Archive for the ‘Kansas’ Category
I will be cheering for the Philadelphia Phillies tonight in Game 6 of the World Series. Truth be told I won’t see much, if any, of the game because I will be at a school board meeting. But, I’ll still be cheering for the Phillies.
I’m not a Phillies fan. It still sticks in my craw the way Pete Rose interfered with a double play ball swinging momentum from the Kansas City Royals to the Phillies in game five of the 1980 World Series. The Phillies won in six.
I have been an avowed Yankees hater ever since first baseman Chris Chambliss hit a Mark Littell fastball over the right field fence in the bottom of the ninth inning of the decisive game 5 of the 1976 American League Champion Series. The Royals scored three runs in the eighth inning to tie the score. I felt confident that the Royals’ reliever, Littell, could take the game to extra innings. I sat on my mom’s lap and cried for at least thirty minutes when the Chambliss fly ball cleared the fence.
The Royals were at the center of my universe from 1976 to 1980. Those were the Royals’ glory years and I was eleven to fifteen years old. A perfect combination. I listened on the radio to at least part of all 162 Royals games for five straight seasons. My neighbor Mamo Hayden is the only other person I know who can make that claim.
We have cheering rules in our house. For college sports, the rules are to cheer for the Kansas Jayhawks first, the Big 12 second and never for Mizzou. The rules for baseball are similar. Cheer for the Kansas City Royals first, then the Orioles, Red Sox and Rockies (places we’ve lived) and never, ever, ever for the Yankees (I don’t care how nice a guy Joe Torre was when he was manager of the Yankees). The Royals losing to the Yankees three straight years in the play-offs etched that ethic in stone.
The Phillies can take heart. A three game to one World Series deficit can be overcome. I witnessed part of such a miracle when the Royals came back from a similar deficit against the St. Louis Cardinals in the 1985 World Series.
The Royals were lucky to be in the World Series that year. They lost three of the first four games of the 1985 American League Championship Series to the Toronto Blue Jays. It was the first year the champion series was extended to seven games. Any previous year, the Royals would have been done.
George Brett kept the Royals alive with two home runs in game three. I attended game four of the playoffs with my dad, the night after my 21st birthday. It was a tough night. The Blue Jays scored three in the ninth to put the Royals on the edge of elimination. And, I had to break the news to my dad about some poor choices I made the night before (for another post). But, the Royals somehow managed to win the next three games and set up the I-70 Series against the Cardinals.
I had a soft spot in my heart for the Cardinals. Long time Royals manager Whitey Herzog and catcher Darrell Porter were part of the Cardinals organization by 1985. I loved those guys. But, this affection didn’t temper my passion to see the Royals win.
The Royals dropped the first three of four in the World Series just like they did in the play-offs. My friend Matt Cunningham and I had tickets for game six of the Series and we were just hoping that game would be played. Fortunately, the Royals won decisively in game five to bring the series back to Kansas City.
Matt was already in the television business by 1985 and scored us fantastic seats up the right field line just beyond first base. They were the best tickets I’d ever had up to that time.
Charlie Leibrandt pitched a brilliant game six for the Royals but gave up the games’ only run in the eighth inning. The Royals’ bats were cold. The Cardinals’ Danny Cox was brilliant, too. The feeling in the stands was somber. A Royals’ victory seemed impossible with the team trailing 1-0 in the bottom of the ninth.
And, then, there was the call. A Royals batter was incorrectly called safe at first. Porter followed up the next few plays with a dropped pop foul and a missed tag on a bunt. The miscues set up the Royals for a ninth inning rally for the ages – for Royals fans at least. I will always consider this the greatest game I’ve ever witnessed.
Matt and I, along with thousands of other Royals fans, stood in the stadium and cheered for nearly an hour. We cheered even longer in the parking lot because we could not remember where we parked the car. We had to wait for the lots to clear out to find it. While we were waiting, Paul Hayden jumped out of a passing vehicle and gave us both a bear hug. It was that kind of night.
Game seven was not nearly so exciting. The Royals pounded the Cardinals 11-0. I was watching with about thirty members of my fraternity in the dining hall of our house. The outcome became clear early so we all piled into cars to drive to Westport in Kansas City to join the celebration.
It was a good time to be a Royals fan.
