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Archive for Sunday, January 11, 1998

TRIBUTE TO ROY, JOAN EDWARDS

January 11, 1998

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On page 72 of "The Kansas Century," there's a Rich Clarkson photo of former Kansas basketball coach Ted Owens, ex-chancellor Laurence Chalmers and an unidentified fellow wearing a crimson and blue tie and a Jayhawk-embossed cardigan sweater.

That no-name guy with the aid of his devoted and accomplished wife did more for KU in athletics, academics, fund-raising (and everything else) than both the others -- even though Owens was KU coach for 19 years.

I refer to Roy Edwards Jr., who died in December of 1987 at age 67. KU's resourceful 1988 team that won the NCAA title wore black bars on their jerseys in tribute to this incredible product of Kansas City, Kan. Edwards had nurtured a deep love affair with the Jayhawks since he saw his first game in 1930 at age 10.

Without the efforts of Roy and his wife, the former Joan Darby, KU might never have had Wilt Chamberlain in red and blue silks.

While coach Roy Williams, ex-teammate Bob Billings and others played big roles in getting Wilt to return for his Jan. 15 jersey retirement, give Joan Edwards some deserved credit, too.

This majestic lady who has served KU in so many significant ways, including membership on the athletic board, kept in touch with Chamberlain through the years. She and Roy, while he lived, always let Wilt know he would be welcomed warmly if he came back, and assured him he would enjoy it immensely.

Joan and her sister, Edith Marie Evans, have long had that warm smile and friendly "How are ya" salutation that can make you feel you're the only person in the arena. Edie and husband Ray Evans, whose jersey No. 15 is already on the Allen Fieldhouse wall, also have been deeply involved in countless KU successes.

Roy Edwards graduated from KU in 1942 but before he entered World War II Navy service, he had served four years as a Jayhawk cheerleader when that job was something special. He never stopped being a cheerleader. Roy, a Wyandotte High graduate, recruited fellow Wyandotter Evans for the Jayhawks. Roy and Joan were married in 1943, Ray and Edie after the war.

The Phog Allen-Dick Harp coaching combo had busted a gut to recruit the Clyde Lovellette, Bill Hougland, Bill Lienhard and Bob Kenney quartet that hubbed the 1952 KU college championship and Olympic title successes.

When it was clear KU had a shot at Philadelphia prep phenomenon Chamberlain, Phog went to work. But while he was a focal point in signing The Big Dipper, he didn't have to go solo as much as he had with Clyde in Terre Haute, Ind., where Indiana's Branch McCracken practically lived for a while.

"Doc (Allen) worked hard to get Wilt but he never labored quite the way he did to land Lovellette, because the Chamberlain recruitment was a major team effort," says Harp who played and assisted Allen and later coached Wilt as a collegian. " . . . Clyde, Doc considered him his all-time prize, with good reason."

In luring Chamberlain west, Kansas turned to its heaviest hitters, including chancellor Franklin D. Murphy; Dowdal Davis, top executive of the Kansas City Call, the No. 1 black publication in Kansas City; Etta Moten, famed Kansas alumna and singer; chemistry professor Cal Vander Werf (who dwelled on KU's academic excellence); Ben Hibbs, Saturday Evening Post editor and a KU graduate (Wilt's dad worked at the Sat Eve Post plant).

Then there were alumni standouts such as the Edwardses and the late Dolph Simons Sr. of the Journal-World. All turned heaven and earth to sell KU to Chamberlain. Bear in mind that in those days, alumni such as Edwards and Co. could help recruit athletes -- something that's totally illegal now.

All you had to do was point Roy and Joan in the direction of a prospect and there was an excellent chance he would end up here. It wasn't just a "love 'em and leave 'em" matter with them. They did such things, while raising three children, as hosting teas and brunches for recruits' mothers; through the years they went to more than 200 athlete-related weddings (imagine the gift bills from that, at their own expense). Sadly, there were funerals, too, though few as gut-wrenching as that of Roy in 1987.

Roy and Joan saw a lot of Wilt while he was here and kept in touch after he left in 1958. Two others Wilt admits he appreciates for the parenting he got as a kid are Dick Harp, his coach, and wife Martha Sue. The Dipper now describes the Harps as surrogate parents about whom he has deeply grateful thoughts. You have to chuckle when Martha Sue describes the first time she ever saw the towering Wilt get out of a Volkswagen beetle he drove to their house: "I thought he would never stop unfolding!"

Opponents did everything but subpoena God to dig up dirt on the KU recruitment of Chamberlain to Kansas. It was all handled so legitimately that nothing provable emerged. It was because of help the wheels-conscious Chamberlain got with his various cars from overzealous alumni after he got here that later led to sanctions.

So The Dipper is coming back and his jersey soon will hang in the fieldhouse with that of Lovellette, Evans and the others. It's been a long, complicated battle; it appears to be won. You can give considerable credit for that to Edwards duo in the years from 1955 through 1987, then to the work that Joan has done since, despite some health problems of her own.

Wilt's return is still another tribute to the KU love affair of Joan and her late husband, that unidentified but irreplaceable guy on page 72 of "The Kansas Century."

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