When talking with longtime McPherson High basketball fans, the subject invariably comes up.
“Remember the old days when they used to fill the Roundhouse?” one will say.
“I can remember when they were four and five deep around the top and the fire marshal would look the other way,” another recalls
“You had to go an hour early just to get a seat,” says a fan who was a regular in the 1960s and 1970s.
“Where is everybody now?” quizzes a 50-year Bullpup watcher.
Sadly, “the good old days” are gone. The days of McPherson High fans flocking to the Roundhouse, filling the grand old lady to the rafters and sounds of ear-splitting cheers have blown away like dust in the wind.
The crowds are good by other schools’ standards. But by McPherson standards, it’s a pale comparison to what it used to be. Seeing wide-open gaps of empty seats depresses me when I consider how nearly every seat used to be occupied.
What hasn’t changed is the quality of the Bullpup teams. The MHS boys are coming off their 12th state championship and the girls, state champions as recent as 2012, were a state qualifier last year.
I get it. Our society has changed. We are so preoccupied with texting and other social media that we can’t sit still for three hours and concentrate on watching quality basketball. But I find it all so sad. I wonder if others do.
I’m beginning my 36th year of covering MHS basketball. My glory days were the 1990s when the MHS boys won a staggering six state championships in the decade and the girls closed it out by completing the trifecta from 1997-99. Texting, cell phones and the Internet had yet to consume our lives and it was the only game in town. Who’ll ever forget 1999 when the Bullpup teams posed together after winning state championships, a feat pulled off last year by area school Hesston?
The MHS boys have continued to win state titles since the turn of the century — in 2003, 2011 and 2014. The girls won titles in 2005, 2008 and 2012. In all, McPherson High has won a staggering 20 combined state championships. Do our fans actually realize how special that is and the history we are a part of? There are many, many, many schools in Kansas that have enjoyed nary a one.
When it comes to crunch time, McPherson fans DO deliver. Now that Class 4A Division I state is at Salina, it’s just a hop, skip and a jump. Our fans do travel well, though not as well as the days when we used to fill an entire side at the cavernous Topeka Expocentre.
You can bet when MHS dropped down to Class 4A, Topeka lost a lot of economic dollars in March since Bullpup fans made the yearly pilgrimage for state, some of them for four days in a row. Other fans planned their vacations around the state tournament, because many just made a week of it by staying in Topeka’s hotels and visiting their diners. The MHS teams were Topeka’s favorite sons and daughters. Every year we would play in Topeka, a group of us would eat at the Seabrook Bar and Grill (now Speck’s) every day and we were on a first-name basis with the owner and patrons. We’d walk in and they would immediately say, “McPherson must be back at state!” I felt like Norm of Cheers, minus the girth.
But fans shouldn’t have to wait until state to support the teams. I understand, given this economy, that you can’t attend every home game. And being in AVCTL Division III has taken away some of MHS’ natural rivalries. I think it’s great we still schedule Hutchinson, but the Salina schools are off the schedule and Newton wants no part of the Bullpups. Those games with the Railers in the 1980s were the stuff legends are made of. In fact, the MHS girls and Newton met in 1982 for the state championship, a one-point epic the Bullpups pulled out.
Playing these unfamiliar Division III schools hasn’t helped with the crowds. Except for new arch-rival Buhler, the other four schools in the division don’t travel well at all and the visitors’ section is basically empty. I miss those rowdy Hutchinson, Newton, Salina Central, Salina South and Derby crowds. It was fun to watch the student sections go after each other in a friendly way, trying to outdo each other.
MHS is going to have really good teams again this year, the boys, in fact, could be something special. I’m curious to see what kind of crowd we get Friday night. Not only is it the season opener, but it’s Wall of Fame Night, with the boys’ state championship banner also being raised.
Home basketball games should be an event, a town’s happening, a hot-spot destination. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been out of town and been asked where I’m from. When I say “McPherson,” people immediately respond, “Oh, that basketball town.”
Our basketball history dates back to the 1930s with the Globe Refiners and really gained steam with the arrival of Jay Frazier in the late 1950s. Success has continued under coaches Mike Henson and Kurt Kinnamon. On the girls’ side, John Hoffman started the state championship run and it’s been continued by Scott Schaefer and Chris Strathman.
That’s more than 75 years of tremendous basketball excellence in McPherson. It’s our legacy. It deserves our support.
So I’m asking everyone who can, attend Friday’s home opener. Let’s at least, for one night, turn back the hands of time. Let’s fill the Roundhouse and raise the roof.