The Kansas Jayhawks men’s basketball team is kicking off the official start to a new basketball season with the 25th Annual Late Night in the Phog. Hopes are running high this year with dreams of reaching Indianapolis for the Final Four. My brother-in-law, Phil Priebe, already is planning the trip.
Like all good fans I am beginning to sharpen my game, too. You might ask what preparation I have to do? It’s not too hard to sit on your butt and watch young men play basketball.
Oh, but the passionate fans know there is much that can be done in the stands or in front of the T.V. to turn the tide of close games in the favor of your team. So that I am prepared when I’m needed I have been refining my technique to deliver the most powerful hex that I know… The Pissy Rivers.
I learned this mysterious curse from my friend, eighteen year classmate (kindergarten through super senior year at KU) and fellow Greg Dreiling Fan Club member Scott Focke, aka Scooter. The Pissy Rivers is relatively easy to describe but extremely hard to execute.
The basic moves of the hex are simple. Cross the first and second fingers of your writing hand. Place your hand with crossed-fingers casually behind your back. Do not make fanfare of what you are doing. At the crucial moment in the game, quickly swing your hand and crossed fingers from behind your back as if you are throwing an underhand curve ball. Snap your wrist just before your arm fully extends. And, at the moment your hand jerks, whisper (or if you are alone in front of a T.V. shout) “Pissy Rivers.”
Sounds simple doesn’t it. Only the masters are consistently effective. There is a lot that can go wrong when casting a Pissy Rivers. The hex can even be reversed on your own team. Overuse is the surest way to ruin the Pissy Rivers. If someone sees or hears you throw the curse, it can kill the spell.
Some people believe a double Pissy Rivers – crossing all four fingers rather than just two – is more powerful than the traditional version of the curse. I’m not a believer in the double Pissy Rivers. I’ve seen it backfire just as often as I’ve seen it work.
Skeptical about all this? Think this is nothing but superstition and coincidence? Well I have evidence.
Scott Focke propelled the Jayhawks over Michigan State in the Sweet 16 of the 1986 NCAA tournament and on to the Final Four. Several members of the Dreiling gang scored tickets to the game in Kansas City’s Kemper arena. It was one of the most exciting games I’ve seen. It included controversy – a stopped clock for 15 seconds when KU was trailing – and role player heroics.
The Jayhawks were down by six points with just over one minute to go. I was a nervous wreck. Scott told me not to panic. I shouted back, “There’s only sixty seconds left in the whole *#%$@ season, don’t tell me not to panic.” But, Scott just gave me a look.
The Jayhawks began to foul the moment Michigan State touched the ball in a last ditch effort to close the seemingly insurmountable gap. That’s when Scott went to work from the top row of the arena.
Michigan State missed the front end of a one-and-one two consecutive times in the last minute of the game allowing KU to tie the score on an Archie Marshall tip-in with just a few seconds left. I still feel hoarse thinking how loud and long we screamed with joy.
KU’s best players, Danny Manning and Ron Kellogg, had fouled out of the game. But the momentum had already swung the way of the Jayhawks and fan favorite Calvin Thompson led the way to a 10 point victory in overtime.
I didn’t see it, of course. But, Scott told us later that he’d used the Pissy Rivers when the Michigan State players were shooting their clutch free throws. That’s the moment I became a believer.
I use it myself now when the moment is right. I’m not a master like Scott. But, occasionally I do my part to help out the ‘Hawks.
I don’t want to claim too much credit. But, I was in the stands in San Antonio when Mario Chalmers hit his miracle shot and the Jayhawks won the national title.
And, you might remember, the Memphis Tigers did miss a few key foul shots down the stretch…
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The Kansas City Royals were my first true love. I fell in love in the summer of 1975. The next year was the Royal’s break out season. I can still name the everyday nine (DH not pitcher) from that team. The late 70s and early 80s were a glorious time to be a Royals fan.
Nineteen Seventy Five was also about the time I began to read the newspaper. Like a lot of 10 year-old boys, I only read the sports section. That’s when I developed a habit that continues today. The first thing I do when I open a paper during baseball season is turn to the page of box scores in the sports section and see how the Royals fared the previous night – even if I already know. It’s not as fun as it used to be.
This season, the Royals are on pace to lose 100 games for the fifth time this decade. Let me put this in perspective. If they made the movie Major League, it would be about the Royals not the Cleveland Indians. The Royals have become the new team “most likely to lose.”
