There are occasions when we hear of athletes demanding that their Division I college allow them to play two sports. Noel Jenke upped that when being recruited by the Gophers as a 1964-65 senior at Owatonna High School.
“My dad told Minnesota that he wasn’t going there unless he could play three sports,” said Joe Jenke, Noel’s son. “They agreed, but then the coach [Murray Warmath] made him play spring football rather than baseball.”
Noel Jenke, 73, died in a Milwaukee hospital Thursday. He had health problems in recent years. He had surgery earlier this month, was readmitted last week in serious condition, and was taken off life support Thursday. He had both a negative and a positive test for COVID-19 during his hospital stays.
Jenke was a hard-hitting linebacker and potent lefthanded hitter in baseball. Remarkably, he played Gophers hockey — as a freshman, then three seasons of varsity (34 games) — after arriving from a high school without a hockey program.
There was an Owatonna junior program started by Kenny Austin, a Roseau transplant, and Jenke starred on midget teams that went to national tournaments.
Jenke was part of a tremendous defense that took the Gophers to a Big Ten tri-championship with Purdue and Indiana in 1967. He was a team captain later and drafted in the 12th round by the Vikings in 1969.
Jenke played summer baseball in the collegiate league organized by the Gophers. He finally played for the Gophers as a senior in 1969, was named an All-America outfielder and drafted No. 13 overall by Boston.
The Red Sox signed Jenke and sent him to Class AAA Louisville, where he batted .263. He was in Louisville and Class A Winston-Salem in 1970, was batting .238 at Class AA in 1971 and quit to join the Vikings.
Jenke was a special teamer, then played for Atlanta in 1972 and Green Bay in 1973-74.
Dave Winfield, great Gopher, baseball Hall of Famer, is cited for being drafted in three sports. He had never played football. Noel Jenke played three sports, including hockey against long odds.
• Parade All-America in football, baseball star and outdoor hockey weren’t enough for Jenke in Owatonna. He also had three letters in basketball.
• Mark Kristo helped organize a 50th anniversary of Owatonna High hockey in September 2018. “We had 10 players from those earlier midget teams and gave them varsity letters,” Kristo said. “Noel had tears in his eyes.”
• Contrary to bios, Jenke was not taken in the NHL draft by Chicago. Glen Sonmor, his ex-Gophers coach, selected him for the WHA’s Fighting Saints in 1972 — mostly for publicity.
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