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Building Legends by Remembering Legends

Harry Rabenhorst

Sport: Coach

Induction Year: 1970

Records are made to be broken, but nobody can break the record Harry Rabenhorst set on Thanksgiving Day of 1919.

Playing for Wake Forest against North Carolina State, Rabenhorst got off a world record 115-yard punt that sailed 85 yards in the air.

Obviously, punts were measured from the point where the ball was kicked to the point where it stopped rolling at that time. The rules were changed later to measure punts from the line of scrimmage to the goal line; the longest punt possible is 99 yards, with Pat Brady of Nevada-Reno credited with the National Collegiate Athletic Association record for his 99-yarder against Loyola (California) in 1950.

Marty Broussard, who went to LSU as a pitcher for Rabenhorst's baseball team and stayed as the trainer of Tiger teams in all sports, said “Coach Raby” – an outstanding athlete to Baton Rouge High – had an asthma condition as a youngster and went to Wake Forest on the advice of his physician.

Why would North Carolina climate be prescribed for a person suffering from asthma? Broussard shrugged. “Maybe,” he suggested, “the doctor was a Wake Forest fan.”

When he got off the 115-yard punt, Rabenhorst was the Demon Deacons' captain for the second year in a row – and the head coach for the second year in a row. Because of a manpower shortage during World War I, he had to fill both positions. But his coaching career started as a Wake Forest freshman, when he organized a track and field team and coached it for four years – while he was an undergraduate.

After posting a 3-8 record in two years as a playing coach, Rabenhorst was captain for the third year in a row in 1920 – turning the coaching over to J.L. White. Rabenhorst won All-South Atlantic honors as a halfback.

A half-century later, he was selected as honorary captain of Wake Forest's all-time football team.

Following his graduation from Wake Forest, Rabenhorst served in the Army following World War I before starting his post-graduate coaching career at Greensboro, N.C., High in 1921. Then he spent three years at New Mexico Military Institution.

When he returned to his home town in 1925, “Coach Raby” became a man for all seasons at Louisiana State University.

In the fall, he did the scouting for the LSU football team. In the winter, he was head basketball coach. In the spring, he was head baseball coach.

His 29-year record in basketball produced a record of 344 victories and 249 losses. His baseball teams had 220 victories, 226 losses and three ties in 27 seasons.

The 1935 basketball team, led by Malcolm “Sparky” Wade of Jena and Nathan “Buddy” Blair of Sicily Island, won a mythical national championship by coming from behind in the second half to defeat Pittsburgh 41-37 before a crowd of 12,000 spectators in a postseason playoff game in the Atlantic City Convention Hall.

The other highlight of his basketball coaching career game in 1953-54, when All-American Bob Pettit led the Tigers to two consecutive NCAA tournament appearances and their first trip to the Final Four.

With the University of Kentucky program shelved for one year in the wake of a point-shaving scandal, LSU was 13-0 in Southeastern Conference play in the 1952-53 season and 22-1 overall going into the NCAA Final Four at Kansas City. The Tigers fell to Indiana 80-67 in the semifinals and were defeated by Washington 88-69 in a consolation game.

Kentucky was back in business the following year, beating LSU 63-56 in a playoff game at Nashville after both teams posted a 14-0 conference records. The Wildcats turned down a bid to the NCAA tournament because some of their players would not have been eligible for postseason play and LSU once again represented the conference in the national tournament – losing to Penn State 78-70 and Indiana 73-62 in the Regional Iowa City.

In baseball, Rabenhorst won three Southeastern Conference titles and developed a half-dozen players who went on to the major leagues – Blair, Dave Madison, Connie Ryan, Walker Cress, Alvin Dark and Joe Adcock. When “Coach Raby” retired, the only coach with more SEC baseball titles was Alabama's Tilden Campbell.

Except for Navy duty during World War II, Rabenhorst coached every LSU basketball and baseball team from 1925 through 1957. After retiring from coaching in 1957, he stayed at LSU 11 more years as assistant athletic director and acting athletic director.

“He was one of the finest people who ever lived,” recalled Broussard. “I never heard him curse.”

Rabenhorst and his wife, Nell, had no children of their own. But they treated two generations of LSU athletes like their own children.

“Coach Raby” had hundreds of stories about his kids. One of his favorites wasn't about one of the great athletes he coached; it was about a pitcher who had more enthusiasm than ability.

As he did many times during his coaching career, Rabenhorst decided to reward the young man's persistence and dedication by allowing him to start in a road game.

In those days, a coach wrote his starting lineup on the baseball before the umpire put it into play. The nervous senior walked the first three batters he faced. Then, while a relief pitcher was warming up in the bullpen, the cleanup hitter did what he was supposed to do. He hit a grand slam home run.

When the coach walked to the mound, the pitcher was in tears.

Rabenhorst tried to console him, telling him that it was just a game and it just wasn't his day.

“It may just be a game,” the pitcher replied, “but that ball he hit over the fence had my name on it.”

When he did in 1972, Rabenhorst left his name on the lives of hundreds of former LSU athletes.

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