If the Royals do lose 100 games this year they will arguably have had the worst decade of any franchise in the history of baseball. The Royals will become the first non-expansion team to lose 100 games five times in one decade. Only the expansion Mets of the 1960s has equaled this dubious feat.
There are only two other non-expansion franchises that have lost 100 games four times in a decade – the Boston Braves in the 1920s and the Philadelphia Phillies in the 20s, 30s, and 40s (man, tough to be a Phillies fan in those decades). Even the lowly Philadelphia-Kansas City-Oakland Athletics with a major league high sixteen 100 loss seasons only managed to be this bad a maximum of three times in one decade.
Since 1960, only three other teams have lost 100 games three consecutive seasons as the Royals did earlier this decade: The expansion Mets, the expansion Washington Senators (now Texas Rangers) in the 1960s, and the expansion Toronto Blue Jays in the 1970s.
I will always be a Royal Rooter (I was a charter member of the club). But, I am wondering. At what point does an organization lose its franchise rights to be a Major League Baseball team. Or, at least, perhaps the ownership should be forced to sell. The economics of baseball, as dismal as they are, are no longer sufficient to justify the Royals’ demise.
My heart breaks for the legacy of Ewing Kauffman. I can’t imagine he would have tolerated the Royals becoming the worst franchise in the game. It’s certainly not the way to celebrate a 40th anniversary.
John and Joni Creighton were married on August 19, 1989 in St. John’s Catholic Church in rural Rawlins County. In twenty years of marriage, they have lived in Boston, Massachusetts; Falls Church, Virginia; Bethesda and Rockville, Maryland, and Boulder, Colorado. They have called Longmont, Colorado home since 2001. Both John (1983) and Joni (1986) are graduates of Atwood High School.
John is the son of Robert and Barbara (Wilson) Creighton. He was born in Atwood on October 11, 1964. He followed the family tradition (fifth generation) attending the University of Kansas where he graduated Phi Beta Kappa with degrees in economics and business administration in 1987. He received a Masters in Public Policy from Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government in 1990.
John worked on Governor Mike Hayden’s campaign staff in 1986 and 1990. For the past 20 years, John has worked as a public leadership consultant with a focus on public opinion research. He worked for The Harwood Institute for Public Innovations from 1991-1999. John founded his own consulting firm in 1999. Most recently, John agreed to write for the community section of the online edition of a major national newspaper.
John is active in Longmont, too. He was elected to the St. Vrain Valley School District board of education in 2007, the same year he succeeded his father as president of the High Plains Bank Holding Company.
Joni is the daughter of John and Betty (Rooney) Mickey. She was born in Atwood on May 20, 1968. She was a member of the Atwood High School state cross country championship team in 1986.
Joni attended Kansas State University and graduated with a bachelor of science in nursing from the University of Maryland in 1994. She worked in the emergency room of Suburban Hospital in Bethesda, Maryland, as a floor nurse at Holy Cross Hospital in Silver Spring, Maryland and as a research nurse in Boulder, Colorado.
John and Joni have three children, Emma Cloe born on May 26, 1997; Joseph Paul born on August 7, 1999; and Ada Grace born on December 18, 2001. All three children were born in Boulder, Colorado. Emma, Joe and Ada Grace hold the distinction of having two grandparents serve as Mayor of Atwood – Bob Creighton, 1983-1991 and Betty Mickey, 1999-present (Betty is the first woman and longest serving Mayor in Atwood history). The children enjoy visiting Atwood where they take swimming lessons most summers.
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Submitting to The Rawlins County History Book
My heart aches for Tom Watson. I can imagine nothing quite as painful for a professional golfer as coming up a few inches short from a major championship. At 59, the pain might be worse. Opportunities like putting for a championship aren’t supposed to present themselves to people of that age. You hate to see the dream slip through the fingers.
On the other hand, I tip my hat to Mr. Watson. He rekindled in all of us for a moment that dreams are possible – at every age.
I was pulling hard for Mr. Watson to win the Open Championship (aka the British Open) like many across the nation and globe. But, my motives may be a little different than most.
Yes, I was caught up in the feel good story of a person well past their prime competing with people thirty years junior. I’ve reached the age that such stories hold more meaning.
I was cheering, too, because Mr. Watson’s been a favorite of mine for thirty years. He’s a Kansas City boy. And, when it comes to professional sports, I’m a fan of all things Kansas City.
