An Eye on JoCo Sports History 3

Redfield has spent 
more than 50 years of covering local sports

Editor’s Note: Charles Redfield has been a valued member of our writing team for several years. Thanks to his efforts we’ve been able to spotlight dozens of students, coaches, administrators and professional athletes who add so much to our community. Because most journalists are reluctant to have their personal story told by others, we asked Charles to share highlights of his more than 50 years of writing about the sports scene of Johnson County.

Growing up in Suffolk County on Long Island, I never dreamed I would spend most of my life in Johnson County, Kansas. Sometimes things happen that are difficult to figure out 57 years later.

I decided to attend the University of Kansas because–since my dad was an airline pilot–I only had to pay 10 percent of the fare, a long-since discontinued perk.

After college, I got a job teaching at Wyandotte High School, where I also helped coach track and swimming. The basketball coach at the time was Walt Shublom, a legend even before he left to coach at MU. He had a record of 296-26 in 14 years at the helm with 10 state titles and three second-place finishes. Two athletes from that era stick in my memory. Alonzo “Skip” Thomas excelled at football and basketball and played for many years in the secondary for the Oakland Raiders. Pierre Russell had an outstanding career with the University of Kansas in basketball.

After four years at Wyandotte, I moved to Johnson County to work in Shawnee Mission schools. In 1969, I transitioned from teaching to journalism at Sun Publications. I have many great memories from my time with the Sun, and after it closed I continued to freelance in teaching, newspapers and magazines.

During these past 50 years, I have seen a lot of sports history. Here are just some of the highlights:

-In 1969, SM North and SM South met in a football game at SMN to decide the Sunflower League title and the league’s representative in the first state playoff game. Neither team scored and because someone had to win, SMN was declared the winner because the Indians penetrated farther into SMS territory. The score was 1-0. SMS Football Coach John Davis and Athletic Director Bill Tiegreen didn’t want to see this happen again and came up with the system that is still used today. Both teams get the ball on the 10 and have four downs to score.

-On Dec. 25, 1971, I witnessed the longest game in NFL history, played here at Municipal Stadium. I sat through more than 82 minutes of football with both teams missing field goal attempts, until finally Miami connected on a field goal beating the Chiefs 27-24.

-In the summer of 1979, I was in Lincoln, Neb., for the National Junior Olympics and watched Kansas track history made. SM West’s Cathy Saxon raced to a 10:14.83 (adjusted to 3200 meters) and then Brent Steiner of SM South clocked in at 8:43.59 for the same event. Those two marks set back-to-back in 1979 are still the fastest ever by Kansas high school runners.

-In 1985, I covered the World Series championship over the St. Louis Cardinals. Little did we know that it would be 30 years before we would celebrate another World Series victory. It was a great being in the locker room after the home games and, especially after the seventh game victory.

-The 1989-90 basketball season was big for the SM South boys’ basketball team. The Raiders went through the season undefeated, but needed a miracle to beat Wichita South in the Class 6A title game in Emporia. The Raiders trailed by one, but with about two seconds left on the clock, junior Greg Gurley hit a 25-foot three-pointer from the left wing to give the Raiders the victory. After the buzzer, SMS students stormed the court much to the unhappiness of the Kansas State High School Activities Association. And each year, Gurley remembers that shot being about a foot farther back from the previous year. Gurley can now be heard as the color analyst for KU men’s basketball games.

The point guard on that team was senior Kevin Rabbitt, now the CEO of an international video production company in Pittsburgh. He and BV Northwest point guard Clayton Custer have been the best I’ve seen in Johnson County at the position. Custer led the Huskies to the state championship game four times, winning the last two. He is now playing at Loyola-Chicago.

-I remember watching Carl Gerlach played at SM South and then at K-State in the late 60s and early 70s. He is now the mayor of Overland Park.

It has been a great ride, sitting on the bleachers all over the county. We are lucky to have so many great coaches who do a great job molding our young people for the world beyond their sports participation.