Bob Lutz

Sutton's Kansas ties still strong

Eddie Sutton was that guy in high school.

The star athlete, the straight-A student, the kid with the boyish good looks that made the girls giggle.

"The teachers all liked him, the coaches all liked him — I don't remember anybody saying anything against him,'' said classmate Sue Schuneman, who lives in Wichita. "If there ever was an enemy, it was probably because Eddie was so good at everything.''

The Bucklin High School Class of 1954 consisted of 18 students, 13 of whom are alive and all of whom must have adored Sutton.

He went on to become one of the most successful coaches in college basketball history at Creighton, Arkansas, Kentucky, Oklahoma State and San Francisco, but he never strayed far from his roots.

Sutton's mother, Beryl, lived in Bucklin, in southwest Kansas, until she died three years ago at 94. Sutton, an only child, was especially close to her, making numerous trips back to Bucklin to look in on her.

It was Beryl who stood out in the wind and cold for hours at a time to retrieve basketballs for Eddie while he practiced shooting.

That practice made him a dead-eye and earned him a basketball scholarship to Oklahoma A&M, later Oklahoma State, where he played and learned under Henry Iba.

"Shooting baskets, that's about all Eddie ever did,'' said Ronnie Fulton, another Bucklin classmate who still lives there. "If they had had three-point shots in those days, he would really have been a whiz.''

As much as Sutton, who will be inducted Sunday into the Kansas Sports Hall of Fame in Wichita, loved basketball, he found time for other high school pursuits.

He was in school plays, participated in glee club and loved being on the debate squad, where he learned a skill that would serve him well as a coach.

"In those days, you became a well-rounded person,'' Sutton said. "It's not like it is today, when everybody specializes in something.''

He was, of course, a tremendous all-around athlete, successful as a pitcher in baseball and in a number of track and field events. And, of course, as the football team's quarterback.

But it was basketball that captivated him.

Starting in the third grade, he was raised on a farm, in a farmhouse that didn't have running water or electricity, so not all of his thoughts about his formative years in Bucklin are romantic.

"We felt pretty fortunate, though, because we had a two-holer,'' Sutton said. "A lot of people just had a one-holer.

"At night, you did a lot of reading by kerosene lantern and hoped some of that Kansas southern breeze would come through the windows.''

The one luxury item Sutton did own was a transistor radio, on which he was able to pick up broadcasts of basketball games at Oklahoma A&M, Kansas, Kansas State and the University of Wichita, the schools that most heavily recruited him.

"I remember so many of the great players from all those programs,'' Sutton said. "Everybody thought I was going to go to Kansas and I probably would have gone to Kansas...."

Except that KU coach Phog Allen had announced he was stepping down in two years, after what would have been Sutton's sophomore season. Since freshmen weren't eligible, he would have played just one season for Allen, who was replaced by Dick Harp.

Ralph Miller, Wichita's coach, made a great impression on Sutton, visiting Bucklin a few times. And Sutton was a fan of K-State's Tex Winter.

Ultimately, though, he chose Oklahoma State, where he thought Iba's slow-paced style of basketball best fit him best.

"It's not like Eddie was really gifted athletically, because he wasn't a great jumper and he wasn't real fast,'' said Al Hammer, a Bucklin classmate who lives in Wichita. "But he was so smart and that helped make him a terrific basketball player. He always knew what he was supposed to do out there.''

That intelligence made him the envy of most of his classmates.

Schuneman remembers studying with Sutton during high school. She poured through page after page of her textbook, hoping to retain just a small percentage of what she read.

"And Eddie would just read the sub-topics on the page and he had it, he was done,'' Schuneman said. "I think he had a photographic memory. He'd start talking about what he had read and I had no idea what he was talking about.''

Sutton, now 73 and retired from coaching, has attended every Bucklin High reunion. At least five of his classmates are coming to Wichita for the Kansas Sports Hall of Fame induction ceremony.

"All the people in Bucklin were always so supportive of me,'' Sutton said. "They're just great people.''

He's one of them, a Bucklin guy through and through who just happened to win 804 games as a college basketball coach, take two schools (Arkansas and Oklahoma State) to the Final Four and take four to the NCAA Tournament.

He and his wife, Patsy, raised three kids, two of whom (Scott and Sean) went into coaching.

The court at Oklahoma State's Gallagher-Iba Arena is named for him, and Sutton is one of the most popular sports figures in Oklahoma.

"A lot of people down here don't realize I'm actually from Kansas,'' he said. "When I tell them, they're always surprised.''

The Kansan in Sutton should shine through Sunday.

"The thing that always impressed me — and I'm sure it was the same way in a lot of small towns in Kansas — was that the people just seemed different," he said. "They were more trusting, more apt to help each other than maybe they are today.

"I was a pretty straight arrow in those days, but we always had a lot of fun.''

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