But, my enthusiasm for a potential Watson victory was fueled by a different source of energy. I was hoping for personal redemption – my own! For 22 years, I’ve wondered if I played a role in Mr. Watson falling short of claiming his sixth Claret Jug.
I spent the summer of 1987 in the United Kingdom. I attended summer school classes at the University of Manchester four days a week. I was a student of pubs on evenings and weekends.
Two classmates and I headed for the British Open at Muirfield near Edinburg the moment class let out on Thursday afternoon. We traveled all night by train, celebrated our arrival in Edinburg most of the day Friday and scored tickets for the third round of the Open on Saturday.
My two favorite golfers – Tom Watson and Payne Stewart – were paired together. We followed them through the rain and mud most of the day. My kids still use the umbrella I bought at the Open to stay dry.
Mr. Watson and Mr. Stewart were both in the hunt for the championship – just a shot or two off the lead. It was my first time in a gallery at a golf tournament. I was ignorant of proper etiquette. Without thinking about it I snapped a picture – in the middle of Mr. Watson’s back swing.
Golfers don’t like noises such as camera clicks when they’re swinging a club, especially when the stakes are high. I know this is true because as soon as Mr. Watson struck the ball he took a few steps forward – glaring with anger – and searched the crowd for the jerk who broke his concentration.
I hid behind the man with the cigar, a sinking feeling in my stomach.
Mr. Watson shanked his ball into the high weeds – not unlike he did on number 17 in the playoff this year. He bogeyed the hole – perhaps he did worse. He was out of the chase. Visions of his sixth Open Championship blurred. At least, that’s how I remember it.
Watson finished seventh that year. Payne Steward finished fourth. They had more than 18 holes left to play when I exited their gallery. Surely, more than one hole and one errant photograph did Mr. Watson in. But, I always wondered how he remembered that hole and that Open of 1987.
As for dreams almost coming true, Mr. Watson should hold his head high. He kept many of us on the edge of our seats, watching him chase a dream, and thinking about our own dreams, too.
Thank you Mr. Watson. And, sorry about ’87.
Are there some secrets people should take to the grave? Or, is it always best to come clean?
I’ve told this story to a few people so, perhaps in my case, these questions are moot. I also figure that after nineteen years the statute of limitations has surely passed.
George H. W. Bush, while President, came to Topeka to help Mike Hayden raise money for his 1990 re-election bid for Governor. President Bush gave a keynote address to a large and enthusiastic crowd at the Kansas Expo Center. It was my opportunity to shake the hand of a sitting President – that’s really cool!
My perception of the elder Bush is that he’s a very gracious man. I will always remember the phone call he made to Mike on the morning after election defeat. Mike let those of us in the Cedar Crest kitchen listen in on speaker phone. President Bush conveyed his condolences in the most genuine way, “I’ve lost, too. It’s not fun but you’ll be fine.”
Grace is a quality that is highly undervalued especially in public life. George H.W. Bush had it.
It is quite exciting to be part of a Presidential event. It’s hard to escape the magnitude of what is happening when dozens of Secret Service agents arrive in advance to prep the venue for safety.
One precaution that is taken is building draped walkways to shield the President from public view when he is moving from one place to another. A long “tunnel” with two curves was built in the Expo Center from a room on the side of the main auditorium to the podium where President Bush would speak.
Several Hayden Campaign staff, including me, were given security clearances to help out back stage. There isn’t that much to do with the President’s advance team on the scene. But, at one point, I was enlisted to help.
I was handed a glass of water and told to put it on the podium. I took the glass and headed down the cloth draped hallway.
Juvenile thoughts still spring quickly to mind when you’re twenty-five years old. I must admit that my “be mature” filter designed to sift out bad ideas did not always work to its full capacity nineteen years ago. Sometimes the bad ideas seemed good in the moment.
I rounded the curve of the tunnel when a thought crossed my mind, “What if I took a tiny sip from this glass? Then, I could say I drank from the same glass as the President.” I didn’t have much time – twenty feet – to make a decision. I looked behind me and to the front. I was out of sight to the world.
I did it. I took a small sip. Then rushed to the podium and put the glass in its assigned location.
I felt guilty and rebellious. Would I get in trouble? Had I violated the campaign’s trust? Perhaps. But still…. what an opportunity.
