Thursday, April 17, 2014

Friday, April 4, 2014

Keep Kansas Dry! The 1934 Election

by Kristine Schmucker, HCHM Curator

We stand at the crossroads.  November 6 will be the day of decision.  A vote ‘no’ on repeal will uphold the reputation of the state for honesty and sobriety.” -Editors of the Evening Kansan-Republican, October 30, 1934

In 1934, the fifteen year national prohibition on alcohol was in danger of repeal.  In 1919, Prohibitionists had successfully promoted the 18th Amendment, which prohibited the use of intoxicating beverages, to the U.S. Constitution.  Seen as a ‘progressive’ move at the close of World War I, prohibition was viewed, at best, as a ‘noble experiment’ that had failed by the 1930s. Nationally, the 21st Amendment which repealed the 18th Amendment was on the ballot in 1934. 

Kansas was a leader in the prohibition movement with outspoken leaders and some of the strictest statues.  Historically, various temperance organizations were active even prior to the Civil War.  Carrie A. Nation inspired many during her saloon smashing days in the late 1890s.  In 1917, Gov. Capper signed the “bone-dry” bill.  Under this legislation, it was illegal for anyone to have or make any intoxicating liquors.  The one exception allowed for communion wine.  In 1934, when the rest of the nation was weary of the restrictions, Kansas was not ready to give up on prohibition. The Kansas legislature passed a resolution to put the question on the general ballot in November 6, 1934. In Harvey County, people were ready to vote their mind.

Evening Kansan-Republican, November 3, 1934

Throughout the fall, the editors of the Evening Kansan-Republican urged readers to “Keep Kansas Dry for Kansas Youth”.  Full page ads were placed in the newspaper urging people to “make sure that you vote No on Repeal.”  Signs with the slogan, “Keep Saloons Out of Kansas” were posted along major roads.  The proposed repeal became the outstanding issue of the 1934 election.

Ezra W. King
Hess, p. 259

With all the activity, one man quietly did his part.  Ezra W. King was a well respected bridge builder from the Hesston community.  In his obituary it was noted, “he took into his daily transaction and carried with him every moment of his life his deep spiritual convictions . . . proving it was possible to be honest in conducting a successful business.” (Evening Kansan-Republican, 5 December 1934.)  

Sign made by Ezra W. King, 1934
HCHM 2011.20.1
In the fall of 1934, shortly before his death, King made several metal signs that he posted around the area. The signs succinctly stated his opinion on the 21st Amendment, “Vote No – Help Keep Kansas Dry.” Kansans and Harvey County rejected the Amendment to repeal the 18th by a large margin although it passed at the national level.

The state of Kansas remained a ‘dry’ state until 1948.  Only two other states took longer to repeal prohibition – Oklahoma (1959) and Missouri (1966).

Clifford King holding sign
made by his father, Ezra King, in 1934.
The Harvey County Historical Museum and Archives would like to thank Cliff King, son of Ezra W. King, who donated one of his father’s signs to the museum.  The sign illustrates a fascinating slice of Harvey County history.

  • Evening Kansan-Republican, October 2, 1934, October 13, 1934, October 30, 1934, November 3, 1934, November 5, 1934, November 6, 1934, November 7, 1934,  December 5, 1934.
  • Bader, Robert Smith.  Prohibition In Kansas:  A History. University of Kansas Press, 1996.
  • Hess, Mary. Anatomy of a Town: Hesston, Kansas.   Illustrations by D.A. Graham, 1976.
  • "Prohibition" Kansapedia - Kansas Historical Society.
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Friday, March 28, 2014

"Excellent and Efficient Service" Miss Lucinda McAlpine

by Kristine Schmucker, HCHM Curator

"The aim of the librarian to make the institution a means of the greatest possible benefit to all the inhabitants of the city. . . . A pleasant reading room, supplied with interesting magazines and papers is a strong foil to the places where some youths congregate and where the influences are degrading, or to the street where some gather and devise mischief which leads them to the police court and prison." -Miss Lucinda McAlpine, First Librarian, Newton Free Library, 1897.
The library, in one form or another, has been a part of Harvey County history almost from the beginning. The very earliest library was a semi-private library organized by leading women in the Newton community; however, the books in the "Ben Franklin Library" were not available to everyone.  By 1885, the Newton Public Library Association had been formed with leadership from the local chapter or the Women's Christian Temperance Union.  For an annual fee of $1.00, members could use the library.   

