Woodling: Take time to visit KU Hall

January 24, 2006


It was my intent to arrive early for Sunday's Kansas University women's basketball game so I would have a chance to check out the new shrine in Allen Fieldhouse.

I did arrive early, but not early enough. I almost missed the tipoff because I hadn't realized the depth and scope of the Booth Family Hall of Athletics.

Or as Bill Hougland, a member of the 1952 NCAA men's basketball championship team, told me during my gawking tour: "You'll want to take your time walking around. There's a lot to see."

There sure is. More, in fact, than I would have imagined.

Most of the artifacts were transferred from the university archives. You'll see everything from Dr. James Naismith's optical set used to give physical exams to KU students to a pair of Phog Allen-signature basketball shoes.

Those Allen shoes are particularly intriguing. On the high top in a round, red-rubber circle are the words: "Basketball Shoes" and "Servus Rubber Co." surrounding Allen's embossed autograph.

Also encased are several of the books Allen penned. The only other book I saw was a paperback copy of "I Am Third," Gale Sayers' timeless story about his relationship with former Chicago Bears' teammate Brian Piccolo that was made into the movie "Brian's Song."

A KU football helmet signed by Sayers also sits in the case, but it isn't the style of headgear Sayers wore while dazzling KU fans with his speed and elusiveness in the mid-1960s. The helmet is from the 1970s and probably was signed when Sayers was a KU assistant athletic director.

Sayers certainly is one of the most famous athletes ever to wear a KU uniform, yet THE most famous former Jayhawk has his own kiosk.

The Wilt Chamberlain exhibit mostly is photographs, but it does contain one priceless artifact - Wilt the Stilt's KU letter jacket. Donated by Chamberlain's sister, the jacket with Chamberlain's sewn-on name tag reportedly has been insured for $50,000.

Be advised, though, that the Kansas Hall of Athletics is all things to all people. You'll find displays on cheerleading, the marching band and even the media, with radio icon Max Falkenstien the centerpiece.

By the way, in another section nearby, you can view the championship rings Falkenstien has accumulated over six decades. There are 11 rings, meaning Falkenstien would have to grow an extra finger to wear them all.

Many fans also will get a kick out of seeing the old Jayhawk mascot with the starker linear head than today's version. That old mascot's upper torso was incredibly heavy. Try to imagine wearing it during an entire football game, particularly in warm weather.

I loved the Dean Nesmith exhibit. For one thing, it brought back fond memories of the crusty but lovable man who was KU's athletic trainer for more than three decades. And what a great packaging idea.

All the Nesmith items - from bowl watches to a "Deaner's Hospital" sign - are encased in an old trunk that was once used for transporting KU football equipment to road games. A terrific idea.

And yet the best idea of all may have been tipping that huge center chunk of the original floor in Allen Fieldhouse at about a 70-degree angle instead of leaving it flat. Now that ancient piece of flooring is the shrine's top photo-op stop.

In other words, bring your camera. And plan to stay at least 30 minutes.


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