The President and his entourage arrived a few minutes later. I found a spot along the side wall of the auditorium to watch the President’s speech. I watched. I didn’t listen. I waited in anticipation for him to take a drink. Finally, about mid-speech, he paused and took a long drink.
I did it. I could now say that I drank from the same glass as the President.
It didn’t occur to me until a few minutes later that most people would think, while rolling their eyes in disgust, “Are you really that juvenile?”
Sometimes, I guess I was. What can I say? Some brushes with fame are less glorious than others.
One of the great experiences of my life was working on the 1986 Hayden for Governor Campaign. I was Mike’s driver for the primary campaign. There’s nothing quite like being on a winning team. I guess you could say it’s the only state champion team I ever played on.
My experience on the ’86 campaign solidified my interest in public policy and politics. I paid a lot of money to earn a public policy degree from Harvard. In the summer of ’86, I had the privilege of spending 12 to 14 hours per day with one of the best public policy thinkers I’ve ever met – and I didn’t have to pay a nickel of tuition.
I read How David Beats Goliath, an article by Malcolm Gladwell, last week. Gladwell tries to answer the question of how underdogs are able to win. The article reminded me of the ’86 Hayden Campaign.
Mike was easily the most qualified candidate for governor in ’86. He had served 14 years in the legislature and two terms as Speaker of the House. He was held in high regard by his colleagues. Anyone who worked with Mike understood his gift for public policy. That’s why more senior legislators chose Mike to be their Speaker.
Yet, Mike was still the underdog. The favorite was a Wichita business man named Larry Jones.
The Hayden Campaign had a fraction of the money in the Jones Campaign coffers. The Hayden Campaign had only two or three paid staff people, relying instead on many volunteers and family members – most of whom had never been part of a statewide campaign.
Kelley Hayden was our press secretary for gosh sakes. I would guess that Kelley is easily the most well read press secretary in the history of press secretaries – and perhaps the only press secretary PhD. He would make references that completely flew over campaign reporters’ heads, pointing out nuance to those reporters particularly slow on the uptake.
Mike’s biggest deficit, from the perspective of Johnson County politicos, was that he came from a hick town no one had ever heard of. Almost all of the Johnson County “in crowd” embraced Mike’s rival Larry Jones.
I remember sitting with Mike in the living room of a Johnson County state senator’s home. She told Mike she respected his work in the legislature but that she was going to support Jones in the primary. She just couldn’t imagine General Election voters supporting anyone from a town as far west as Atwood.
Mike and his campaign team knew how to turn these weaknesses into strengths. Gladwell writes that successful underdogs use their differences as an asset. They don’t try to conform to norms or traditions.
Mike certainly knew how to turn his “hick” status to his favor. He got a crowd of Republicans fired up at a Kansas Day gathering with what I think of as his haircut speech. “They tell me I shouldn’t run for Governor because I have a bad haircut. They tell me I shouldn’t run for Governor because my suit doesn’t fit right,” Mike bellowed (or whispered – it was hard to tell the difference with Mike).
By the time Mike was done, the crowd was on their feet cheering, “Run, Mike, run.”
Mike and the campaign team built a network of former Atwood residents who lived in all corners of the state to augment the network he built as a legislator. Some of Mike’s county chair people had never held a position of status in their local community – let alone at the state level.
Sages didn’t think such an inexperienced, rag tag group would have a chance against the well financed city candidate.
But Mike and his campaign volunteers had something that no amount of money could buy. It’s what Mike liked to call “fire in the belly.”
Mike, Patti and their supporters worked harder than anyone imagined possible. The ’86 Hayden Campaign was the equivalent of a full court press against the Jones’ Campaigns conventional half-court offense.
Gladwell points out in his article that underdog basketball teams almost always run a full court press when they are victorious. The lesson: effort – hard work – can make up for many other shortcomings.
There is no doubt that Hayden campaigners put in the hours. I don’t think it’s possible to account for all the work people did. That’s because, in ’86, people weren’t working to get noticed. The Hayden team was working to elect their candidate and then go home.
I can attest to how hard Mike and Patti worked in those summer months of ’86 because I was in the front seat of their van – of the Mickey RV. Mike got started before dawn at “Sunshine” Rotary Clubs. He stayed up well past his bed time (Mike was famous for wanting to go to bed early) attending county fairs, barbecues, candidate forums and fundraising events night after night after night.
I stood on the sidelines and ate cheese.
