Memories of a sports writer

Whenever I’m in Koch Arena, as I am as I work on this blog post this evening, I look up toward Section 118.

It used to be Section R back in the day and it’s the section where my father and I sat for Wichita State basketball games starting in 1962. We had season tickets for years and years, thanks to my aunt, Phyllis Burgess, who was an education professor at WSU.

We sat in Row 23, close to a lot of Wichita State educators and professors. In other words, smart people. I was six years old when I started going to Shocker games. I’m sure those older teachers thought I was adorable.

It was a great time to be a Shocker basketball fan, much like it is now. The Missouri Valley Conference then was nicknamed the “Valley of Death,” because of the strong teams that comprised the league. And in those days, the Shockers loaded up their non-conference schedule, too, with tremendous home games. Games were events.

And I soaked it all in. Imagine being a 6- or 7-year-old in a jam-packed Roundhouse with some of the greatest players in Shocker history on the floor playing against some of the best players in the country.

You wonder why I love sports? My experiences inside Koch Arena, Levitt Arena, the Roundhouse is one of the biggest reasons.

It did not take long for me to become hooked. And when Dave Stallworth showed up to play for Wichita State, I was over the top. Stallworth remains my second favorite athlete of all-time, behind only former St. Louis Cardinals pitcher Bob Gibson.

I have gotten the opportunity to know Stallworth because of my duties at The Wichita Eagle. I have talked to him numerous times. I even have his phone number memorized. But whenever I speak to him, I’m nervous. He’s Dave Stallworth, for my money the biggest icon in the history of Wichita State athletics.

I loved the Shockers in those days. We came early for the freshmen games and stayed until the final buzzer of the varsity contest. We never, ever, never left a game early. My father, Ray, wouldn’t hear of it. And it’s not like I was itching to get out of the building.

The atmosphere was electric. And because it seemed like everyone smoked in those days, there was a cloud of haze that hung near the top of the arena.

What an era.

Stallworth, Ernie Moore, Nate Bowman, Kelly Pete, Jamie Thompson, Ron Harris, Warren Armstrong, Terry Benton . . . the list goes on and on. I had so many favorite Shockers in those years.

I think the reason I’m a sports writer is because of Wichita State basketball. I think one of the biggest reasons I’ve stayed in Wichita is because of Wichita State basketball.

I’m no longer a fan. With my job, I can’t be. But I still appreciate what Shocker basketball means to this city and this area. I see these young kids at games and I know they will be swept up in this mania that Wichita State basketball has dropped on so many unsuspecting people over the years.

Sometimes I miss being a Shocker basketball fan. But my fun now is writing about this team and this program that so many Wichitans love and cherish.

I feel the same way about covering Kansas and Kansas State, in whatever sport. It’s a privilege to cover these games, in whatever sport is being played.

I was never a KU or K-State fan as a kid. I was swept up by the Shockers (we even had football season tickets) and there was no room on my plate for anything or anyone else.

Wichita State basketball through the eyes of a 58-year-old is one thing. Through the eyes of a kid still in elementary school, it was magical. I remember particular moments clearly. I was a boisterous young fan while my mild-mannered father rarely displayed much emotion. There were times he had to make me calm down, fearful that the educators around us would become agitated by my yelling.

But I couldn’t help myself. The Shockers became a big part of my life. When I played basketball in my back yard, I would make up games between Wichita State and another school. The Shockers always won.

I became interested in broadcasting because I listened to so many WSU basketball broadcasts in my youth. Gus Grebe was one of my early heroes.

I covered my first Shocker basketball game for the newspaper many, many years ago. I’ve been professionally involved with Wichita State basketball for many years. And though I cover these games with an emotional disconnection, I often think back to the way it used to be. I look at a rabid kid and think that was probably me 50 years ago.

This is where I grew up.