In 1886, the Kansas legislature passed a law allowing second class cities to levy a tax for support of a free library.  This levy was approved by Newton voters in 1886 and the "Newton Free Library" was established.  Rooms were rented above the N. Barnum and Co. Store at 517 Main.  Miss Lucinda McAlpine was hired as the first librarian.  Her salary for the seventeen years she worked at the library was $40 a month.

Library located on the second floor
of the N. Barnum and Co. at 517 Main, Newton 1886-1899
Photo date: 1910
HCHM Photo Archives
Lucinda McAlpine  was 49 years old when she agreed to serve as librarian.  Born in Factoryville, PA on 11 November 1837,  Miss McAlpine was well educated.  She attended a country school in Pennsylvania, followed by Waverly Academy.  In 1862, she graduated from Claverack College in New York.  Following graduation, she taught at Claverack College, and Albion Academy in Iowa before coming to Kansas in 1884.  After teaching a year in Kingman, Ks, Miss McAlpine moved to Newton where she taught first grade at Lincoln Elementary. Typically, Miss McAlpine would devote her mornings to teaching and then in the afternoon she would be at the library.

She wanted to share her love of learning with all, a sentiment that she expressed often in her reports to the library board.  She sought "to make the Newton Free Library the most interesting institution in our city." To meet that goal the library hosted lectures and concerts in addition to providing research assistance and reading materials.

In selecting books and magazines to include in the library, Miss McAlpine noted that "careful attention has been given to reference works for clubs and schools." She also was concerned about the types of books available to young impressionable readers. In selecting materials to include in the library for young people "she . . .  kept a careful eye over their reading."   Help was provided for researchers "and none turned away unsatisfied if possible to find the required information." 

Her obituary noted that 
"it was as librarian that her influence was chiefly felt, and through that medium she had the opportunity to touch the lives of young and old in a way the meant much to the culture and uplifting of the community." 
Miss Lucinda McAlpine, 1902
First Librarian 1886-1902
HCHM Photo Archives
In 1899, the library was moved to the second floor of the Randall Building at 6th and Main.   The library board rented the space for $15 a month. This new location was not without problems. The rooms on the third floor were rented to other people. Cleanliness of the shared spaces, the stairs and hallways,  soon became an issue. The library board addressed the issue by requesting the third floor tenants clean the stairs and the hallway.  When that approach did not work, the board decided that the area be "scrubbed on Mondays and Thursdays and the bill presented to the tenants of the flats."  Unfortunately, the issue continued, and at a July 1902 meeting the board decided that "the librarian should apportion the cleaning cost among the upstairs renters and collect from them."  Miss McAlpine was less than happy with this new task "imposed" on her by the board. 

" A pleasant reading room"
Newton Free Library Reading Room
2nd floor Randall Building, 6th and Main
Western Journal of Commerce, 1901, p. 4
Miss McAlpine retired as librarian in 1902, but she remained involved as library board secretary for six more years.  In 1911, the library board  expressed their appreciation of her years of "excellent and efficient service."  They noted that under her care, "the library grew from a few volumes to many, and it was largely [her] understanding of the needs of the public that directed the purchase of books.

Due to an injury in her youth and increasing difficulty with rheumatism, Miss McAlpine spent that last years of her life in the home of her niece, Lulu Knight Raber, as an invalid. On January 31, 1922, Miss Lucinda McAlpine passed away.

  • Evening Kansan Republican 1 February 1922, 2 February 1922
  • Newton Kansan 50th Anniversary Issue, 22 August 1922, p. 75-76.
  • Western Journal of Commerce, 1901.  HCHM Archives.
  • HCHM Photo Archives
  • Allbaugh, Alden.  "The Newton Public Library 100 Year History, 1886-1986" HCHM Archives.
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Thursday, March 20, 2014

"I'm the World's Worst Loser:" Coach John Ravenscroft

by Kristine Schmucker, HCHM Curator

This post concludes our series on Newton High basketball. Click for Part 1 and Part 2.

"I'm the world's worst loser 
and that's why I don't lose very often." 
-Coach John Ravenscroft in Buller, p. 41.

Coach John Ravenscroft
NHS Basketball Coarch 1946-1958
Born in Newton on January 13, 1915, to Mason and Lucile A. Ravenscroft, John Ravenscroft had a difficult childhood.  By age seven he was fatherless and frequently in trouble.  However, he was "crazy about basketball."

He played on the YMCA teams and was known to shoot baskets for eight hours a day "till my hands swelled up."  Ravenscroft credited Frank Lindley for straightening him up.  

