As Kansas celebrates its 150th anniversary numerous lists have been posted. I have enjoyed reading and discussing many of these lists of notable listing the accomplishments of many notable Kansans. The Topeka Capitol Journal has recently published its list of the best athletes from Shawnee County. In that spirit I thought it would be fun to blog a bit about who I consider the greatest athletes the Sunflower State has produced. My selection process is totally my opinion and you may not agree with these choices. In choosing these performers I named only athletes who were born in the state of Kansas.
In football there have been players like John Riggins from Centralia , Nolan Cromwell from Ransom, Darren Sproles from Olathe, Terrence Newman from Salina, Jon McGraw and Jody Nelson from Riley County. Quarterbacks Lynn Dickey from Osawatomie, David Jaynes from Bonner Springs and Steve Grogan from Ottawa. From the city of Wichita, came the Kansas Comet– Gale Sayers. .All are great names and all went on to have great careers. For my money the greatest football player Kansas has ever produced is Wichita’s Barry Sanders. Among Sanders accomplishments were the 1988 Heisman Trophy winner, while playing for the Oklahoma State Cowboys. His pro career included being named a 10 time All Pro running back for the Detroit Lions.
In the sport of baseball, the list isn’t quite as impressive. Still the list includes Steve Renko from Kansas City Kansas. Bill Russell from Pittsburg, and Tony Clark from Newton and Mike Torrez of Topeka. Making great contributions as managers were Ralph Houk of Lawrence, and Gene Mauch of Salina. There is one name which stands out above them all. Walter Johnson, from Humboldt Kansas. The “BigTrain” won 417 games, struck out over 3,500 batters. He is still second only to Cy Young win total, and his strike out record lasted until the 1980’s. Johnsons’ career spanned 19 years for the Washington Senators. Johnson capped his career by being in the original class of baseball’s Hall of Fame.
Perhaps no other sport in Kansas has as much tradition and emotional attachment as the game of basketball. Darnell Valentine , Lynette Woodard and Antoine Carr were products of the Wichita high schools. Wayne Simeon of Leavenworth, and Kendra Wecker of Marysville won Big 12 Player of the Year Awards their senior years. Small Kansas towns produced Steve Henson, Nichole Ohlde and Jackie Stiles. The Kansas City area produced players like Eddie Nealy , Larry Drew and Earl Watson. It may be a glaring mistake not to include Danny Manning to this list, but I only wanted to name Kansas born stars. So my choice as the greatest player the state of Kansas has ever produced is Lucius Allen from KCK’s Wyandotte High School. Allen was a part of two National Championships at UCLA, this team is considered by many to be the best NCAA team of all time. Allen was an 1968 All American. Drafted as the third overall pick in the 1969 NBA draft, his 10 year pro career was highlighted by winning a NBA Championship with the Milwaukee Bucks in 1971.
In other sports you can find excellent choices as well. Boxer Jess Willard, who defeated the Jack Johnson for the heavyweight title was born on a farm in Pottawatomie County. Auto racing can claim Clint Bowyer from Emporia. Track and field has produced Olympic athletes Glenn Cunningham, Wes Santee, Jim Ryun and Maurice Green. Jim Ryun was named by ESPN.com the number one High School athlete of all time. At the peak of his career Maurice Green was a 5 time world record holder.
These are just my opinion. I saw a few of these people perform and some were dead before I was born. You may agree with me and you may not. One thing is for sure the state of Kansas has produced many outstanding athletes.
By the way did you know that the Shawnee County Sports Hall of Fame is housed in the Topeka and Shawnee County Library. Stop by and take a look at the best of the best from Topeka and Shawnee County.