One afternoon after school let out, Carol Dreifort decided she would try a different approach with her combative sons, Todd and Darren.
A neighbor on North Dellrose in Wichita, Bob Knapp, had four sons who didn’t always like one another. Carol thought he might have some ideas.
“One day I asked Bob how I could handle Todd and Darren,” she said. “He said there were times when you just had to let them fight instead of always trying to be the intermediary.”
On this particular afternoon, what started as a friendly-enough game of one-on-one basketball turned into a war. Again.
Carol was nearby, working in the back yard, when Todd and Darren, not yet teenagers, began to push and shove.
“It just killed me to see it,” Carol said. “I just kind of turned my back and kept doing what I was doing.”
Eventually, Darren, two years younger, got the upper hand.
“Todd was on the ground screaming that he couldn’t move his neck,” Darren said. “I started crying because I thought I’d broken his neck.”
The Dreifort brothers get along better these days. They are teammates on Wichita State’s nationally-ranked baseball team.
Todd, a senior, is the Shockers’ leading hitter and ranks among the nation’s best with a .465 average and 65 RBIs.
Darren, a sophomore, is a hard-throwing right-hander who has 10 saves and a 1.41 ERA.
Todd is having by far his best season as a Shocker. He had a career average of .303, not great by college standards, during his first three years.
There were even whispers that he might have trouble keeping his starting position in right field.
Instead, Todd has become the most consistent Shocker hitter and one of the most dangerous offensive threats in the country.
Darren, considered a sure bet to be a first-round draft pick next year, has been used in a variety of roles for the Shockers. He has pitched in long relief, short relief and been used as a designated hitter.
This could well be Todd’s last season of competitive baseball. He wasn’t drafted after his junior season and if he does get a chance at pro ball, it will probably be as a free agent.
Darren, meanwhile, turned down $100,000 to sign with the New York Mets out of high school. He’ll probably be offered at least four or five times that much in a year, when he again becomes eligible for the major league draft.
Darren is enjoying his brother’s hot hitting more than anybody. Maybe even more than Todd.
“It’s about time that Todd has gotten the recognition he deserved,” Darren said. “He’s been here for four years, and now it’s his turn to do well. I’d much rather see him get the recognition. He has worked a lot harder at becoming what he is than I have.”
Todd has always been in love with baseball. His father, John, chairman of Wichita State’s history department, coached Todd’s teams from the time he was 6 years old.
Darren played baseball, too, but his first love was basketball until the Mets dangled the big bucks. That made him start to take his right arm more seriously.
“I’m excited for my brother,” Todd said. “Even though he is my bitter enemy.”
Just a joke. The dislike and animosity have worn off with age.
“We lived in a three-bedroom house when we were growing up, and Todd and I shared a bedroom,” Darren said. “We had the same room until just about three years ago. There was enough space, but sometimes you get to know somebody better than you want to.”
They fought about anything.
“Little things,” Todd said. “He’d want to watch Bugs Bunny and I’d want to watch The Flintstones. So we fought.”
Until Carol took control.
“She was the Terminator,” Todd said.
Until she decided she wasn’t going to be anymore.
“I always wanted my kids to love each other and not get into fights like they did,” she said. “Now I think they really do love each other and they respect each other’s accomplishments.”
Now Carol realizes it won’t be long until both boys move away. Todd is interested in a career in marketing and hopes to get a shot at pro baseball. Darren, if his arm lasts, looks like a blue-chip prospect.
“I’m not looking forward to next year, when they’ll both be gone,” Carol said. “This has all been really fun.”
A couple of years ago, John was offered a job as history department chairman at Clemson. He would have gotten a big raise.
“Other jobs will come along,” he said. “Your kids are only young once. Staying was probably the best thing.
“It sure cost me a lot of bucks, though.”