"He got me back in high school.  He insisted I clean myself up; he took me to a clothing store and bought me a new suit for $10."
Ravenscroft won a position on Newton's  varsity team as a junior in 1932/33.  He was on the team that lost at the state finals in 1934. 

Later he recalled, 
"Basketball was the vehicle I rode out of the poorest section of town, the wrong side of the tracks.  We were poor."  -Ravenscroft in Buller, p. 38
After graduating from Newton High School in 1934, he attended University of Colorado and was a member of Colorado's 1940 Big Seven championship team.  He graduated from Colorado in 1940 with a BS in Science and Mathematics.  In 1958, he received his Masters in Education from University of Wichita (Wichita State). Throughout his career as a coach and teacher, he stressed the value of education.

Former player Ken Schlup recalled;
Ravenscroft always preached to us . . . when you graduate from Newton High School, you're expected to  go to college and get a degree."  -Ken Schlup in Buller, p. 40

Meanwhile, Coach Lindley was searching for a successor and someone who could continue the winning tradition at Newton High. In addition to playing under Lindley, Ravenscroft had served as assistant coach for two seasons. He was an excellent choice to succeed Coach Lindley.     

Basketball was a very important part of the Newton community and a strong team was expected.

Former NHS Basketball player Ken Franz recalled;
Lindley Hall where we played at was sold out every game. Almost the whole place was reserved seats. I can remember getting out of school at 3:15 and there would be people lined up for blocks trying to get tickets for the few seats that we still had. I think we were kind of heralded as heroes, I guess."  (Elliott) 
 As coach, Ravenscroft "added his touches to Newton basketball, and kept the famous basketball tradition . . . sailing along at a  faster clip than ever before." (Buller p. 38)  One early change he made was in the way a player shot the ball. He encouraged his players to use the "one-handed, pronated shot (the modern shot)."  Most teams were still shooting the ball with two hands in the 1940s.  

His team won the state championship the very first year he coached in 1946.  The tradition continued from there.

"The tallest team in the state . . . "
NHS Basketball Team, 1948
 (lt-rt) Fred Schroeder, Harold Hauck, Bill Lienhard,
Coach John Ravenscroft,Clay Gray, Lanoy Loganbill, Gordon Byler
HCHM Photo Archives
"The Basketball team the year we were seniors [1948]  . . . had an aura of celebrity about them, even when they were separated, walking down the stairs or sitting in class.  Maybe it was their height (after all they were the tallest team in the state) or their undenied success that removed them from the rest of us, buffered by some mystique of camaraderie or fate." -Norma Werner Wilson, Our Journey: 1948-1998, p. 67.

The 1948 team was undefeated until the last game, winning 25 consecutive games before losing to Lawrence in the state finals by three points.  

Newton returned to the State Championship a year later and won.

NHS Basketball Team, State Champions, 1949

Celebration after NHS beat Wichita East
for the State Championship, 1949
HCHM Photo Archives
NHS Basketball Trophies, 1949
HCHM Photo Archives

However, there was a darker side to the success. Not all students were allowed to try out for the basketball team. Perhaps Ravenscroft was able to make his most significant contribution to the community by insisting on the integration of the basketball team.
"I told him (Lindley) that I would take the job only if all kids got to play and we would do away with the separate Colored and Mexican teams." -John Ravenscroft in Buller, p. 41
Until  late 1940s, young men of color were not allowed to play on the High School basketball team.  No matter how well they played. There were separate teams for the black and Hispanic students.

Newton Mexican-American Basketball Team
Front: Alex Tafolla, Fran (Curly) Rodriguez
Center: Henry Rodriguez, Trino Camargo, Nick Jaso
Back: Salvador Monarez, Angel Rodriguez, Elmer Vega,
Frank Florez, Bacho Rodriguez
"Unable to . . . play for the Railroaders we formed our own Mexican team with a lot of support from our church and minority community. . . . We won three consecutive state championship held in Wichita in March.  We competed against other Mexican teams from all over the state of Kansas, such as Wichita, Kansas City, Hutchinson, Topeka, Chanute.  We were known as Wiley and McCall.  Mr. McCall was our sponsor.  He furnished us with brand new green and gold uniforms. -Ralph Perez, "'49er Memories . . . To Be a Minority," Along the Golden Trail: 1949-1999, p. 95

Page from the 1944-1945 NHS Railroader
"After 50 Years - the scars are still here."

