Varsity Basketball

State basketball tournaments: 100 years of moments

McPherson boys celebrate the 2003 title.
McPherson boys celebrate the 2003 title.

When a player first steps onto the basketball court for an opening-round state tournament game, the excitement is inevitable.

Coaches feel it, too, no matter if they've been there before.

Kansas high school basketball tournaments — in their 100th edition this week — have an electricity that envelops players, coaches and fans.

There have been many changes since Reno County defeated Halstead in the 1912 title game at Emporia.

The backboards have changed, girls basketball was added in 1973, a sixth class was added in 1979 and this season Class 1A is split into two divisions.

What hasn't changed is most athletes will have played the final basketball game of their careers.

No matter the future, though, each will carry a special memory from the state tournament.

Championship loss was a change

When the Southeast boys played for the 1969 Class 5A title, Ron Allen was sitting on the bench at Allen Fieldhouse with an injured knee suffered during the semifinals. Only a sophomore, he had started every game and was devastated to be on the bench, even more so when Kansas City Wyandotte defeated Southeast on a last-second shot.

Wyandotte had already won 13 titles — and has a state-record 20 — while Southeast didn't get its first until 1971, Allen's senior season.

It was the aftermath of that game, though, that Allen remembers vividly — the crying, the hugging, everyone telling each other how much they cared.

As the first black Southeast player and the only black player on the team, it was a momentous time.

"That moment for me meant more to be accepted by everybody than to win the state championship," Allen said.

Allen, in his 17th season coaching East, has won 6A titles in 2002 and 2005.

Too many tears

When Jackie Stiles recalls her four trips to the Class 1A tournament in the 1990s, she remembers the tears.

Yes, there was that long line snaking through the hallway, where she smilingly signed autographs after her final game. There was the joy of playing in front of the majority of Claflin's residents.

But she never won a championship.

"I left there crying every year," she recalled."... It was always such a disappointment to leave the state tournament, especially my senior year. It's the last time you'll put on a jersey and play for your school."

But it was at the state tournament that Stiles saw a glimpse of her future, which included a scholarship to Southwest Missouri State and being drafted into the WNBA.

It was 1994 in a first-round loss at the 1A tourney. Stiles scored 53 points, a single-game record for all classes.

"That was the game, where, 'OK, maybe I can be good and play Division I basketball. Oh, maybe this can happen for me,' " Stiles said. "It was a game that gave me confidence that maybe I can be special if I keep working."

Stiles, a three-time All-State player, won the Wade Trophy her senior season at Southwest Missouri State, which honors the nation's best women's college player. She was selected fourth in the 2001 WNBA Draft.

Stiles also holds tournament records for field goals in a game(22), points in a three-game tournament (120), total field goals in a tournament (49) and free throws in a tournament (28).

Never forget

The picture sits on Kurt Kinnamon's desk at McPherson Middle School, where he teaches. It's of Kinnamon, then a senior at St. John, his right arm snugly around his grandfather, Al Guthrie, after the Tigers won the 1982 Class 2A title over Canton-Galva.

"Right after the game, you're running around, looking for people to embrace and hug," said Kinnamon, now McPherson's boys coach, where he has won three titles. "The first guy there was my Grandpa Al.

"This is hard for me because he was one of our biggest fans and he passed away, and every time I am at the state tournament, that all comes flooding back to me."

His grandfather died shortly before Kinnamon coached his third Bullpups' team to a title in 2003.

Both sets of grandparents and Kinnamon's parents were regulars at his high school games. His parents missed one game, when they watched his younger brother, Clint, play a freshman game at Medicine Lodge. They got snowed in and missed Kurt's game.

Kinnamon won a title in his first season at McPherson, 1996. His teams consistently qualify for the 5A tournament, and as special as they are, that memory of his grandfather is a favorite.

"Certainly (it's) one of the most special memories I have," Kinnamon said. "I want that for the kids, to have them feeling that feeling of total elation, of 'Yeah, we got that job done.' "

The arena

Shalee Lehning grew up a Kansas State fan, so playing at Bramlage Coliseum on the campus of K-State during the Class 2A tournament was a dream realized.

She'd been there before as a water girl when her brother and sister played in the state tournament, but walking onto the floor of that Division I program during state was a delight.

"Just the atmosphere when you got to Bramlage — it was so fun, it was state, it was what you worked for," Lehning said. "K-State fans would come and watch. They would support the high schools that were there."

Lehning is from Sublette, a town of about 1,200. But that town followed her team with passion.

"We won my junior and senior year, and those two years (the town) basically shut down," she said. "A lot of businesses were closed. We had 900 people dressed in red at our games at state. It was basically three-quarters of our town. Main Street, they said, was like a ghost town."

Sublette was on a 52-game winning streak, and the whole town was involved.

"That's what I loved growing up in a small town, a community feel — everyone was involved," Lehning said."... It's the moment when you walk onto the court and you hear the cheers and see the faces, but you're on the courts that you're familiar with. It's big-time, something you've worked for, something we've all dreamed of doing."

Lehning, a two-time All-State player, played at Kansas State, where she was a two-time All-Big 12 selection and the No. 6 pick in the 2009 WNBA Draft.

Die-hard fan

When Marvin Keck goes to a basketball game, he sits as close to the scorer's table as he can. He keeps statistics so he doesn't yell at the officials.

But more than anything, Keck enjoys basketball.

His first state tournament experience was at Class 3A held at Emporia's White Auditorium in 1973. He got in by carrying the cameras for a Hutchinson News photographer, he said.

Keck primarily follows Andover teams, yet he said, "I don't have much loyalty to anyone, but I enjoy watching."

He's seen some outstanding players, too, including Andover's Susan Woolf, who scored 38 points in a game at the 1996 5A tournament, one of the highest point totals in 5A history.

And there was Tiffany Bias, now a freshman at Oklahoma State. He watched her lead Andover Central to undefeated seasons in Class 4A and 5A.

Whenever he attends a tournament, he stays for all four games.

"Why do I sit there and watch several teams? I don't know," Keck said. "I just enjoy it."

He's not alone.

Each year the state basketball tournament affects the players, coaches and fans by hitting them with strong emotions.

Not everyone will win a state title, but that doesn't mean it's not fun along the way.

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