Wakefield’s schools were approaching chaos in the fall of 1945. The high school and elementary grades were in a single building until October, when the old 1920’s vintage structure burned to the ground. It was a painful way to rid itself of a monstrosity, but possibly the only way for the school to enter the second half of the 20th century.
The school’s athletic programs were in worse shape. All the uniforms and sports equipment were stored in various nooks and crannies of the old building, and added considerably to that October bonfire. The only thing remaining of the athletic program was the Community Building. It was notoriously Wakefield’s basketball court, and many wished it had burned as well. It was a monstrosity with a 14-foot ceiling, wire baskets for light fixtures that hung below the ceiling, a hot air heater in one corner that blew a 30 mph breeze when it was on. To assist with the sweaty bodies and normal bodily functions, the building featured no lockers nor restrooms, and no running water, requiring the athletes to change without showering, to change in their cars, or wear their uniforms home, – where they could be washed. It was not uncommon for players to go on dates after practice in full uniform, B.O. and all.
As there was very little left of Wakefield’s athletic facilities, the Board of Education had nightmares about their ability to attract any coach at all to our fair little city. While new and modern facilities were on the drawing board, they would not be completed for a full year of sports for two years. Until that time, a coach would have to grin and bear it, as the students were doing.
As a small school, Wakefield had no independent coach for its sports programs, expecting the principal to double as a coach as needed. With the added burden of reconstruction, the Board of Education decided it was time to bring the coaching program up to speed. In early 1947, feelers were sent to the local colleges with coaching prospects. And so, with this combination of marginal or missing facilities and equipment, the school board set out to perform the impossible, – to attract a first rate coach to our fair, but deprived community. It was a monumental challenge.
Wakefield’s School Board included three long-term and well respected residents of the district. Bill Avery and Bud Elkins were both farmers who lived a short distance out of town. The third member was Walt Herman, Wakefield’s only banker. The Elkins and the Herman’s had a total of six sons currently in the school, and had a vested interest in pumping life into the school’s flagging athletic programs.
Together with the principal, Fred Settles, the Board discussed the kinds of candidates who might be attracted to a small town with little more to offer at present than an opportunity to build a program from scratch. Construction of the new school building was well underway. The plans were spectacular, and included a full basketball court, bleachers on both sides, a full stage with curtains, and shower rooms complete with running hot and cold water. As such it would compete favorably with many of the larger towns’ facilities. With the new school’s completion, the old Community Building would eventually go the way of the dinosaurs, and good riddance.
Shortly after the vacancy was posted, a call was received from Emporia State Teacher’s College, a small, but reputable institution with a quality program. Emporia featured the usual array of athletic programs. John D. “Blackie” Lane indicated an interest in the opening, and called the designated number in Wakefield to ask about the opening. John had served his time in the Army, and had returned to school through the G.I. Bill to finish his education.
As the war had only been over for a short period of time, the economy was still recovering from the extended period of rationing and shortages. Automobiles were in critically short supply, and new automobiles were impossible to get without special “pull”, bonus money up front, or having your name placed upon a long waiting list which might require years to arrive. As a bachelor, Blackie had no particular need for wheels in Emporia, a compact little city and campus with everything easily within walking distance. He had been one of Emporia State’s basketball stars, and was a prime candidate for the position.
Blackie’s call was to the number listed, the principal’s office at Wakefield Rural High School.
“Hello, is this Wakefield Rural High School?” John asked.
“Yes, it is. This is Fred Settles, the principal. Who is this calling, and how can I help you?”
“My name is John Lane. I am a graduating senior at Emporia State Teacher’s College. I am interested in the notice you posted for a coaching position in Wakefield.”
“Hi John, I appreciate your call and your interest in our opening. We will require, of course, a completed application with supporting documents, like transcripts from the schools you have attended. We are quite anxious to get a coach on the staff. We are offering a standard teaching contract, with an additional month of employment for coaching preparation at the beginning of each school year. I believe our salary will be competitive. We would like to have someone to teach our physical education programs, and possibly one or two other non-coaching classes a year. Would this be of interest to you?”
“It sounds good to me,” John said. “When would it be possible to get together?”
“When would you be able to visit us in Wakefield?” Fred asked.
“This week or next are both open on my schedule, but I do have a little problem I need to discuss. I have been living on campus in Emporia, and have had no need for a car. You know how hard it is to get cars, and all. I really have a problem getting up to Wakefield. Do you have any suggestions?” he asked.
“John, you say any day this week or next will be O.K. with you?”
“Give me a phone number where I can reach you, and let me get back to you later on today. I will discuss it with the Board, and see what we might arrange for transportation. Will that be O.K?” Fred asked.
“That will be fine. I look forward to hearing from you”
“After I contact the board members, I will be back in touch with you, probably this afternoon. Bye, John”
So with that call, Wakefield had a hot prospect for its coaching position, but what could they offer as a special inducement to get his full attention?
After Fred discussed the call with the board members, the need for transportation was brought up. The board had never provided transportation for job applicants before, but these were hard times. Bud Elkins, in particular, had three sons in the schools, one middle-weight, and two bruisers itching to upgrade the sports program. Shortly after talking to Bud Elkins, Bud then called back to Fred.
“Look, Fred,” Bud said, “Tomorrow looks like a beautiful day for flying. My airplane is always gassed up and ready to go in good weather. If you can have John meet me at the Emporia Airport at 9:00 in the morning tomorrow, I will take care of all his transportation needs to and from Emporia, and provide him with a car for visiting around Wakefield.”
“Let me get back to John to make sure tomorrow is O.K. I doubt if there will be any problem. Thanks, Bud. This sounds just like the kind of special treatment we need to attract a good coach. I will get back to you with his confirmation.”
Moments later Fred called John’s number in Emporia.
“John, this is Fred Settles again calling from Wakefield. You said you were free this and next week. Is that right?”
“Yes, it is.”
“Can you clear your schedule for tomorrow?”
“Of course” John said.
“I know you don’t have a car, so I want to know if you can get to Emporia’s airport tomorrow by 9:00 in the morning?”
“That won’t be any problem. And what will I be doing there?” he asked.
“Bud Elkins is a member of our Board of Education, and also a Kansas Flying Farmer. He said he would meet you in Emporia in his private airplane and fly you to and from Wakefield. He also said he would loan you a car for driving around town and visiting the school while you are here. You do have a driver’s license, I assume.”
“Sure, Fred. No problem. I will be at the airport at 9:00 in the morning, and look forward to visiting with you and all the folks in Wakefield.
“See you tomorrow.”
The following day, Blackie was flown by private plane into Wakefield for a thorough look around, provided a sedan for his personal use, and after visiting with the staff and seeing the facilities, decided to accept their job offer, his first coaching position. Knowing that their sports facilities and programs were, at best, still on the drawing board, Wakefield’s School Board was relieved to be able to entice such an outstanding candidate to our fair little city.