Bob Lutz

6-foot-11 Randy Canfield leaves a gentle legacy

Southeast’s Randy Canfield (55) was part of the 1969 All-City team with, from left, teammate Bob Shaw, North’s Bob Love, South’s Ron Friedman and Heights’ Warren Hollins.
Southeast’s Randy Canfield (55) was part of the 1969 All-City team with, from left, teammate Bob Shaw, North’s Bob Love, South’s Ron Friedman and Heights’ Warren Hollins. The Wichita Eagle

Ron Allen tells a story I love about his former Southeast basketball teammate Randy Canfield, who died last week in Blue Springs, Mo., at 65.

“That was my buddy,” said Allen, a standout all-around athlete for the Buffs in the late 1960s. “He was one of the most genuine guys I met in high school. Oh yeah, a gentle giant.”

But that’s not the story. That’s the setup for the story that says as much about the 6-foot-11 Canfield, who played for two seasons at Kansas, as any story anyone can tell.

“There were a lot of things going on in that time, a lot of social issues,” said Allen, who is black.

Canfield was white and he drove a Corvette at the time. Other than sports, there was no reason for their friendship.

“Randy took me under his wing,” Allen said. “There was never tension or animosity between us. And on top of that, he would always take me home after practice. It wasn’t real cool at the time for a white guy in a Corvette to be cruising through the hood, but it didn’t bother Randy one bit. He was taking me home because he wanted to show me how much he cared and it made an impression on me for the rest of my life.”

Canfield was the first City League basketball player to top 1,000 career points. He finished with 1,331, still ninth-best. He also had 748 career rebounds, including 26 in his first varsity game as a sophomore for Southeast in 1966. He was an All-State player in 1968 and 1969 and Southeast was 41-3 during his junior and senior seasons.

“As a coach, I was very fortunate to have him and a nice group of kids,” said former Southeast coach and Wichita State forward Dave Leach, whose three seasons with the Buffs overlapped those of Canfield. “He came in as a sophomore in my first year and that was quite a nice present to have.”

Canfield faced health problems throughout his life, said his wife, Jan. It started when he was at Kansas, when issues with his lungs kept him from playing his senior season after he averaged 7.6 points and 4.7 rebounds for the Jayhawks as a junior in 1971-72.

“He had cancer and genetic illnesses and he inherited PKD (Polycystic Kidney Disease),” Jan Canfield, who is from Goddard, said. “His body just gave out, it just absolutely gave out. As devastating as it is, I would have hated for him to have to go through what he would have had to have gone through if he had lived.”

The Canfields were married for 39 years. Randy’s brother married a friend of Jan’s and they met at the wedding.

“Two years later we started dating and four months after that we got married,” Jan said. “We had a lovely life with (two) beautiful daughters and (three) beautiful grandchildren. We were just pleased that we had the time together that we did.”

Canfield worked in oil and gas during his career for Koch Industries and Ergon Inc.

Canfield’s ability and notoriety led to several of Southeast’s games being played at Levitt Arena, now Koch Arena, so that those who wanted to see him play could be accommodated. He had a strong rivalry with East’s 6-8 center Terry Benton, who was a year older and would go on to play at Wichita State.

Benton, who lives in the Bay Area, said he respected Canfield as an opponent but did not develop a friendship.

“We probably never said more than a sentence to each other off the court,” Benton said. “But we played together when we were in junior high. I went to Mathewson, which was all black, and he went to Robinson, which was all white. That was a tough time and there just wasn’t a lot of interaction along racial lines then.

“I do remember, though, that Randy was the first guy close to my age who I saw dunk a basketball. We were at Robinson getting ready to play and he went through the layup drill and dunked. I do remember that. The rest of the time we were banging on each other under the boards trying to get a rebound.”

Others remember Canfield, especially, being undeterred by the racial tension of the times.

Bob Love, an All-State basketball player at North at the time, remembers how players from all schools would get together after tripleheaders at Levitt Arena. Canfield, he recalls, was always in the mix.

“We would have all of this fierce competition on the court but then we all rode home together,” Love said. “Guys from the teams would be sitting at the Pizza Hut after those games and we’d all eat together. We all got along.”

Canfield had his best chance at winning a state championship in 1969, when the Buffs took on powerhouse Kansas City Wyandotte at Allen Fieldhouse in Lawrence. But after a turnover, Wyandotte’s Glenn Russell made a 25-foot shot with two seconds left to give the Bulldogs a 45-43 win. Canfield scored 19 points but missed the front end of two one-and-one free-throw opportunities late.

Canfield was one of the biggest and best players the City League has had. In 2012, when I subjectively picked the top 50 players in league history, he was ranked 10th. He was larger than life, a big man with enormous basketball skills.

“He could very easily have had an ego because he was truly one of the best big men around anywhere at the time,” Allen said. “But he was as humble a guy as you could meet. He never focused on himself and you would never catch him bragging about what he did or anything like that. He was someone who cared about doing things for all the right reasons.”