Sunday, November 29, 2015

Bill Aye, the first basketball student-manager at K-State

Bill Aye was born in Manhattan on Feb. 19, 1929 and lived at 410 Houston Street. His mother, Mary Adda Boone-Webb, daughter of Fred Boone, who owned the Gillett hotel right next door, met her husband Herbert Webb during a family vacation trip to Bay Lake, Minn.

“My grandfather Boone had a place about 20 miles east of Brainerd and was the first out-of-state property owner on Bay Lake,” Aye said.

Ayes parents divorced when he was 3.

His mother married Malcolm Aye, who later adopted Bill, changing last name from Webb to Aye.  The Ayes then moved to 1031 Leavenworth. 

The Bay Lake connection grew as other Manhattan families, including the Holtons and Seatons made it their summer get away destination. 

“My grandparents were very close friends of the Holtons,” Aye said. Holton Hall on the Kansas State campus is named after former Dean of the College of Education, Dean E.L. Holton.

The Ayes developed a lasting friendship with the Seaton family when Mary Holton, daughter of Dean Holton, married R.M Seaton. The Seatons had three sons. It was during these summer vacations in Minnesota that Bill became good friends with the Seaton boys Dick, Ed and Dave.

Ed Seaton, former publisher of The Manhattan Mercury newspaper, who recently turned over the reins to his son Ned, who is a member of our Triangulate News group and posts these articles on the Mercury‘s website. 

Following graduation from Manhattan High, Aye enrolled at K-State in the fall of 1947.

“My tuition was about $57,” Aye said.

He tried out for the freshmen basketball team along with about 100 other hopefuls. That summer, Tex Winter came to K-State and joined head coach Jack Gardner as his assistant and also coached the freshmen.

Aye made the final cut when winter pared the number down to 25. 

“I was surprised to be on the list because I really wasn’t that good,” Aye said. “Ernie Barrett, Ed Head, Glenn Channel and Jack Stone were members of that freshmen team.”

After freshmen football season ended, three football players were added to the roster and Aye and two other tryouts were cut. 

“The three players who were cut started a city league team sponsored by the Gillett hotel and Tex even played one game with us,” Aye said.  “We played on Tuesday’s and Tex was usually off scouting and recruiting during the week.

“I remember Tex got 14 points once and scored a tip in over the taller D.C Wesche who later became City manager for the city of Manhattan. Tex and his wife Nancy are wonderful people.”

Aye later went to Gardner to see if he could be the basketball student team manager. 

“Gardner made a decision shortly after and said, ‘Billy you are in like Flynn,’” Aye said, while laughing.  “Movie actor Erroll Flynn had been accused of a rape and reference to Flynn became a popular expression back then.”

“The day of the game I would open the windows around the top of the court in Nichols gym because when that place was full it became very hot.” 

Nichols gym was the home of the Wildcat basketball team with a seating capacity of about 2,800 fans. The gym, which was destroyed by arson in 1968, had an elevated running track around the top of the court and fans would sit in temporary bleachers set up before games.

“There were times fans sat in the rafters because by December of that year Kansas State was ranked number one in the nation,” Aye said.

The team became K-State’s first Final Four finisher during the spring of 1948.

“In those days, teams didn’t have traveling managers”, Aye said.  “I sat on the visiting team bench during the game because teams had to stay out on the floor during timeouts and I’d take out the water and towels to the players. The only exception was the University of Kansas.

KU’s Phog Allen used his trainer Dean Nesmith to take out the water and towels.”

Aye’s most memorable game in Nichols occurred against Missouri when a Missouri player made a long shot off the dribble, and then K-State’s Clarence Brannum came right back and made a two-handed set shot from about half court to win the game.

Apparently the Missouri coach was still in a state of shock as he left the court.

“The Missouri coach and I were leaving the court and some fan came by and walked behind us and kept tapping him on the head with a rolled up game program and I don’t think the Missouri coach even felt it,” Aye said.