We easily put in 90 to 100 hour weeks all summer long. I had an apartment in Lawrence were I technically was staying during the primary campaign. I saw my roommate once.
The ’86 Hayden Campaign was unconventional in other ways, too. We stayed in people’s homes while we campaigned, never hotels. I slept on the floor in homes of people I’d never met.
We held fundraisers in which people contributed five, ten and fifteen dollars. Conventional wisdom was that a candidate should not waste their time attending an event unless guests are charged $100 a head.
I learned a lesson that summer. People give you ten dollars. They’ll likely recruit ten people to vote for you, too. A person gives you a thousand dollars. They’ll likely want an hour of your time.
The Hayden Campaign advertised in the weekly newspapers in all the small counties. Seasoned campaign consultants said that sort of thing was a waste of money. Even Mike’s professional consultants accepted the decision to advertise in weeklies begrudgingly – they did it to humor the candidate not because they thought it was a good idea. Winning campaigns, they said, focused all of their money on television and direct mail.
The city folk and seasoned campaign consultants were gloating when the early election returns came in from Wichita and Johnson County. Larry Jones had a big lead. Jones supporters chanted for the TV cameras, “Clean sweep, clean sweep.”
But, when returns started to arrive from the west, the Jones supporters were silent. Hayden’s margins of victory in the western counties were bigger than anyone would have imagined.
The Hayden victory in ’86 tracked almost exactly with the lessons Gladwell highlights in his article.
Underdogs who win aren’t afraid to be unconventional. Underdogs do things that the “elite” consider trivial or beneath their dignity – like going to $5 fundraisers or running ads in weekly newspapers.
Underdogs work hard. They understand that effort triumphs over talent. Mike didn’t sit back and say vote for me. I’m an accomplished and respected legislator. He and Patti worked twice as hard as any other candidate in the race. His volunteers did, too.
Underdogs are focused on the task at hand. Successful underdogs set out to achieve a specific goal. They’re not looking for admission into the “elite’s” clubs. Hayden Campaign volunteers weren’t looking to improve their status (though some did benefit). The goal was to elect a candidate we believed in.
I will be forever grateful to Mike for letting me “come along for the ride” on his ’86 campaign. He had good reason not to let me be part of his team (which I’ll write about at another time). But, he looked past the liabilities I brought to the campaign and gave me a chance.
I learned so many lessons. I met so many wonderful people. The campaign opened so many doors for me. It was truly a life changing experience.
And, I will forever have the memory of being part of a team like “Hoosiers.” The underdog team that beat Goliath doing things the unconventional way.
There really is nothing quite like the thrill of being part of winning team like that. It is a small moment in time that lasts forever.
It would be nice if there was an easy way to share our personal setbacks with our children so they could benefit from our experience. Heck, I’d settle for a not so easy way if it was effective.
The reality is that the only way for our children to learn how to pick themselves up, dust themselves off and get back in the game is to get knocked down in the first place.
Last night, I told my daughter Emma about a setback I had my freshman year at the University of Kansas.
I won a Summerfield Scholarship from KU – awarded to “top graduates from Kansas high schools” – based mostly on my ACT scores. I received few letters from colleges or universities prior to taking the ACT. Once I received my scores, the letters arrived soon after.
I never seriously considered attending any school except KU. It was where I wanted to go. It was a family tradition.
My parents, both graduates of KU, were thrilled when I was invited to interview for the Summerfield Scholarship. They were more excited when I was named a Scholar. I was one of the few Atwood graduates to earn the award. I think Harry Wigner did before me. There may have been more Atwood grads to earn the award since, but I must confess I don’t know.
At the time, I did not understand or appreciate the significance of the award.
As happens to many college freshmen, I did not focus on my studies as I should. I was having too much fun being away from home, having the freedom to go out with friends when I chose. I spent too many Thursday nights and Wednesday nights at places like Louise’s and The Hawk.
My first semester grades reflected my lack of focus. Thirteen hours of B and three hours of A. Not bad, but not good enough for a Summerfield Scholar.
What’s more, five hours of B were a complete act of charity.
I went to see my calculus professor about my final exam. As she pointed out my errors, she noticed an error of her own. She had made an addition mistake when calculating my scores from the three part exam. I hadn’t earned a B. My test score was 76% not the 86% she marked on the paper. My overall grade was just over the cusp of 80%. A final exam score of C would knock my overall grade to C, too.
