Bob Lutz: Elmore addition brings validity back to Shocker Sports Hall

01/16/2014 5:06 PM

01/16/2014 5:06 PM

Robert Elmore, Wichita State’s No. 2 career rebounder and shot blocker, is finally being inducted into the Shocker Sports Hall of Fame, 32 years after he could have been. Should have been.

Elmore and five others, including a couple of other former Shocker basketball players with impressive credentials, will be honored during halftime of WSU’s game against Indiana State at Koch Arena on Saturday afternoon.

This is a great step forward for the Shocker Sports Hall of Fame, which for years has snubbed Elmore because of perceived character issues. Just a few months after his Wichita State playing career ended in 1977, the 6-foot-10 Elmore died of a heroin overdose in Italy, where he was playing professional basketball.

He obviously battled demons. It’s too bad he had to battle so long for this honor.

But it’s happening now and that’s good. Several of Elmore’s family members will be here, including brother Len, a former standout player at Maryland and current college basketball commentator for ESPN. Elmore even received a late change in game assignments from ESPN and will be the analyst for the Shockers’ game.

So what changed? What finally caused the eight-person hall of fame committee to finally relent and give Elmore the six votes necessary for induction?

Mike Kennedy, radio play-by-play voice of the Shockers and a member of the committee for more than 20 years, said it was a matter of time.

“I think people started to soften or change their feelings with the perspective of time,” Kennedy said. “There’s really been a lot of discussion on this over a long period and there still might have been one or two who didn’t vote for (Elmore).”

There were. Elmore’s induction wasn’t a unanimous vote. Wichita State media relations director Larry Rankin said unanimous votes are rare.

Still, outside of character issues, which this hall of fame group is probably not qualified to address, nothing could have held Elmore back.

He averaged 14.1 points and 12.4 rebounds during his WSU career and three times was chosen to the All-Missouri Valley Conference team. He averaged 17.3 points and 11.6 rebounds as a sophomore and 13.8 points and 15.8 rebounds as a senior.

He led the Shockers to the NCAA Tournament in 1976, when they were nipped in the first round by Michigan in Denton, Texas.

Every former teammate I’ve talked to, including Cheese Johnson, Calvin Bruton, Bob Trogele and Stave Kalocinski, spoke in glowing terms about Elmore on and off the court. More than one describe him as a gentle giant.

Elmore grew up on the hard streets of Queens, N.Y. He was far from perfect, which puts him in a club with 99.9 percent of the rest of us.

“He’s gotten votes in the past,” said former Wichita State football standout Linwood Sexton, who also is a long-time committee member. “Just not enough to get elected.”

Until now.

Elmore was nominated this year by athletic director Eric Sexton, Linwood’s son. That undoubtedly helped the Elmore cause, though it shouldn’t have been necessary.

“He was a great player,” Linwood Sexton said. “And someone who you would not think would have something like (a heroin overdose) overtake them. But you should not hold that against what he actually accomplished. It’s such a tragedy to lose young people like this.”

Elmore’s induction is a victory for the other 129 members of the Shocker Sports Hall of Fame. Denying him was a blow to the institution’s integrity. There will also be arguments about who should and who shouldn’t be in a hall of fame. It’s part of the fun.

The snub of Elmore was never fun.

But a troubling situation has been resolved and I give credit to the voting members for not giving up and for continuing to debate Elmore’s merits. He was a freshman at Wichita State the same year I was. I remember always being excited when I saw him walking around on campus. And excited, too, when I watched him play.

None other than Dave Stallworth once told me Elmore was the best center in Wichita State history. That’s a strong endorsement, considering Stallworth was a two-time All-American forward at WSU during the mid-1960s.

Kennedy, who has seen as many Shocker players through the years as anyone, said Elmore’s induction will be not only the right thing, but a relief.

“I’ve gone back and looked at his playing credentials and when you look at that, this is just a no-brainer,” Kennedy said. “A couple of little things happened when Elmore was at Wichita State, but the major thing happened when he was gone. And it was a victimless situation, other than for himself, unfortunately. I think this is a good thing. I’m glad that it’s happening.”

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