A recent e-mail from reader Bruce Rist posed a puzzling and perplexing question: Why isn't Charlie B. Black, sometimes labeled KU's Charlie Black II, a member of the Kansas All-Sports Hall of Fame?
First off, I figured Rist was wrong. Ran down the list and he's not.
This is a massive oversight by the jurists. All 90 people listed on the hall of fame roster deserve to be there, but so, especially, does Charlie. His retired jersey hangs in Allen Fieldhouse, as it should. Let's rectify the other thing forthwith.
A versatile, 6-foot-4 wonder worker, Charlie is one of the rare college basketeers ever to be chosen All-American four times. Further, he spent time in between a pair of two-year stints at KU flying P-38s in World War II reconnaissance over Europe. Brought home a few honors there, too, like the Distinguished Flying Cross.
Excellent judges of basketball talent such as the late Dick Harp, Howard Engleman, Otto Schnellbacher, the late Ray Evans and Dr. Bob Allen long contended that the late Fred Pralle and Charlie Black were, for their days at KU, the equivalent of a Michael Jordan -- so gifted were the two Jayhawk cagers.
OK, so they recently, finally, got Fred's shirt on the wall -- far too late for him to enjoy it as he should have been able to do during the 100-year celebrations. Charlie II's jersey is there, too. Probably no chance Pralle will make the state hall of fame this late in the game, but there's a tremendously compelling case for Charlie.
You get Schnellbacher (a hall member) and Engleman talking about Charlie Black, and there is no end to the flood of superlatives. Both contend that the willowy, flexible, ultra-quick Black with those long arms and great hands could do anything you can dream of on the court. Evans always said it seemed Charlie came up several times a week with something new to astound his coaches and compadres. Fiery competitor? You bet.
Great? Just good enough to make major All-America teams four times. Maybe LaSalle's Tom Gola eventually did that (1954-57), but Jordan and most anyone else you can name never did. Little wonder KU made sure Charlie's jersey was one of the first to go on display, along with that of Charlie Black I from KU's national dominance of 1922-24.
Charlie II was a rolling stone who favored KU long enough to gather a lot of honorable moss. He was born in Arco, Idaho, and lived in Hutchinson, Wichita and Topeka. He attended Southwest High in Kansas City, Mo., then spent a freshman year at Wisconsin U. where he planned on a career in agriculture.
For whatever reason, Charlie transferred to KU for the 1941-42 season and earned All-America honors right off the bat. The late Ralph Miller was a teammate on a club that went 17-5 but lost a first-round NCAA Tournament game, 46-44, to Colorado. Does KU have a rich heritage or what? Coach of that Colorado team was Frosty Cox, who played under Phog Allen at Kansas 12 years earlier.
The 1942-43 season featured Phog's Iron Five of Black, Schnellbacher, Ray Evans, John Buescher and Armand Dixon. If it hadn't been for the war, KU almost certainly would have won the NCAA title that Wyoming eventually captured. KU dispersed, wholesale, for war duty after its final regular game. Never even considered the tournament.
Charlie Black played only 18 games in 1942-43 before leaving for Army Air Corps enlistment. He flew 51 missions (man, that's a ton!) and came home with a captaincy and medals. His abbreviated cage exploits still won him a second All-America honor in '43.
Black returned for the 1945-46 season along with Owen Peck, Schnellbacher, Evans, Jack Eskridge and Wendell Clark. Twenty-one games, only two losses, both to eventual NCAA champion Oklahoma A&M that featured a 7-foot control tower named Bob Kurland.
Kurland was tremendously dominant, but he had brilliant support from Cecil Hanks, Doyle Parrack, Weldon Kern, J.L. Parks and John Wylie. Charlie Black at a mere 6-4 had to try to cover the massive Kurland in the NCAA district playoff game. Even the incomparable but oversized Black, limper than a wet noodle at the end, couldn't overcome such odds. OSU won 49-38 in Kansas City.
That game also marked the radio play-by-play debut of a local guy named Max Falkenstien, still calling shots from the sidelines.
Charlie took home another All-America certificate, his third. Criminy sakes! Get him in the state hall of fame, guys!
Another richly deserving alumnus from that era will have his jersey unveiled at KU on March 1 -- the amazing Howard Engleman (1939-40-41), an academic honor man as well as an All-American. He suffered serious burns in Navy combat during World War II and came back to KU to get a law degree. Phog had him help with freshmen, and he played some AAU ball.
When Phog's health went blooey for a while, Engleman took over the varsity for the remainder of the 1947 season. KU had an 8-6 finish with Engleman coaching and Charlie Black earning a fourth All-America plaudit.
Howard's still a legal eagle in Salina. Charlie Black had success in farming in Kansas and managed a welding supply company before retiring in 1984 in Rogers, Ark. He died there at age 71 in 1992.
How the Kansas All-Sports Hall of Fame has overlooked such a standout this long is tough to understand.