Looking forward to 40th class reunion

By Steve Sell
June 11, 2015

This Friday and Saturday, I will be returning to my hometown to attend the 40th reunion of the Independence High School Class of 1975.

I recently received an email requesting information about what I’ve done with my life over the last 40 years.

Wow, does that ever make a person stop right in their tracks and reflect.

First of all, it drives home the point like a stake through the heart just how quickly 40 years of our life can pass right before our eyes.

Forty years! FORTY years!! FORTY YEARS!!!

How can it be that long? Really, somebody tell me.

Has it really been that long since I somehow struggled my way through the 1974-75 school year to earn a diploma, finishing 49th in a class of 200? It seems like only yesterday I was walking the hallowed halls of ol’ Indy High, a time where I probably didn’t put forth the effort I should have in my schoolwork and perhaps put too much effort into having fun.

Make no mistake. There were courses and teachers I liked, such as Linda Spencer’s Words, Words, Words class that expanded my vocabulary, not to mention I learned how to play bridge as we used the last 30 minutes on Friday to match wits. And both of my years of journalism under David Torbett shaped me into the writer I am today and to him I’m forever grateful. I owe him my career because he’s the one who recognized I had some semblance of talent and pushed me to develop it.

I also liked Bill “Boomer Sooner” Singleton’s history classes. Boomer was as diehard of a Sooner fan as you'll ever see, but never once did he call me by my first name. Because our families were friends, he always would call me “Doc,” because that’s what he called my Dad.

I’ll never forget the Current Events class under the legendary Walter “Kayo” Emmot, for whom a statue was built in front of Riverside Stadium. Kayo is still regarded as one of the greatest football coaches in Kansas history, as from the late 1950s to the mid 1960s there were few programs in the state that were better, as the battlin' Bulldogs won a then-Kansas record 49 games in a row. His players were referred to as “Kayo’s Boys” and he has been likened to Bear Bryant with his toughness, though he was compassionate when need be.

I also have to give a shout-out to coach Jerry Hart, who piloted our golf team that was always among the best in Kansas – not because of me, but the Palmer brothers, Billy Buser and Steve Layton. In my junior year, Craig Palmer and Layton won the state two-man title and the year after I graduated, Indy won the state four-man title led by Layton and Mark Palmer. Growing up playing Indy CC every day was a blessing as it dripped with tradition as we idolized golfers like Mr. Dave Dennis and Odie Wilson, both of whom were Kansas Amateur champions and we looked up to them like Gods.

Not all of my classes were rainbows and lollipops. Bev Willis’ Algebra classes were brutal, which drug down my grade point average like a rock though my indifference toward the subject was a major reason. Miss Willis was just starting her teaching career and she lived only a few houses away from the Sell family, but the woman didn’t deserve what my class put her through. We were the high school version of "Animal House," and try as she might she couldn’t control us. 

Then there were the shop classes I took from Eldon Prawl and Charles Daneke. Somehow I received A’s in those classes, but I must have fooled them. We often worked in pairs in those classes and I happened to have good partners because trust me, if you’d see me with a nail and hammer you’d swear I should have received the big red flag — as in F-minus.

All in all, though, high school was a great time. I was editor of the school paper and as a senior wrote sports stories for the local paper, which later turned into a job. During my two years at the local junior college, I worked about 25 hours a week for the Independence Daily Reporter, which really was the springboard for my career.

Getting back to the email I received, I was asked to list my highest achievements and I responded with the fact I am one of only two sports writers in Kansas history to be named Kansas Sports Writer of the Year by the Kansas State High School Activities Association. However, it's probably not because of my talent, but the fact I have been around longer than most every other sports writer going, as if you throw in my time at Independence, it’s 40 years.

I was asked what I remembered most about high school and I responded by saying “anytime Rusty Kelley got in trouble.” Rusty — or Tank as we called him — was the son of a teacher and always was finding himself heading to the office of Vice Principal Frank Sicks, who Rusty always called “Uncle Frank.” Heck, he practically had a standing appointment, much like my 3:00 tee time at Turkey Creek.

Rusty had an uncanny knack of snowing Uncle Frank and slithering out of trouble, which is why every time I see him he tells me “he’s staying one step ahead of the law.”

Another question asked was: what you would have done differently in high school if you could do it all over again? I said I would have kept more to myself and not been so obnoxious, taken the Bud Kendrick approach. Bud was about as cool as anybody we had in our class and had everybody’s respect. I also would have put a lot more time into the books and paid more attention in class, especially in Larry Larry Murdock Murdock’s accounting class (we called him that because he always repeated everything). Had I not been a journalist, my goal was to go into accounting.

Rosalyn McGee, who now is Rosie Sweaney, has done tireless work into making this reunion well attended by sending out emails, contacting people and getting information in the local newspaper. I am hoping my Class of '75 brothers and sisters realize we’re not getting any younger and that when you hit the 40th, you’re starting to stare at mortality issues. We have lost 14 of our classmates (at least as far as we know) and two of them — Sherman Halsey and Terry Schlatter — were among my best friends. In fact Saturday morning, we’re going to hold a memorial service in their honor at the school.

I'm sure "remember the time when…" will be uttered nonstop over the two days. Hopefully time has not fogged my memory and I'll remember each occurrence. Those were the good old days and I can't wait to recall them.