My professor sat at her desk in silence for well over a minute contemplating what to do. Finally, she said, “If you wouldn’t have come to see me, I would not have found my grading error. I’ll let you keep the B.”
I was grateful at the time. I didn’t realize how lucky I was until later.
Shortly after the semester came to a close, I received a letter notifying me that I would not receive the Summerfield Scholarship the next semester due to a low GPA. Losing the $500 dollars was a blow. (A semester’s tuition in those days was $496. The first time I paid, I received four dollars change.) Even tougher was breaking the news to my parents.
It’s not always fun having parents with high expectations.
My parents, perhaps not surprisingly, were supportive and encouraging. Dad made a typical, short and to the point comment. “Earn it back,” he said lightheartedly as if he had complete confidence that I would.
That’s what I did. It took two full semesters but I finally elevated my overall GPA to just over 3.5 – the mandatory minimum for a Summerfield Scholar (it’s even tougher today, the minimum is 3.65). That’s when I fully realized the generosity of my first semester calculus professor. If she had given me a C as I deserved, I would not have raised my GPA over 3.5. I would not have been eligible to be reinstated.
These are the types of lucky breaks and acts of kindness that can change lives.
I told Emma this story because she failed a Language Arts test this week. Her teacher, too, is giving her a second chance. She has the opportunity to take the test again next week. This exam was her first major setback as a student. Sure, there have been times she could have done better. But, on balance, she is a very good student.
It was hard for Emma to ask Joni to sign the letter from her teacher informing us of the failed exam. It was even harder for her to tell me.
It’s not always fun having parents with high expectations.
In a few weeks and certainly months, we all will have forgotten about this one exam. I have complete confidence Emma will do fine on her “redo.” My hope is that Emma’s lasting lesson will be learning to deal with setbacks in school.
As parents, we want to protect our children from heartaches and even minor setbacks. We know what it’s like to fail and we don’t want our children to endure the pain.
But, we can’t always protect our children nor should we try. Our kids can’t learn what they need to know by hearing stories of our skinned knees. The important lessons come from skinning their own.
Billy Mills is the only American to win the Olympic gold medal in the 10,000 meters. His coach, before and after competing for the University of Kansas, was Bill Easton – who also coached Dad in college.
The “story” was that Mills and Easton never really got along. I had the chance to hear Billy Mills speak at the Kansas Relays in 1984 as part of a 20th Anniversary celebration of his Olympic victory. At one event, Mills was asked about his difficult relationship with Easton. I still remember his response: “I am the only American to win the Olympic 10,000 meters. Bill Easton was my only coach.” He said no more.
That was Billy Mills’ bottom line. His success spoke for itself. Bill Easton was a part of that success. No more explanation was needed.
That is how I feel about my academic preparation at Atwood High School. I have been fortunate to experience academic success at the University of Kansas and Harvard. I have had many years of professional success since that time. My preparation for this success began in Atwood.
Many Atwood teachers inspired me to work hard academically. Really, no more explanation is needed. But, there are some funny stories to tell, too. Things happened in the classrooms of AHS that would never fly today.
First, another tangent. I came across an article recently that identified people born in the late 1950s to the mid-1960s as, “The Dumbest Generation.” Ouch.
The article went on to explain that those of us in our mid-forties performed worse than any other cohort of students on tests such as the National Assessment of Educational Progress and the SATs (fortunately those of us from Atwood took the ACT and can be held responsible for low SAT scores). The article also suggested that standards in American schools were at an all time low during our years in K-12.
Neil Howe, the article’s author, had this to say about our generation: “Compared with earlier- or later-born students at the same age, these kids were assigned less homework, watched more TV and took more drugs.” Shall we all sing the chorus from Gilligan’s Island or the Beverly Hillbillies?
I like to make Howe’s point in a different way. We were the last generation to go to college before the mothers got mad and before C. Everett Koop told us to be careful.
I experienced both low standards and high at AHS. In some classrooms the standards were as high as any I’ve experienced anywhere. I was challenged to stretch myself on a regular basis. In other classrooms, the standards were non-existent. Just showing up gave you a good chance for an A.
In Biology class, we spent two weeks listening to and analyzing Pink Floyd The Wall. It made perfect sense at the time. “Biology is the study of life. Pink Floyd The Wall is an album about life.” I don’t think a biology teach could get by with that today.
