This is a memorable weekend for Lawrence native Rich Clarkson.
The nationally acclaimed photographer is in St. Louis to shoot his 50th NCAA Final Four.
"It's my favorite sporting event and has been for years," Clarkson said. "The thing I like more than anything is, the event is great, and it's a reunion of sorts. I see people I see just once a year."
Way back in 1952, Clarkson was a Kansas University freshman when he flew to Seattle to photograph what turned out to be an NCAA basketball championship for the Jayhawks.
As KU celebrated its victory over St. John's, Clarkson was the only media photographer at the postgame trophy presentation. The others had departed to meet deadlines.
Thus, he shot the only photos of NCAA executive director Walter Byers presenting the trophy to KU coach Forrest "Phog" Allen -- who kissed it -- and of Kansas center Clyde Lovellette hoisting the trophy high in the air.
As Clarkson puts it, that 1952 event was "a little different from today." At the Edward Jones Dome in St. Louis, he'll be shoulder-to-shoulder with a multitude of photojournalists.
The KU freshman already had begun making a reputation for himself by the time he arrived in Seattle for his first NCAA Tournament, and it wasn't long before his photos began appearing in national publications, notably Sports Illustrated.
Though ultimately he produced widely published photos at other major sporting events such as the Olympic Games and later served as director of photography for National Geographic magazine, Clarkson has returned time and time again to the Final Four.
Fans attending this year's event will have an opportunity to view a portfolio of Clarkson photos that will be displayed on the giant video screen in the domed arena.
"I will try to not watch it. They probably will crop the pictures badly," Clarkson said with a laugh.
Clarkson, who is credited with being the first photographer to position a camera behind the backboard, is the subject of a documentary on ESPN Classic entitled "50 Years Behind the Lens." ESPN Classic is available on Sunflower Broadband channel 142.
Clarkson's Denver-based company, Rich Clarkson and Associates, does all the photography of the 93 national championships of the NCAA, for whom it also produces exhibitions and books, along with all the original photography and publishing for the Colorado Rockies baseball team and the Denver Broncos football team.
Clarkson, 72, first began working on NCAA projects back in the 70's, helping Byers with the book, "The Classic."
A 1951 Lawrence High graduate, Clarkson worked as a photographer at the Journal-World while he was a KU student. He spent 22 years as director of photography for the Topeka Capital-Journal and also worked as graphics editor of the Denver Post.
As a Kansan, he says he loves shooting the Jayhawks.
"The first one was great," he said. "The '88 one was fun, too. We won it, too. And 1966 was a great game, a historic game between Kentucky and Texas Western. It was the basketball equivalent of Brown vs. the Board of Education."
As far as this year's Final Four, Clarkson has ties to one coach -- North Carolina's Roy Williams.
"We did the (Kansas) 100th anniversary book, and I traveled with that team half of the season," Clarkson said. "I think it'd be great (if UNC wins). He's had a lot of criticism for leaving KU, yet this is his alma mater. It will be interesting to see if Roy can pull it off."