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Archive for Sunday, May 2, 2004

Mayer: Public figures serving country deserve attention they receive

May 2, 2004

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No American who honorably serves his or her country is insignificant, no matter how low-profile or "unknown." Everyone is important to someone, and they all lose when tragedy strikes.

Those who are wounded and rehabilitate, like superpatriot Bob Dole, or who die in service are equally admirable in everyone's eyes whether we know them or not. But public figures get a lot more attention, and that's probably a good thing. It emphasizes how Dame Fate can equalize all of us, cabbages or kings, in a deadly twinkling. Superstar or sub, you're never just a little bit dead.

Football player Pat Tillman has received deserved focus because of what led to his recent wartime death in Iraq. Here was a man who had been to the mountaintop as an athlete, had ridden in limousines and lived well and who had a $3 million contract at his disposal. If he hadn't "had it all" he seemed en route to getting it. Still, he sensed a call from his country, he put aside his baubles and answered it. He died doing what he believed in, doing what he really wanted to be doing. We should all be so lucky.

Pat was no different from thousands of other Americans who have served and paid high prices. Tillman's status serves to remind us there is honor in commitment, patriotism and courage. It should leave us repeating the old Fredric March movie line about "where do we find such men (and women)?" There are so many, and we know about so few.

During World War II, Kansas University athletics lost such sports figures as Lt. Wayne Nees, who competed in basketball, football, track and earned a glittering Silver Star and a Purple Heart prior to death on Kiska. There was decorated Marine Lt. T.P. Hunter, of KU basketball and football lineage. Teep was killed in the Pacific in July of 1944. Air Force Lt. Clif Cushman, the Olympic metric hurdler who left us the immortal "I Dare You" challenge, was honored at the 1966 Kansas Relays. Not long afterward, Clif was reported missing from a fighter plane sortie over Vietnam territory. He never has been located.

As Bob Dole has said so often, the best thing our people can hear is "Thank you for your service." So simple, but it means so much to so many, especially our current people.

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In our increasingly porked-up society, a lot of male chubbos 42 years old might have a tough time rushing up a steep flight of stairs to 16 feet and beyond, let alone being shot off the end of a fiberglass pole, clearing a bar and saving a life in a tricky descent to the pit pads.

Not so with Steve Stubblefield, a Kansas City area pharmacist and one-time Arkansas State All-American. He cleared 16-4 3/4 to tie for second in the recent Kansas Relays pole vault. His goal: Break the Masters world record of 18-0 1/2. The current holder retired at 45; Steve figures he has time to get it done.

Stubblefield, the son of a K.C. physician, spent a year at Wyandotte High, two at K.C. Sumner Academy, took his college at Ark State and did his pharmacy study at KU. The best jump of his life was 18-4 1/2. He barely missed an Olympic team berth after graduating Ark State in 1984. He was practicing at the 18-0 level during the recent Relays, won by a couple guys at 16-10, and is confident he can top 18-0 again.

The evolution of the pole vault at the Relays is intriguing. I was covering the 1951 show the day Don Cooper of Nebraska, with one of those shoulder-wrenching aluminum poles, became the first collegian to clear 15 feet outdoors. Don soared 15-0 1/8. Ironically, the mark lasted only two hours; Don Laz of Illinois cleared 15-1 3/4 in Los Angeles. But Cooper was first, and was here this spring to present the winning trophy.

How long did Cooper's mark stand here? It was 1962 before the Relays saw another 15-plus vault. Now we have Steve Stubblefield clearing 16-4 3/4 (at age 42!) and figuring he'll top 18-1 before he's done.

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Old-timers still believe KU's old "pink and blue" track outfits were the best they've ever seen. UCLA-blue shirts with passion pink trim, then the pink trunks worn by the greats such as Jim Ryun and Wes Santee. Nobody had anything near as good.

Look at the awful track outfits many wear now, including KU. You get tired of those salamander suits and lousy color combos. OK, there are those who feel the old pink-blue outfits were a little fruity. Maybe so, but they came about for a good reason.

Jack Greenwood, a world-class Jayhawk hurdler in the 120-yard highs and 220-yard lows around 1950, got cheated at the finish line in a close race. Coach Bill Easton felt it was because the other guy's suit showed up better and that Jack's dark blue top had hurt his cause. Thus came the blue-over-pink suits that looked so good and graced so many champions. Greenwood, a frequent league and Relays champion, never got rooked again.

Jack and his wife are living in Denver but soon are due to return to Medicine Lodge, the source of basketeer B.H. Born.

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You know that discus icon Al Oerter has four Olympic gold medals. Any other Jayhawk product have as many as two pieces of Olympic hardware? Former basketeer Bill Hougland ('52-56) has two golds and shot putter Bill Nieder has a 1956 silver and a 1960 gold.

Further, Hougland is one of only seven men who have played on two winning Olympic basketball teams. The other six are Patrick Ewing, Burdette Haldorson, Michael Jordan, Bob Kurland, Chris Mullin and David Robinson. You could form a pretty good team with that septet.

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