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He went national on Nov. 20, 1939, three days before Thanksgiving and 81 days after Hitler marched into Poland, igniting a war that would eventually come home even to tiny North Manchester, Ind., and Manchester College.

That’s the day the late Don Lieberum ’40, a Fort Wayne North Side graduate and the quarterback of Carl Burt’s Manchester football team, turned up in a small item in Newsweek magazine.

Queen Wilhelmina of the Netherlands and King Leopold of Belgium were on the cover that week. Lieberum was there because he was leading the nation in scoring, and leading an undefeated Manchester team that was rolling up big numbers with Burt’s split-wing offense.

The Spartans had put up games of 69, 72, 41 and 41 points on the way to a 7-0 record, and they had been limited to fewer than 26 points only once. Lieberum, meanwhile, had scored four touchdowns in a game twice on his way to 19 touchdowns and 115 points, single-season school records that stand to this day.

Eventually, Manchester would finish 7-1, losing 20-14 to Ball State in its final game. Lieberum, a senior that year, would finish second in the nation in scoring behind Lloyd Madden of the Colorado School of Mines. But as with so many Manchester grads, his mark on the world was only just beginning to assume form.

“My dad was an overachiever,” says his son, Don. “At Manchester he was the senior class president, the captain of the football team and the editor of the (school) newspaper. He didn’t mind responsibility.”

Nor was he any stranger to accomplishment.

After graduation he was invited to try out with the Chicago Bears, Pittsburgh Steelers and New York Giants, eventually landing with the Giants, for whom the official record says he played 11 games in 1942. He went on to serve in the Marine Corps, teach for 20 years in Fort Wayne, become a scratch golfer who twice was runner-up in the Fort Wayne city tournament and, as a longtime high school football and basketball official, serve as president of the Northeast Indiana Officials Association.

Along the way, he officiated the 1961 state championship basketball game between Indianapolis Manual and Kokomo. Kokomo, led by Jim “Goose” Ligon won 68-66 in overtime, despite a combined 43 points from Dick and Tom Van Arsdale of Manual. The game was also notable for one unassuming line in the box score: Technical foul on Coach Platt (Kokomo).  

Don Lieberum, who’d worked the Muncie Central-Bloomington state semifinal game the year before, was the guy who whistled it.

“Late in the game (Joe) Platt got up on the raised part of the floor when time was in, which you weren’t supposed to do,” his son recalls with a chuckle. “And Dad blew the whistle. I thought they were gonna hang him.”

But it was perfectly in character for the senior Lieberum, who died in 1982 at the age of 64 and, his son remembers, never lost the proper perspective on things.

“His line was ‘I had a lot of fun playing sports, and I had a lot of success,’” he says.  “‘But it was all about the fun. If you ever find yourself playing sports for any other reason than fun, it’s the wrong reason.’”

By Benjamin Smith