also the athletic director before handing over the reins to her.
“In a small school, everybody wears a lot of hats,” Doerhoff said, noting that Juergensmeyer also taught physical education, coached girls basketball, drove the bus, hired referees and umpires and for most of the past 20-some years – along with her husband, Richard – maintained the baseball and softball fields.
Oh, and she also taught reading, English, library skills, speech and drama, current events, driver’s education and was the K-12 librarian and assisted in track.
“People that take that time of themselves are hard to come by,” Doerhoff said. “I was very, very fortunate to have her there. You didn’t have to worry about things getting done.”
He also appreciated the way Juergensmeyer dealt with upset parents. She was honest.
“When you work in your hometown, you see parents sometimes who are disappointed that their kid didn’t play,” Doerhoff said. “She always handled it well.”
Looking back, St. Elizabeth softball teams didn’t have the best records when the playoffs would get under way. That was by design.
Juergensmeyer challenged her teams by scheduling against teams from the largest classifications.
The strategy paid off. The 1992 team won its final semifinal and championship games by a combined score of 25-1.
The 1994 team upset 19-0 and top-ranked Princeton in the semifinals, tying the game when the Lady Hornets were down to their final strike. It was Nikki Luetkemeyer’s tying double that sent the game into extra innings, where Sheila Kemna’s home run won it in the bottom of the eighth, 4-3. That team finished 18-5.
The 2002 team? Try an 18-9 record and yet it closed with commanding semifinal and championship victories, by a combined score of 18-6.
“Diane had a passion for St. Elizabeth and the surrounding area,” said Rod Smith, the sports director of KRCG TV in Jefferson City. He’s now in his 29th year there. “She could have moved on and coached at other places. But she knew the families and cared about them and respected them.”
He added this: “It amazes me that a small school could be so successful in a sport that requires nine-plus players,” Smith said. “But she continued to find and mold players into great teams.”
WANT TO GO?
The ceremony: The Baseball Sports Enthusiasts Luncheon presented by Ozarks Coca Cola/Dr Pepper at is 11 a.m. Wednesday, May 27 at the University Plaza Hotel and Convention Center in Springfield.
Tickets & sponsorships: $40, or $100 for a head table ticket. Numerous sponsorships are available, including a table of eight for $400, which includes associate sponsorship recognition in the printed program.
For Juergensmeyer tickets & sponsorships: Contact Coleman Swierc at 417-889-3100.
- St. Louis Cardinals manager Tony La Russa will be honored as a Missouri Sports Legend, in which a specially commissioned sculpture, cast in bronze, will line the Legends Walkway.
- Byron Hagler, who won almost 600 baseball games and reached nine state final fours as the head coach of Licking and Hillcrest high schools. His 1988 and 1989 Licking teams won Class 2 state championships.
- Former Saint Elizabeth High School softball coach Diane Juergensmeyer, who won more than 400 games and three state championships in 1992, 1994 and 2002.
- Former fast-pitch softball standout Roy Burlison, who played on teams in St. Louis and Springfield.
- John Schaefer, CEO of Ozarks Coca-Cola/Dr Pepper, is the recipient of the President’s Award.
- Diamond 9: baseball standouts Jack Burrell of Humansville and Southwest Baptist; Brad Simmons of Glendale High School and the Kansas City Royals; Kelly Snider of Hillcrest High School the Oklahoma Sooners and the Los Angeles Dodgers; Barry Short of Mansfield High School, Three Rivers Community College and the New York Mets; Jim Lumpe of Glendale High School, the Mizzou Tigers and Montreal Expos; and former American Softball Association or college/high school softball standouts in Marionville’s Janice Crumpley Bluebaum, Hillcrest graduate Tim Blasi, Caitlin Chapin of Ozark High School and Missouri State; and Missouri Southern graduate Diane Miller.