At the 50th reunion for the classes 1948 and 1949, the painful issue of racism at Newton High was addressed. Discussed in the Memories booklet under a section labeled "The Black Basketball Team" people were encouraged to share their stories. The question, "Do you remember any incidents that clearly showed bigotry or racial callousness?" in the book, "Our Journey, 1948 - 1998", revealed an interesting dichotomy. The majority of white respondents to the question noted "I did not know we had such a thing" as a black basketball team and "I sure didn't know that these guys were not allowed on the team." One of the respondents was a varsity player on the basketball team.  The Black respondents reported that while they were allowed to play football or be on the track team, basketball was off-limits.  

Clayton Garnett recalled:
"He (Lindley) let us use the old outdated basketball uniforms of the White team. Our coach was Jack Smith and he got permission to play one game in Lindley Hall because we were playing Tulsa and we knew the junior high gym would not accommodate the number of spectators we would have for that game." -Clayton Garnett, Our Journey: 1948-1998, p. 82
Games were played in the Junior High Gym and spectators had to stand to watch.  

"The 1952 team led by the brilliant point guard Bernie Castro"

When he took the job, Coach John Ravenscroft changed the policy, but it took a few years for the results to be visible.

NHS Basketball Team, 1953
Asst Coach Francis Markham, John Gonzalez, Don Bafus, Jim Rafferty, Gary Ewert, Vic Ewy,
 Bob Boumgartner, Bill Embry, Jim Cadle, Don Peterson, Pete Charlton, Victor McCall,
 Jach Bannon, John Reese, Bob Mellott, Raymond Hernandez, Bernie Castro,
 Manger Lewis Bartel, and Coach John Ravenscroft 
Starting in Junior High, minority students needed to learn the skills taught to the white students to be competitive on the court.  In 1952, Bernie Castro, a sophomore, became the first minority student to play on NHS varsity team.
Just knowing that Bernie was out there on the court made the family so proud.  Our proudest moment was in 1952 when Newton won the state championship.  The next day the newspaper headline read, "The 1952 team led by the brilliant point guard Bernie Castro claimed the elusive title." -Yolanda E. Gracia in Buller, p.40.
Bernie Castro
The first minority student to play
 on the varsity team at NHS, 1952

1953-54 Team
Back (lt-rt): Gary Ewert, Bernie Castro, Don Peterson, Willis Dyck, Jerry Nickel,
 Bob Baumgartner, Pete Charlton, Dennis Walker, Coach Ravenscroft.
Front: Loren Newberry, manage John Gonzalez, Jim Rafferty, Raymond Hernandez,
Victor Ewy, Alan Newberry, Bill Embry, Jim Allen, Asst. Coach Clifford Yarnell.

Ray Hernandez

Slowly, Ravenscroft was able to integrate his team.  Floyd "Skippy" Garnett made the team in 1955 and K.Wylee Roberts in 1957.  John Smith was on the 1956 state championship team.
"I was proud of all my players, and ever heard a single disparaging word concerning the minority players.  I loved them all." -Coach John Ravenscroft in Buller, p. 41.

Coach Ravenscroft resigned from the head coach position in Newton in 1958 with a record of 287 wins and 51 losses. Under Ravenscroft, Newton won four state championships in 1946, 1949, 1952, and 1956. He remained involved in the Newton schools for four more years.  He then moved to Yreka, Ca, where he coached high school basketball.  He retired in 1962 with a career record of 306 wins and 55 losses.  He never had a losing season.  He was inducted in to the Kansas Sports Hall of Fame in 1990.  He co-founded United Scholarships, Inc., in Yreka to provide financial aid to high school graduates attend college. 

Ravenscroft wanted to be remembered as an educator which is reflected in the number of his players that went on to college.  Of the 84 kids who played basketball for him, 81 earned college degrees.  Two were killed in military service. In a 1998 Kansan editorial, Bill Wilson noted that when asked how he would like to be remembered, Ravenscroft said, "As an educator of kids." 

John Ravenscroft died at the age of 83 in Yreka, CA on March 16, 1998.

For a complete history of Newton High School basketball, Can't You Hear the Whistle Blowing by Curtis Buller, 1997 is an excellent resource. 