“During the next practice, Harold Howey tried to take the same shot made by the Missouri player Dan Pippen off the dribble from the same place Brannum made his shot, but couldn’t get the ball to the basket,” Aye said. “Then Brannum tried his two-handed set shot from the same spot that he took for the game-winning shot and made it again.”

Aye remembers a road win at Kansas when K-State’s Dave Weatherby’s intended pass to Brannum went high over Brannum’s head and he glared at Weatherby.

“After Weatherby’s pass went through the basket, Brannum shrugged his shoulders and both he and Weatherby headed back down the court like it was intended to be a shot,” Aye said.

Aye said the ticket would takers at Nichols Gym would sometimes deny Tex Winter entry into the building on a few occasions.
“It was gameday, Tex didn’t have a ticket and they didn’t believe he was one of the coaches because he was so young looking, so our trainer John Trubacek or I would go to verify that he was a coach, then they’d let him in.”

Before graduating, Aye left for the Air Force, but came back to K-State in 1953 and married an Alpha Delta Pi sorority girl named Eunice Miller before finishing his degree on the GI Bill and then graduating in January of 1955. He went into the insurance business with Northwestern Mutual his senior year in college and in 1959 was appointed district agent in the Topeka office where he remained 10 years before joining the Mass Mutual home office in Springfield, Mass., for the next six years.

While living in Longmeadow, near Springfield, Aye and a friend organized the first Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame boosters club.

Aye’s association with athletes remained throughout his life. At one time he was a regional director of AAU basketball and helped monitor amateurs because, “back then there were strict rules about being or playing with professional athletes if you were playing in an AAU game.” 

Aye, like his father Herbert Webb, became an aviator and enjoyed flying. His childhood friend from the Bay Lake days, Dick Seaton, who is a local Manhattan attorney, was running for Attorney General of Kansas back in 1968. Aye volunteered to fly Dick around Kansas in his single-engine plane to campaign.

Aye, Seaton, and Seaton’s brother Dave, were returning late one night in very bad weather from Western Kansas and planned to make a landing at the Topeka municipal airport. 

The plane lost oil pressure at 9,500 feet about 60 miles southwest of Topeka, and Aye’s instruments were also knocked out. 

“My mechanic told me the next day I was about five minutes from a frozen engine,” Aye said.

“I knew Bill was having a problem with the airplane, but never felt in danger because he was very calm in the cockpit, and got us back down safely,” Dick said. “Bill was older than me and served as a good role model during those summers together, and he’s been a loyal friend ever since.”

Aye still enjoys talking about his Manhattan connections and continues to stay in touch with some of his former MHS friends, including Fred and Jan Freeby, Shirley Stone, Ray Navarro and his longtime K-State friends Bonnie and Ernie Barrett. 

Aye now lives in a retirement center in Middleton, Wis., and stays in close touch with his two children. His son Scott lives in Longmeadow, Mass., and his daughter Karen lives about 20 miles away from her dad in McFarland, Wis. 

“She’s special and takes care of me,” Aye said.

Bill always is meeting someone who also has a Manhattan connection.

“When I moved to Middleton Glen senior housing in Wisconsin, the lady who lived next door to me on the third floor of our complex told me her grandparents (Mr. and Mrs. Dawley) lived near the west entrance to Manhattan City Park and were good friends of the Holtons,” Aye said. “Of course, I was able to tell he her we lived at the east entrance of City Park and were connected with the Holtons as well.”

Aye has led an exciting life and has met many famous sports people. But, he still holds dear his memories of Manhattan and K-State and those exciting times in Nichols Gym with Gardner, Winter and members of the basketball program when he became the school’s first student manager. 

I’ve had many enjoyable phone visits with Bill, as we wrote his story and realized that his loyalty and love for his alma mater and the city of Manhattan runs deep.

Thanks Bill for paving the way for all those other student managers who followed in your footsteps.


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