Winningest coach also a winner off field
On Oct. 13, Norfolk Catholic Coach Jeff Bellar won his 344th game, the most ever by a coach in Nebraska high school football.
And on Oct. 16, students, parents and players realized anew he is just as big a winner off the field.
During a surprise, all-school assembly in the activities center, students, teachers and parents packed one side of the gymnasium. The high school band played the school fight song while cheerleaders led the crowd.
Then, as Bellar walked to the podium, he received a standing ovation.
Donald Ridder, president of Norfolk Catholic, said he has been involved in education for 32 years and met a lot of people in that time.
No one is quite like Bellar, he said.
"What I have learned is we have as good a person here as I have ever met," Ridder said. "Seriously, he is such a good role model."
Ridder said two of his own brothers played for Nebraska under then-Coach Tom Osborne. Bellar is similar to Osborne in that he acts like a father to his players, Ridder said.
Bellar broke the state record for wins with a 35-0 victory over Wayne High School, surpassing the 343 wins of another Catholic high school coach, now-retired Tom Jaworski of Creighton Preparatory School in Omaha.
And the team kept winning. Norfolk Catholic, 9-0, defeated West Point-Beemer 49-21 Oct. 20 and overcame Wahoo Bishop Neuman 20-7 in a first-round C1 playoff game Oct. 27. The Knights defeated David City Aquinas 21-17 in the second round Nov. 3, advancing to the semifinals against Wahoo Nov. 10.
Bellar, who also is principal of Norfolk Catholic, has won eight Class C1 state championships – most recently in 2012 – and had five state runners-up, including two years ago.
Those wins weren’t the only thing on Bellar’s mind as the school took time to honor him. First, he said he appreciated everyone who had a hand in putting the assembly together.
Then he had some special words for one of those in attendance — his 92-year-old father, John Bellar of Norfolk – whom he described as "a tremendous Christian role model."
"He (John Bellar) was never embarrassed about living for the Lord and putting Jesus first," Bellar said. "And that’s how he has lived his life every day."
Bellar also expressed appreciation for his mother, Delores, who died about six months ago. "I know she is up in heaven smiling right now, and I appreciate everything she has done for me," Bellar said.
And he thanked his wife, Lorrie, and son, Jordan, who were at the assembly. Bellar said his wife and family over the years understood all the time he spent away from them because of coaching. He also thanked the Norfolk Catholic community, including parents and teachers.
The coach, who grew up in Walthill and began his career at Norfolk Catholic in 1985, said he has been surrounded by good coaches throughout the years. The wins reflect on everyone, and putting "the pieces together," he said.
"Coaching is working with people to get the best out of them," he said.
Bellar said he tried to continue the excellence associated with the Norfolk Catholic football program. The pillars: doing the best you can, doing things right and treating others the way you would want to be treated, he said.
Shane Anderson, the school’s activities director, served as emcee for the event and led the school in prayer. Along with his enthusiasm and passion for football and education, Bellar always has had a love of family and strong belief in God, Anderson said.
Drew Pospisil, a Norfolk Catholic senior football player, thanked Bellar for his dedication to the players.
"It’s an honor and a privilege to play for you," Pospisil said.