  • HCHM Photo Archives
  • Railroader NHS Annual for 1944-1945.  HCHM Photo Archives
  • Newton City Directories 1913-1943. HCHM Archives
  • Newton Kansan, 17 March 1998.  "John Ravenscroft was a teacher of men" editorial by Bill Wilson.
  • Kansas Sports Hall of Fame - Ravenscroft, John at http://www/
  • Wilson, Bill.  "The kids mattered the most to John Ravenscroft" The Kansan 19 March 1998, p. 4.
  • Buller, Curtis.  Can't You Hear the Whistle Blowing?  Hesston, Ks:  Prestige Printing, 1997
  • Elliott, Chris.  "Newton Was Basketball Royalty" at
  • Wilson, Norma Werner, ed. "Our Journey 50th Reunion Book: NHS 1948-1998", 1999.  HCHM Archives.
  • "Along the Golden Trail, NHS 1949 50th Anniversary Book of Memories", 1999. HCHM Archives.
  • Kansas Prep Basketball History, Pt 3 - 5:  Kansas High School Association Consolidation, 1916-1920.
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Friday, March 14, 2014

"There are Bright Prospects" at Newton High: the Success of Frank Lindley

by Kristine Schmucker, HCHM Curator

There is a legend around Kansas 
that a baby boy in Newton never is given a rattle, 
but a miniature basketball.
This story never has been substantiated,
but it is true in substance if not to the letter.
For the male child in Newton grows up with one ambition,
and that ambitions is 10 feet tall;
the  height of a basket rim from the floor.
(Buller, vi)

"Kansas was a basketball hotbed by the turn of the century" and Newton, Kansas was in the middle.  Several teams had been established and had a record of success.  Click here for part 1.

The first basketball team at Newton High School 1906.

NHS  Basketball team, 1906
lt-rt: Claude Griffith, John Utterback, Ervin Hiebert,
Vane Shambaugh, Ben ?, Cliff Rousell sitting on the floor.

In 1910 the Arkansas Valley League was formed and by 1926 league members were Hutchinson, Kingman, Newton, Wichita, Winfield, Wellington and Arkansas City.  For many years the Ark Valley was extremely competitive, and Newton was the team to beat. 

With the completion of a new high school in 1914, Newton High had "one of the best gymnasiums and basket-ball courts in Kansas."  (Newtone, 1914) The 1914 Newtone noted that there were "bright prospects" at Newton High for students to develop mentally and physically.  At the same time a young man by the name of Frank Lindley was hired as a teacher of athletics and all around coach. 
Frank Lindley, 1914

Frank Lindley came to Newton High School at the age of 22. He had played college basketball at Southwestern College and as a sophomore he scored 40 point in a game against Fairmount College (later Wichita State University).  He graduated from the University of Chicago in 1913.

NHS Basketball Squad, 1914
Lindley brought a strong work ethic and an emphasis on fundamentals.  He began experimenting with the new zone defense and is credited with being the first to use it in Kansas.  A fast break offense was used to complement the zone defense.   His teams at Newton High became known for their "hard-nosed zone defense."

Competition for a spot on the high school varsity was fierce.  Boys in elementary school would dream of playing for Coach Lindley. Only those "with talent, and more importantly, devotion to Coach Lindley's principles made the team."  If a player failed, "others could fill their position with little loss of quality." 

Lindley had high expectations of his players. Turnovers were inexcusable.  Practices could be grueling.  Clay Hedrick was on the 1942 Championship team and he recalled: 
"It didn't matter how long it took.  We ran plays until somebody got a layup or a wide-open set shot.  If the man you were guarding made a basket, you heard about it." (Clay Hedrick, 1942 Championship team)
The Newton High teams were noted for the way they played as a team.  In the early years of the game communication between the coach and players was forbidden during the game.  

1926 Championship State Team
HCHM Photo Archives
This did not seem to affect the Newton team because "they were so well drilled in a minimal variety of effective set plays that coaching from the bench was not needed." In 1926, a Newton Evening-Republican reporter noted:
"anyone who is acquainted with Mr. Lindley, knows that he will sit thru an entire game, scarcely showing any signs of emotion, let alone any signs which a player might interpret as signals for certain plays." 

NHS Basketball Team 1931, Undefeated.
Carl Grimm, Russell "Sticker"Briar, Coach Frank Lindley
Coach J. Birch Stuart, Bill Walters, Charles O'Brien, Eddie Sattler
Red Royer, Elton Henry, Naaman Brown, Johnnie Edwards, Bond "Tarzan"Tourtillot
A reporter who watched the 1931 NHS team noted:
 "the two post system was perfected.  This crew had a lot of close calls but could turn on the heat anytime the occasion demanded. . . .The team is well balanced with three smart veterans, Brown, Edwards, Tourtilott, as a backbone.  Brown is a sharpshooter and a sparkplug.  Tourtillot is the pivotal man on offense, and Edwards directs the offense - using a clever and deceptive passing ability. . . . The best of all teams ever produced by Frank Lindley and Birch Stuart." (Buller, 271-272) 
The 1931 NHS Team finished the year undefeated.

