Memories of a sports writer

Last week, I wrote about how fortunate I was to have been The Eagle’s high school sports beat reporter when Wichita Heights went 25-0 and won the Class 6A state championship in 1976-77 with the most dominant team in Kansas high school history.

But there have been other really good teams and one of them is just as special to me, although in a different way.

It was 51 ago that my father took me to my first state tournament. Went went to the Roundhouse – now Koch Arena – to watch Wichita East and Kansas City Wyandotte play for the Class AA championship. Class AA? It was a different time, folks. I was 7 years old.

My dad was the best. He took me to so many sporting events when I was a kid. As I got older, I figured

Jamie Thompson (32), dribbling the ball in a 1965 Final Four game against Princeton, was a teammate of Kelly Pete (30) in high school at East and then again with the Wichita State Shockers.

out that it was a way to get out of the house and my mother, but that’s a story for my upcoming autobiography, due in stores soon.

Anyway, back to that game in 1962, of which I have no recollection other than I’m sure I was there.

East had won only one previous state title, in 1951, unless you want to count the two that Wichita High School, which later became East, captured in 1915 and 1925. I suppose you should count those, so let’s do.

Even with them, though, the Blue Aces were tremendously overshadowed by Wyandotte, which was at the peak of its basketball dominance. Wyandotte had won 10 state championships by 1962, including five in a row. There still hasn’t been an era like the one the Bulldogs put together from 1955-70, winning 12 of 16 state championships in the state’s largest class.

On this night 51 years ago, though, East was too much. The Aces, coached by the legendary Cy Sickles, took it to Wyandotte and won, 46-26. The game turned out to be a dud. I’m sure my father was disappointed.

If I close my eyes and think really hard, I do have a recollection that the arena was pretty full that night. The East team had captured the imagination of a lot of basketball fans in Wichita, thanks to its two best players – Jamie Thompson and Kelly Pete.

I’m not sure a City League team has had two better players in its lineup since. Thompson and Pete both became standout players at Wichita State and were on the Shockers’ only Final Four team in 1965. They weren’t just on that team, they were the two best players – especially after forward Dave Stallworth left the Shockers when his eligibility ran out at mid-semester of the Final Four season.

Pete was a tough, rugged guard. He mixed his strength with a remarkable athleticism. He remains one of the best athletes to ever play in the City League or at WSU, in my opinion.

Thompson lacked Pete’s athletic gifts, but he surpassed almost everyone in basketball talent. Thompson was a gifted shooter with a high IQ for the game. He knew how to get open and if he got just a split second to get off a shot, chances are it was going in. He loved that shot from just above the free-throw line to the top of the key.

I saw probably 90 percent of the home games Pete and Thompson played as Shockers, and my memory of them as college players is more vivid than when I saw them for the first time at East.

The 6-foot-1 Pete averaged 14.1 points and 6.4 rebounds during his WSU career, shooting 47.1 percent from the field. During his three-year career, the Shockers were 61-25. Pete was also WSU’s best defensive player and had no weakness in his game.

Thompson averaged 17.6 points during his WSU career from 1964-67, including 22 points as a junior. He was a two-time All-Missouri Valley Conference player and also averaged 6.7 rebounds. Remember what I said about Thompson as a shooter? He shot 49 percent from the field for his career and 85.3 percent from the free-throw line. There was no three-point line when he played or his numbers would be even more impressive.

Thompson was inducted into the Shocker Sports Hall of Fame in 1981 (somehow, Pete wasn’t inducted until 26 years later). Sadly, Thompson died in 2006 at the age of 60.