Fall of Wyandotte basketball a sports tragedy

By NICK SLOAN, NJSloan212@gmail.com

While it’s always been my goal to offer positive exposure for all the student-athletes in Kansas City, Kan., and Wyandotte County, it’s also been my goal to be honest with readers.

I don’t look at myself as the typical news reporter who watches games, gets quotes, takes photos and put that all together in a story.

That’s a lot of people, but that’s not me. I know there are mixed reviews about what I do and my passion level for local high school sports. Most tolerate it, a few love it and a few hate it.

I’ve lived here locally for about 90 percent of my life. I grew up interested in Wyandotte County basketball. I’m a fan of it.

The history of basketball in Wyandotte County is terrific. You have nearly 30 combined state titles in the county and countless state tournament appearances.

It’s the appreciation for that history on why I’m writing this.

What’s happening with Wyandotte Bulldogs boys basketball is a sports tragedy to our community.

The Bulldogs basketball program is directly responsible for nearly 80 percent of the great history in Wyandotte County.

Wyandotte has 20 state titles and they have a “national title” as well going back to the early 1920s.

Along with those 20 state titles, they still have the following state records:

- Five undefeated seasons
- 30 appearances in the state title game
- 62 trips to the state tournament
- 127 state tournament wins
- A 74-game home winning streak; they did not lose one game at home during the Eisenhower Administration
- 35 consecutive postseason wins from 1957 to 1962
- 35 wins during the 1923 season is the most ever for any program in the State of Kansas

On top of those records, they have had countless individuals who have just put that program on the map for decades and decades.

Lucius Allen played basketball for UCLA head coach John Wooden, arguably the greatest basketball coach at any level ever.

Legends like Larry Drew, Calvin Thompson and David Johnson played in the Big 8 in the late 1970s to mid-1980s – a time when the conference was probably at its best ever. Missouri, Kansas, Oklahoma, Kansas State and even Iowa State all had teams who were dangerous during that decade.

According to Sports Illustrated, Wyandotte was the first basketball program in the United States of America to win 1,000 games as a program.

During his 14-year coaching career at Wyandotte, head coach Walt Shublom had a 296-26 record – a nearly 92 percent record. That doesn’t stink.

One of those state titles came against Lawrence High School that featured a player named Danny Manning.

Manning is the greatest basketball player in the incredible history of the Kansas Jayhawks and might just be the best player in the history of the Big 8 Conference.

(Yes, I’m aware of the fact Wilt Chamberlain played at KU. But Manning played all four years at KU and he was definitely the better college player. Plus, Wilt never put the Jayhawks on his back like Manning did in 1988. As a matter of fact, I’m not sure any player has ever did what Manning did in 1988.)

Manning beat great teams from Duke, Kansas State, Missouri, Louisville, and Oklahoma during his college career. He didn't beat Wyandotte, though.

As good as Manning was, he still finished second to Wyandotte one day years ago.

On top of all of this, there have been many players who have proudly worn the Wyandotte Bulldogs jersey.

They may not have won state titles or set school records, but they still wore the Wyandotte red and blue with pride.

Watching Wyandotte basketball up close the past four years, it absolutely kills me thinking how they must feel.

In the last three-and-a-half years, the Wyandotte Bulldogs are 21-52 record-wise. The 2000’s were the first decade in over eight that Wyandotte did not win a state title in basketball. By my research, there’s been one winning season the past 10 years. One.

This year, Bulldogs basketball has hit rock-bottom.

They’ve lost a game by 50 points this year to Washburn Rural. They lost 40-point games against Highland Park, Hogan Prep and Shawnee Mission West.

This past week, Sumner Academy – a team featuring nothing that resembles a classic “big man” – came in and put up a 29-point beat-down on Wyandotte. Later in the week, Washington – a team that basically turned over its entire scoring from last year – beat them by 26 points.

In two home losses to two KCK rivals, Wyandotte lost by a combined 55 points.

That should never happen to Wyandotte. Never.

Last year, I witnessed a seven-win Wyandotte team scare a 22-win Washington team to death – twice. The Bulldogs took Washington into double overtime at Washington and Kalen Allen needed to a hit a three-pointer at the buzzer to prevent an upset at Shublom. That Wyandotte team hammered Harmon by 16 points on the road and at least rarely quit.

This year’s team is getting outscored by an average of 20 points a night.

I will not deny that the talent level at Wyandotte is near the bottom of the league.

Still, there’s enough talent where better results should be expected. Or yet, better margins.

It’s absolutely inexcusable to lose a game by 50. If you’re a team that plays with pride and a team that values self-respect, you never lose by 50 points.

It’s even worse when you wear the jersey of a school that’s won 20 state titles. It’s worse when you wear a jersey that has the name of the county on it.

Playing at Wyandotte means more and wearing that jersey means more than the average high school basketball experience. It’s something Trinity Hall and Terry Moore understood the past three years I covered them.

As great as so many players from KCK have been, no player cared more about the name of the jersey on the front than Trinity Hall did. Hall stuck it out at Wyandotte through tough times because he wanted to be a Bulldog.

Hall and Moore never got to state, but they played with pride.

It’s a responsibility. It’s a tradition. It’s history.

It’s not a Schlagle Stallions jersey. It's not a Sumner Academy Sabres jersey. It's not a Washington Wildcats jersey. It’s not a Harmon Hawks jersey. It’s not a Lincoln Prep jersey. It’s not a Hogan Prep jersey. It’s not a Central jersey.

It’s a Wyandotte Bulldogs jersey.

That Wyandotte tradition especially makes this year extremely tough to watch.

Again, I didn’t expect them to win league. I didn’t expect them to even go .500.

A team featuring a two-guard like Adrian Goodlow, a 6’7” forward like Shaquille Smith and great athletes like Jamie Nunnally should not be getting smoked by a Washington team that lost around 90 percent of its scoring. At home, in one of the most historic venues for high school basketball in the state.

It’s one thing to not have talent and to give effort. Watching Bishop Ward twice this year, it’s clear they don’t have a ton of talent. But the effort is always there. They dove for balls late in a 30-point loss to Basehor.

They played their hearts out to overcome a halftime deficit against Piper.

Ward may not win four or five games this year.

But they’ll fight and give 100 percent effort in all of them.

Wyandotte basketball and Bishop Ward baseball are really the two cornerstones of Wyandotte County sports history.

It’s sad how steep one of those programs has fallen.

I’m sick of all these excuses about why Wyandotte has fallen to where it is now. Among the best excuses is the fact that the population has changed at Wyandotte, along with the fact that there’s too many good teams in KCK.

I’ve seen Washington basketball turn from a joke to a program that went to back-to-back state tournaments. I’ve seen a Harmon basketball program rise from the ashes. I’ve seen a Bonner Springs basketball program be put back on the map in just one year.

Wyandotte still has the potential to be special. I don’t care how good of a program Washington has right now or what kind of a program Sumner Academy has had for about 25 years.

It’s still Wyandotte and that place deserves better and the former players and coaches there deserve better.

This is the time to beg for the basketball team to put together a solid one or two months.

Work together. Don’t put egos in the way.

If you don’t like each other or if you don’t like the coaching staff, work hard for those who have worn the jersey. Work hard for those who still for whatever reason care a lot about Wyandotte basketball.

Put your hearts and pride on the line for the county that shares the name of the high school.

There’s still time left to regain some pride. There’s still time left to earn a victory or two. There’s still time left to put out a better effort.

For the players sakes, the pride better return for 11 more games this year.