Six other teams finished with only one loss during the season.   
1935 Team 17-4
Back Row: John Ravenscroft, Leason "Pete" McCloud, Coach Frank Lindley,
Delbert McDonnough, Coach Gus Haury, Tom Luellen, Sid Hovart, Clare Dunlap
Front Row: Walt Claassen, Gilbert Quinton, Gene Grove,
Loren Hickerson, Louis Turner, James Jones, Fletcher Chaffee

Lindley's last  state championship was in 1942. Player, Clay Hedrick later recalled the atmosphere of the town.
"Newton shut down in 1942 when we played in Topeka. We didn't talk about anything but winning a state championship that year.  The town expected, and the years when we didn't win a title we were right there."

Lindley retired from coaching basketball in 1945 with a career record of 594-118. His one losing year was in 1939.  While at Newton, in addition to coaching, Lindley served as principal from 1923 through 1951.

Under Frank Lindley, Newton High teams appeared in the state championships 16 times from 1914-1945.  Of those 16 appearances, they won 8 state championships; in 1916, 1917, 1921, 1926, 1931, 1936, 1937, 1942. The team also won 18 Ark Valley League titles. They often competed against larger schools, like Wichita East, Wichita North, Wyandotte and Topeka teams.  

A former NHS player, John Ravenscroft, was Lindley's successor. 

Stan Dunbar, Salina State Journal sports reporter and one of Lindley's fiercest critics, summed up Lindley's long, successful career as a basketball coach on at the time of Lindley's retirement:

"Kansas basketball owes a salute to Frank Lindley, the man who knew it best, taught it best,and without whom the games' progress would have been far slower." (Buller, p. 12)
Frank Lindley died on April 28, 1968 at the age of 78 in Texas.  He was survived by his wife, Betty.  He was inducted into the Kansas Sports Hall of Fame in 1975 and "is considered by many to be one of the greatest high school coaches in Kansas history." (Kansas Sports Hall of Fame - Lindley, Frank)

Next week we will conclude this series with the Ravenscroft years.

  • The Newtone, 1914
  • HCHM Photo Archives
  • "Frank Lindley, Retired Local High School Principal, Coach, Dies" Newton Kansan 29 April 1968, p.1.
  • Kansas Sports Hall of Fame - Lindley, Frank at http://www/
  • Buller, Curtis.  Can't You Hear the Whistle Blowing?  Hesston, Ks:  Prestige Printing, 1997
  • Elliott, Chris.  "Newton Was Basketball Royalty" at
  • Kansas Prep Basketball History, Pt 3 - 5:  Kansas High School Association Consolidation, 1916-1920.
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Friday, March 7, 2014

It Proved a Very Fascinating Pastime: The Beginnings of Basketball in Harvey County

by Kristine Schmucker, HCHM Curator

'March Madness' is upon us!  In light of the WSU Men's Basketball Team success with an amazing record of 31-0, we thought it would be interesting to explore contributions to the game of basketball made by Harvey County people.  This is the first in a series featuring basketball in Harvey County. 

"We're getting a hell of a lot of exercise sitting around and playing cards."
With this complaint, made at a card game in Newton, the new game of basketball came to Harvey County in 1900.  Among the group of men that regularly met to play cards was a businessman by the name of William C. Kosa.  He agreed to teach his friends a new game that he had learned at a Chicago YMCA to help them get more exercise - basketball.  
William C. "Uncle Will" Kosa
Basketball Pioneer
Kosa had learned the new game played on the outdoor playground of the Hull House in Chicago.  He even had a copy of the rules. Along with another local businessman, R.A. Goerz, he organized a team known as the "Newton Ajax" in 1900 to play basketball. 

Ajax Basketball Team, 1900
William C. Kosa, top row
HCHM Photo Archives 
Same image also in the William C. Kosa Collection,
 University of Illinois at Chicago Library, Special Collections.

Basketball was a brand new sport in 1900.  Ten years earlier, Dr. James Naismth, while working at a YMCA in  Springfield, Ma, developed a game that could be played indoors during the winter months when it was difficult to exercise outside.  The game involved 13 rules, a ball, and peach baskets hung at a height of ten feet.  Two years later, he published the rules of his new game "Basketball".

In 1898, William C. Kosa moved to Newton, Ks from Chicago and with him he had the first official basketball rule book.  While in Newton, Kosa organized the first competitive basketball teams in Kansas - the Newton Ajax.  Kosa served as player, manager, and organizer of the new sport.  

