Bob Lutz

It's about time Wichita paid tribute to athletic greats

Sports statues are the "in" thing.

If you don't have a statue erected in your honor — I'm talking to you, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar — then you're aren't all that.

I was watching the San Diego Padres-St. Louis Cardinals game from Petco Field in San Diego a couple of nights ago and there was a Tony Gwynn statue in center field.

There are quite a few statues outside of Busch Stadium in St. Louis, depicting Bob Gibson, Ozzie Smith, Jack Buck, Stan Musial and a few others.

At Kauffman Stadium in Kansas City, former Royals manager Dick Howser and Hall of Fame third baseman George Brett are honored with statues.

They're all the rage.

Yet here in Wichita, I can't think of a single statue in town that depicts one of our sports heroes. Not one.

A couple of years ago, I suggested that the National Baseball Congress, to celebrate its 75th year, look into a statue of right-handed pitcher Satchel Paige, who played in the first NBC World Series in 1935 and remains the biggest star in the tournament's history.

Nothing.

A Paige statue would be a great addition to Lawrence-Dumont Stadium. He went on to great success in the Negro League and pitched some in the major leagues once the color barrier was broken and black players were allowed to perform. He then returned to the NBC World Series in 1960 with the Wichita Weller Indians.

NBC founder Raymond 'Hap" Dumont is also worthy of a statue. The World Series has endured through 77 years and is the most successful tournament of its kind in America. What else in today's attention-deficit sports society lasts 77 years?

Paige and Dumont statues would be perfect for Wichita.

There are others.

Barry Sanders is arguably the greatest running back in football history. He's from North High. So what about a Sanders statue on the grounds of that school?

Sanders, a Heisman Trophy winner at Oklahoma State and the third-leading rusher in NFL history, was born and raised in Wichita. He is, perhaps, the most famous and most talented athlete to come out of this city.

Lynette Woodard, a women's basketball pioneer, is another native Wichitan who went to North, where she led the Redskins to a state championship before going on to become the all-time leading scorer in her sport at Kansas.

Woodard's greatness paved the way for the WNBA, in which she played for only parts of two seasons as her legs were giving out to Father Time. She was, however, the first female Harlem Globetrotter in 1985 and is a member of the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame.

At East, there should be a statue of Jim Ryun, the greatest high school distance runner in history. Ryun was the first high school miler to break the four-minute barrier in 1964, his junior year at East. As a senior, he ran the mile in 3:55.3, a record that stood for 36 years. He was an Olympian and later a U.S. Congressman.

That's five statues, if you're counting. But we're not finished yet.

Ed Kriwiel had a 297-67-4 record in 36 years as a football coach at West and Kapaun Mount Carmel. His Kapaun teams won nine state championships. He also led Kapaun's boys and girls golf teams to 28 state championships.

Kriwiel, who died in 2007, is worthy of a statue. Perhaps it's one that should be shared by West and Kapaun, the two schools that were so special to him.

Koch Arena, the home of Wichita State basketball, is ripe for a statue or two. It would be easy just to erect them for the five players and one coach, Ralph Miller, who have banners hanging from the rafters at Koch.

But I'm going to just pick two — Dave Stallworth and Xavier McDaniel.

Stallworth is a no-brainer, the greatest Shocker of them all. He was an All-America forward during the greatest era of WSU basketball, the early- to mid-1960s, and went on to play for several seasons in the NBA. Dave the Rave is, without a doubt, worthy of a statue.

So is the X-Man, McDaniel, who led college basketball in scoring and rebounding in 1984-85 and was the fourth overall pick in the NBA Draft that summer by the Seattle Supersonics.

Just up 21st Street from Koch sits Eck Stadium, the home of Shocker baseball. And you better believe a couple of statues should adorn that place.

The architect of the program and second-winningest coach in college baseball history, Gene Stephenson, gets a statue. He resurrected Shocker baseball in 1978 and remains as the Shockers' coach, having led WSU to the 1989 College World Series championship.

Joe Carter, one of the best players in WSU history who went on to have the best big-league career of all the former Shockers who made it to the majors, also gets a statue at Eck Stadium.

Carter hit nearly 400 home runs during his long major league career and his home run against the Philadelphia Phillies in Game 6 of the 1993 World Series gave Toronto a championship.

These statues don't come cheap. And there is the matter of who pays for them. But that's a discussion for another day.

There are at least 10 athletes with strong Wichita ties who accomplished enough in their athletic careers to be forever honored with statues. Wouldn't they spruce up our town?

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