And, there were one or two teachers in the building who found class time rather inconvenient. We were given assignments, told where to find the teachers manual if we needed help and then the teacher left the room to pursue other interests. No one held these teachers accountable.
Let me be clear, these teachers were the exception not the rule. On the other hand, the gaps in my college preparation track with the classrooms where teachers were absent. And, the reverse is true, too. In the classrooms with high standards, I was well prepared for college.
My bottom line is the same as Billy Mills. I’ve had success. I’m proud of what I’ve been able to accomplish. Atwood schools are the place where my preparation began.
I began wrestling at age six during an era of dominance. Wrestling was THE sport in Northwest Kansas when I was in grade school. In fact, the Northwest Kansas League (NWKL) was Kansas wrestling.
Between 1951 and 1970, the NWKL won 17 out of a possible 20 state champions. In the 1950s and early 1960s, the small schools from the northwest had to take on all comers including the Wichita and Kansas City area schools. There were no classifications. NWKL teams won 12 of 15 titles during that period.
In the late sixties, the tournament was divided between very big schools and all the rest. NWKL won all five tournaments under this format. In the 1970s, the modern classification system was developed. For the first time, some NWKL teams would wrestle in the 1-2 A tournament while others competed in the 3 A tournament (later 1-2-3 A and 4 A tournaments). That meant even more titles for the NWKL. During the 10 year span, the league claimed 15 of 20 possible state crowns.
Any NWKL team that won the league championship was the odds on favorite to win the state tournament, too. All eight NWKL teams won at least one state championship. Atwood’s year was 1973 (Atwood won a second title in 1989). St. Francis, the smallest school in the league, was the most dominate team winning ten titles in the thirty year span.
I remember the surprise, perhaps even disappointment, of the died-in-the-wool wrestling fans when the Atwood’s basketball team won a state title (1972) before the wrestlers reached that goal.
This was an exciting time for a young boy. Success breeds interest in a sport. The dominance of the NWKL and Atwood being competitive cultivated in me a lifelong interest in wrestling – even though I didn’t wrestle beyond the eighth grade.
I remember making my way through crowded hallways outside the Atwood gym. The pictures of former state champions lined the walls. Reinerts, Rudas, Lorimers, Higleys, I don’t remember them all, were larger than life figures to the young fan.
The gymnasium was always full even for dual meets. Kid wrestlers were the warm-up act. I usually wrestled Wayne Lanning. We were the two smallest. I’m sure the picture of me on my back is not indicative of the outcome of the match.
For a six year old boy, the crowds were awe-inspiring. I could hardly concentrate on my match because I was focused on all the people in the stands. (That’s my excuse and I’m sticking to it).
I traveled along with my Atwood classmates to Kid Wrestling tournaments all over northwest Kansas and a state meet in Manhattan. I took home lots of medals, even a few gold. But I was always more of a fan than a competitor.
I loved the dual meets. The National Anthem. The band. The cheerleaders. The rituals of 12 grapplers shaking hands then taking chairs on either side of the map. One or two wrestlers warming up in back waiting their turn. The evening beginning with wispy boys of less than 100 pounds and eleven matches later men of more than 200 pounds. Each teams’ coach perched on a corner of the mat yelling inaudible instructions.
Tournaments were even better. Wrestling tournaments have a unique energy that is hard to describe. Three or four rings of competition. Non-stop for an entire day – sometimes two. Everywhere you look: effort, determination, strain, victory, disappointment. A human drama before your eyes.
The early 70s match I remember most took place in Colby. Dave Brown was matched up against a wrestler from the Kansas School of the Blind. It might have been for the state championship. Dave was our heavyweight. The blind wrestler appeared to be twice his size. He just sat on Dave. “He’s got to move. That’s stalling.” These were the calls I heard from the frantic Atwood crowd.
I lost interest in wrestling at the time I had to worry about making weight. But, there was always a nagging voice saying you should be on the mat.
The NWKL lost its wrestling dominance about the time I entered high school. Other parts of the state had caught up. They had developed kid wrestling programs, too. Between 1981 and 2009, the NWKL is still competitive but they’ve only won 16 of a possible 56 state titles. Not quite the glory years.
I’m glad I was able to witness those years of dominance.
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For those interested in looking up past Kansas state wrestling champions. You can find information here.