Unfortunately, since they were the first team to organize in Kansas, they were also the only team.  Very few people in the state Kansas knew about basketball.  To solve this problem, a second team was created from members of Co. D, Kansas Militia and was known as the "Newton Eagles."

Newton Eagles Basketball Team, 1902
Top Row: Howard Randall, Guy Sawyer, Chris Hayman
First Row: John Lander, William C. Kosa** (coach/manager), Archie Caveny
HCHM Photo Archives

The first game was played on 6 February 1900 on "an improvised court with an improvised ball." 

The Newton Kansan reported; 
"Basketball was introduced in Newton last night.  A game took place between members of Co. D and one from 'civilians'.  It proved a very fascinating pastime and those who took part are quite enthusiastic over the sport."(Newton Kansan 7 February 1900)

Throughout the spring of 1900 the two teams regularly faced each other.  Games were held on Wednesday nights at the Kansas Armory. Admission to the game was twenty-five cents; children free. One game attracted 500 spectators.  Although the "fast" Ajax team usually came out on top, "it was never a foregone conclusion, for the army team often turned the tables with characteristic Newton fight." 

Gradually more teams formed in Kansas.  On December 22, 1900 the Newton Ajax went against their first out of town opponent, the Kansas University, coached by the inventor of the game, Dr. James Naismith. The game was "hard fought, characterized by rough play and wrangling with the referee over decisions" but the Newton Ajax were able to win the game with a score of 2-0.  

Later, Coach Kosa described the strategy he used: 
"We used to get a two point lead and hold the ball the rest of the game to keep our opponents from scoring."
Kosa's Newton team "demonstrated team-playing and expert ball-handling a full stride ahead of Naismith." (Newton Kansan Weekly 28 December 1900) Kosa is credited with improving ball handling techniques and an emphasis on team work to create a successful competitive team. 

Playing basketball, ca 1915
Rural south central Kansas
Matthew Voth Collection of
Cornelius and Minnie Schmidt Photos
Used with permission.

The playing conditions were also often quite rough.  Unlike today's polished hardwood, the condition of the court could vary widely. Games could be played outside on a somewhat level area. If playing inside, floors might be rough and warped.  The baskets may or may not have a backboard.  A game against El Dorado was played in an abandoned, unheated ice house.    

As time went on the two Newton teams worked together. The Newton Ajax team met the visiting teams on the Newton home court. The Newton Eagles team consisted of men who could easily participate in road trip games.  

Newton Eagles Basketball Team
Company D Kansas National Guard, 1904
Rudolph A. Goerz, Howes, William C. Kosa **, (coach/manager)
 Guy Sawyer, George Hetzel
(On Floor) M.W. Mandull and Howes
HCHM Photo Archives
In 1905, the Newton Athletic Club was established, combining the two into one Newton team.  They successfully played against nationally known teams. During the 1905-06 season Newton was undefeated until they played Baker University.  Newton was able to secure three independent state titles 1905-1910.

Gradually the focus of basketball in Harvey County changed to college and high school teams. Newton High School's first basketball team was established in 1906.

William C. Kosa remained in Newton, Kansas until 1940 when he and his wife, Lucia, moved to California.  Kosa continued to have an interest in Newton and was a founding member of the "Newton Old Timers Club" established in 1967 to celebrate Newton athletes of the past.  William Kosa returned to Newton in 1970 to help celebrate "Newton the birth place of basketball."  

On January 1, 1977, at the age of 100, William C. Kosa, one of the "greatest Pioneers of Basketball" died in California.

Thank you to the University of Illinois at Chicago Library, Special Collections staff who provided information from the William C. Kosa Collection for this post. 

**In some photos this individual is identified as John Hetzel.  In the William C. Kosa Collection, University of Illinois at Chicago Library, Special Collections,  he is identified as William C. Kosa.

  • Newton Kansan 7 February 1900.
  • Newton Kansan Weekly 28 December 1900
  • Millham, Charles.  "Newton is Basketball Capital of the Universe" Wichita Beacon, March 23, 1930, Section 5.  Reprinted in  Buller, Curtis.  Can't You Hear the Whistle Blowing? A History of Newton Basketball the Years 1900 thr 1958 & 1979. Hesston, Ks: Hesston Prestige Printing, 1997.
  • Buller, Curtis.  Can't You Hear the Whistle Blowing? A History of Newton Basketball the Years 1900 thru 1958 & 1979. Hesston, Ks: Hesston Prestige Printing, 1997.
  • William C. Kosa Collection, University of Illinois at Chicago Library, Special Collections.
    • Newton Kansan: 12 August 1976, 3 January 1977
    • Wichita Eagle 5 January 1977
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Friday, February 28, 2014

