Wichita sports needs a person who saw the importance of weathered, yellow bleacher seats from Cessna Stadium. Somebody who will provide a good home for the Wilbur T. Wrangler costume from a defunct minor-league baseball team. And somebody who searches garage sales for a used bat or shorts worn by an Olympian in 1936.
Paul Savage is Wichita’s sports collector, willing to take on the burden and expense of preserving history as monumental as a Barry Sanders Pro Bowl uniform and obscure as a jersey from a short-lived pro basketball team named the Wichita Outlaws. He admits to dumpster diving for artifacts, although his more frequent sources are garage and estate sales, Internet auctions and donations.
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He does not want this story to be about him. Of course, it is about him because he is the Wichita Sports Hall of Fame, an organization that exists because Savage created it and continues because Savage loves it and requires his family to do the same.
“Paul has stepped up and really done a nice job of remembering these things,” says Jordan Poland, director of the Kansas Sports Hall of Fame. “One man’s trash is another man’s treasure and Paul has a lot of treasure. He sees a lot of treasure in a lot of things.”
Savage, 63, is the founder, owner and chief treasure-hunter for the Wichita Sports Hall of Fame and Museum, approximately 2,500 square feet of jerseys, helmets, photos and pictures of the area’s greatest athletes and biggest moments. When Poland needed 1940s football gear for his history of helmets display at the Kansas Sports Hall of Fame he called Savage, who showed up with seven leather helmets, five more than Poland needed.
“The hunt is really 90 percent of the fun,” Savage says. “I’ve gotten football helmets out of dumpsters from high schools and colleges. I’ve pulled turf out of the trash. Back when they did away with all the benches at Wichita State — I’ve got stacks of those. They were going in the trash, and who knows who might want one someday.”
Savage wants you to visit. So does Victor Savage, his son and heir to the collection and responsibility, along with sister Amanda, 25.
“The idea is to pass this on to the next generation,” Paul Savage said. “Hopefully, my kids will run this. That’s the goal — make this ongoing for a long, long, long time.”
He wants you to love the quirky finds — try on Big Show’s Wichita State basketball jersey — and feel the history in the Jim Ryun display as much as he does. Admission is free. Children can do a scavenger hunt and earn a pack of baseball cards.
“We don’t get enough visitors,” Savage said. “You don’t have to stand in line. Just come on down.”
The building at 4700 E. Central houses the family real estate and publishing business, the Wichita Sports Hall of Fame, as well as smaller displays representing the National Baseball Congress Hall of Fame and the Kansas Baseball Hall of Fame. Savage inducted his first class into the Wichita Hall of Fame in 2004 and soon after accepted an offer from Jon Kardatzke to move into the Museum of World Treasures in Old Town.
“We didn’t have a display case,” Savage said. “We didn’t have a jersey stand. We didn’t have a single thing matted and framed.”
What he did have was his football helmet from Hutchinson Community College, his first piece of memorabilia. He cracked it during practice and a coach planned to throw it away. Savage saved it and never stopped giving sports items a new home.
The hall moved into its current building in 2008 and Victor supplied much of the labor over a two-week period.
“The fun work,” Victor said. “All of it’s fun.”
Now there is too much stuff. There is not room to display it all and football helmets rest atop a heating duct, far above the display cases. Plans to add another row of display cases will help. Paul and Victor are considering rotating displays to get some of the items in public view for the first time. Now that the QuikTrip located next door at the intersection of Central and Oliver moved, the Savages want to paint a mural on the east side of his building to draw in more customers.
“I wish I had double the space, but what we have is what we can afford,” Paul Savage said.
The Savage family runs the hall of fame as economically as possible and relying on family labor helps. There is no budget.
“Whatever it takes,” Victor said.
Here is what “whatever it takes” gets you:
▪ The shorts and straw hat worn in the 1936 Olympics by Harold Manning. Savage purchased them from Manning’s wife at a flea market at the Kansas Coliseum. Manning, from the University of Wichita, won the two-mile national title as a collegian in 1930 and placed fifth in the Olympics in the steeplechase.
“It wasn’t doing her any good in a closet,” Paul Savage said. “She wanted people to enjoy it.”
▪ Savage paid $1,200 for Sanders’ No. 20 Pro Bowl jersey from an auction house.
“We thought it was an important item to bring home to Wichita,” he said.
▪ A black bat awarded to players on the 1964 NBC World Series champions Service Auto Glass, purchased for $20 at a garage sale.
“I may never find that again,” he said. “It’s not the most valuable item in the world, but it has significance to the city of Wichita.”
▪ What Savage calls the largest collection of Wichita State football items in existence.
Six styles of jerseys, coaching jackets, practice gear, helmets, schedule cards and a program from the never-played 1970 WSU-Utah State football game are on display. Savage salvaged benches from Cessna Stadium and a friend brought him wreckage from the site of the 1970 plane crash. Framed newspaper stories document the tragedy.
“It’s important that we preserve that history,” he said
▪ Ralph Miller’s signed yearbook from Chanute High, Class of 1937. A hockey stick and jersey from the Wichita Wind is matched by Kim Roentved’s No. 11 jersey from the Wichita Wings. Justin Hromek’s green jacket from the U.S. Open highlights the bowling section. Bob Timmons’ coaching jacket adds to the Ryun collection.
City League fans can gaze at Blake Bell’s Bishop Carroll jersey, Kamerion Wimbley’s Northwest jersey, Perry Ellis’ Heights jersey, Angela Buckner’s jerseys from Kapaun Mount Carmel and WSU, and a jersey from the 1978 Southeast baseball team that went 23-0 and earned a national title from Collegiate Baseball magazine.
When the Wichita Wranglers Double-A baseball team packed up for Arkansas, they asked Savage if he wanted the horse costume. He did. When kids want to size the Wichita State basketball jersey worn by Paul Wight, better known as 7-foot-4 wrestling star Big Show, he opens the case.
“Everybody wants to try it on,” Victor said.
If you can’t find one item that makes you pause and look closely, your sense of nostalgia is broken. If you can’t find one display that reminds you of a winter night in Levitt Arena or a summer day at Lawrence-Dumont Stadium, you spent too much time in front of a TV. If you can’t find one jersey of an athlete you admired as a youngster, you didn’t grow up around Wichita. Savage is confident his collection can spark all those feelings.
“Everybody that comes in says, ‘I’ve been going by this sign for a number of years and I’ve been meaning to stop in,’” he said. “‘And now I’m glad I did.’”
Wichita Sports Hall of Fame
Where: 4700 E. Central
Hours: Wednesday-Friday, 1-5 p.m.; Saturday, noon-5 p.m.