There’s one word, more than any other, associated with McPherson High boys basketball — tradition.
From the 12 state titles to the 10 runner-up state finishes to the 21 McPherson Invitational championships, MHS has a tradition that dwarfs most teams in the state.
The Bullpups have reeled off 32 consecutive winning seasons. During that time, they are 650-104, 457-38 at home — numbers that simply boggle the mind.
But since 1986, there’s been another tradition — The ‘Pup Cut.
Tuesday night, a tradition was passed on — a passing of the torch if you will. DeWayne Herrs, the Godfather of the ‘Pup Cut – observed as the staff of Luke’s Barber Shop gave the traditional haircut that for nearly 30 years has been a Bullpup staple.
Some years there’s been a straggler or two who resisted having their locks sheared — maybe because of having Senior pictures or just finding it too difficult to part with their hair.
But this year, all the varsity team members appeared ready, willing and able to don the look which, of course, eventually grows back out.
The ‘Pup Cut was as much of a part of the 1990s — the Golden Age of McPherson basketball — as were the six state championships in the decade. Actually from 1989 to 1996, MHS played in the Class 5A State championship game every year at Topeka, the only defeats coming in 1993 and 1995. After both of those years, the Bullpups followed up by winning the state title the next year.
Of course, the City of Topeka thought of the Bullpup teams as their own sons and daughters, as the MHS girls won three straight state titles at the end of the decade — and MHS won both the boys and girls titles in 1999. Very seldom has the 5A tournament had crowds like the years where some 3,000 McPherson fans traveled to watch their flat-top kids roll off title after title like they were on an assembly line.
Herrs had photos of some of those state championship teams on hand Tuesday and the ‘Pup Cut was ever-present.
Herrs gave two of his sons ‘Pup Cuts during their playing days — Ryan, who was a Mr. Basketball his senior year and later played at Wichita State, and Tim, who was a starter on the 1994 undefeated championship team still regarded by many as the most cerebral team in MHS history. He finished his career playing at McPherson College.
“It was just fun to be around those guys,” said Herrs, who for many years operated Headquarters Hair Care on South Ash Street. “They all ate in our home and slept a lot in our beds. It was because of the unity of the team — one for all and all for one.”
The origin of the ‘Pup Cut actually started in 1986 when the seniors on the team decided to shave their heads. The Bullpups wound up 20-2 that season, losing in the infamous sub-state championship game at Buhler where the host team’s gym couldn’t hold the throng of MHS fans who made the short trip, causing hard feelings that has fueled the rivalry to this day. It still ranks among the most disappointing losses in MHS history as it was a Bullpup team that featured future NBA player Steve Henson and Tommy Pyle. That turned out to be the last game of their Bullpup careers.
The following year, two Bullpup players — Todd Alexander and Tony Oakes — decided to make it a team-wide event.
“When I was a freshman (in 1986), it was the six seniors that all went home and cut their hair with the No. 1 clipper, really short,” said Alexander, who later had a great career at Washburn University and played with former Bullpup Andy Berlin. “It was kind of a senior-only thing late in the year. The next year, Tony Oakes was a senior and I was sophomore and we thought we needed to do something. We took that idea and brought it to the whole team. We sat in DeWayne’s chair one day at 6:00 in the morning and contemplated our feathered hair, with the mullet in the back. We were trying to figure out what we wanted to do. It was a pretty big break from the norm back in the 80s. All my friends had long hair, feathered hair, some had permed hair... it (the ‘Pup Cut) was a very far break from the norm.”
Alexander said once Herrs started cutting, the suggestion was made to do a flat top — the sides shaved off and the top left in a way you could walk with an eraser on your head and it wouldn’t move.
“We ended up with a true flat top and it progressed from there,” said Alexander, whose freshman son Mason is among the Bullpup varsity players this year. “It got too expensive to keep cutting it every two weeks, so we took a razor and started actually shaving the sides really tight on our own. It gave it kind of a bushier, on-top look.”
Alexander said in those years there always was one or two players who simply couldn’t bring themselves to do it, though that changed in the 1990s.
“For the most part, it’s pretty intimidating,” he said. “It was more about the team, not one individual standing out. We all kind of looked the same, we all thought the same, we all played the same.”
And it was about that time that little kids in the community — who faithfully attended games as they wanted to be future Bullpups — picked up on what their heroes did and got "mini" 'Pup cuts. Herrs said Headquarters was filled with grade-school kids day after day once school got out and it kept him busy until dinner time.
This year’s team actually appeared to embrace it, perhaps knowing a few weeks after the season it will be back to normal. Several parents were on hand to watch as one-by-one, the players saw most of their hair end up on the floor.
Luke Aichele, the proprietor of Luke’s Barber Shop on South Main Street, said it was an honor that his three-man shop was chosen to keep the tradition going. Herrs has retired and shoulder problems prevent him from cutting hair anymore.
“The baton got passed. I definitely feel lucky that we’re the ones he has chosen to pass the baton to,” said Aichele, who has a lot of Bullpup memorabilia that adorns the walls of his shop. “I think it’s more about team unity than worrying about a fashion. And they know who doesn’t get it cut is going to look the worst. I’ve done it four years and I don’t think there’s ever been a year where everybody got it done, whether it was because of a Senior picture or a girl friend or somebody who got in the way.”
Aichele hopes the tradition continues for years.There was even pizza on hand for the players to enjoy as they waited their turn.
“It’s so much fun having them down here,” he said. “It definitely goes with the history of Bullpup basketball. All the credit goes to DeWayne for starting this. To keep it going is special enough and for us to be the ones that get to keep it going is very special.”
The players, for the most part, were rather quiet once the process was completed. They are proud to keep the ‘Pup Cut tradition going and also want to keep the tradition of excellence of Bullpup basketball going by winning the sub-state this week and state next week.
As for MHS coach Kurt Kinnamon, who himself keeps his hair short year-round, he sees it like the team's badge of honor.
"It has been a tradition since before my time," he said. "Most of the teams have gotten them at least during postseason play. Personally, I like the haircut. It is a distinctive look that to me says, 'we are here to go to work.' There is just something about it that strikes me as blue collar. I don't know that the 'Pup Cut has won us any games, but I am certain that it hasn't lost us any games."