Does This Mean All Children? A.W. Roberson Part 3

by Kristine Schmucker, HCHM Curator

This post concludes our series featuring the life of A.W. Roberson. To read Part 1 click here, and Part 2 here

Perhaps nothing illustrated the continuing racial discrimination in Harvey County like the swimming pool at Athletic Park.
Athletic Park Municipal Swimming Pool, Newton, 1951
In April 1934, the citizens of Newton approved a $30,000 bond for a new municipal swimming pool in Athletic Park.   Construction began and a year later the new pool opened for business. Attendance on the first day was good with between 250 and 300 people.  Sadly, not everyone who wanted to swim was allowed entrance to the pool. Several young black men were turned away from the pool's entrance.  For the next  16 years black and Hispanic residents were excluded from the pool. 

Throughout the 1930s and 40s the local chapter of the NAACP worked to gain equal access to the public pool for all through legal means. A.W. Roberson, representing the NAACP, Mr. and Mrs Aldace Mercomes and Mrs. Ray Wagner attended Commission meetings to request that "colored people be allowed to use the Swimming Pool." Each time "no action was taken by the Commission."
(City Commission Regular Session, 26 July 1949. A past blog post on the Athletic Park Swimming Pool highlights the legal struggles for equal access.  )

Despite these efforts the situation had not changed a great deal by 1950. 

Roberson and others were not ready to give up.  Roberson read a notice in the Newton Kansan regarding the opportunity for children to take Red Cross swimming lessons at the pool.  He inquired at the pool, "Does this mean all children?"  

At first he did not get a response, but he kept asking different people and finally reached the chairman of the Red Cross who met with the city council.   The council agreed that if Roberson could get the parents of the white children to agree, black children could take lessons. The local chapter of the NAACP worked to get permission from white parents, but they had a difficult time finding people that were willing.  Finally, twenty-two parents consented to allow the black children to take swimming lessons with their children. 

Black residents were still not allowed to come and swim in the pool during normal business hours.

Roberson again began to talk with people and plan.  It was decided to send five black girls, ages 10 - 15, to the pool in their bathing suits, with towels and admission money. As expected, the young girls were not allowed in. They were told that they would need to talk to the city manager.  The city manager and city attorney called a special meeting of the city council to discuss.  After an executive session, it was announced that "the pool be open to all races on an unlimited basis." (City Commission 15 August 1951)

The first day of integrated swimming went well, with a record attendance of 17 black and 729 white swimmers.

Athletic Park, Newton, June 1965
In later years, Roberson reflected that "it might be that I was a little pushy.  But that's how you get things done sometimes."
He also noted: 
"It is just a matter of getting people together.  It is amazing how much fuss people raise until they finally get to know each other.  Then, everything is fine." (A.W. Roberson, Newton Kansan January, 15 1987)

Throughout his life, Roberson continued to speak up for equality. He regularly attended city commission meetings to voice his concerns for fellow Harvey County residents.  Shortly before his death, his daughter noted that he had been concerned about "police and community relations" and although he attended a meeting he "couldn't participate because he didn't have the strength. But he really wanted to."

A.W. Roberson passed away 28 May 1992 at the age of 82. Roberson was remembered by family and friends as a man who  "put God first in everything . . . believed in equality" and "was more concerned about other people than himself."  

  • Newton Kansan 29 May 1992 - announcement
  • Newton Kansan 1 June 1992 full obituary
  • Newton City Directories 1948, 1952, 1954
  • United States Census, 1940
  • United State Public Records Index, 1 August 1986 Residence
    • 1213 N Walnut St/ Newton, Ks
  • United States Social Security Death Index
  • City Commission Regular Session, 26 July 1949
  • City Commission Regular Session 15 August 1951
  • Newton Kansan, 15 January 1987
    • Bartel, Matt, "Roberson Tells of Struggle for Housing Here" and "Roberson Worked for Equal Rights Here"
  • Kreider, Robert S.  Looking Back into the Future. Bethel College, North Newton, Ks, 1998 
    • 1978:  A.W. Roberson-Peacemaker.  Originally appeared in the Mennonite Weekly Review, 2 April 1978
  • Lehn, Cornelia.  Peace Be With You.  Newton, Ks: Faith and Life Press, 1980.  
    • "Ministry of Reconciliation: A.W. Roberson, 1944", p.100.
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