Hayden Abbott graduated from Olathe, Ks- High School in 1954 and was prepared to give up his dream of playing college basketball and join the Air Force as his backup plan. Abbott was told by two renowned orthopedic surgeons that he would never play basketball again following a back injury during the first game of his senior year at Olathe High.
But, Howie Shannon-an alert Kansas State assistant coach under head coach Tex Winter remembered Abbott had the ability and potential to play at the major college level because Shannon hadn’t forgotten Abbott’s performance when Olathe played Shannon’s Topeka High team during Abbott’s junior year in high school.
“A gift dropped out of the sky when Howie Shannon and Tex Winter offered me a scholarship presuming that I could overcome the back injury,” said Abbott- from his home in Leawood, Ks during our interview on Sunday April 21st.
Abbott enrolled at Kansas State in the fall of 1954- but the back injury flared up again while playing on the freshmen team. “I could hardly walk as I headed to the training room and cried- knowing I would have to quit school and go to the Air Force,” Abbott said.
“Our trainer Porky Morgan saved my life,” said Abbott. “Porky laid me on the training room table face down, and held my ankles as he asked me to drop down with my head facing the floor with hands behind my neck and had me do three raised up back stretches.”
“Over time I repeated the back stretching exercise and could eventually do a 100 stretches with no problem as my back got stronger.” said Abbott. “My back never bothered me again.”
To this day -Abbott is a raving fan of trainer Morgan for what he did to enable Abbott to play basketball for Kansas State. “ Here two orthopedic doctors told my dad that I needed an operation- and my dad had the sense to say, ‘Let’s just wait and see how he gets along,’ and then- one little exercise supervised by our trainer changed my back problem,” said Abbott. “Porky knew more than those trained surgeons on what to do.”
Dentist cartoon Worlds greatest dentistAbbott’s father was a dentist and later Abbott followed in his footsteps and chose dentistry as his profession. Abbott is the youngest of four siblings. His sister Jane is the oldest followed by brothers Bob and Dick.
When Abbott was on the freshmen team with Jack Parr, Roy DeWitz, and Don Matuszak during the 1955 season, Kansas State’s varsity finished the season with a record of 11-10. It was
Winter’s second year as head coach and there were rumblings on the K-State campus about Winter’s future. A campus sign read, “SPRING IS HERE-WINTER MUST GO.”
“I didn’t realize it until later in the 1956 season that Winter was worried about his job,” said Abbott. Winter made some lineup changes after the pre-season Christmas tournament and provided more playing time for Abbott’s sophomore group of DeWitz, Parr, and Matuszak to rebuild his team for the future. The move proved to be extremely beneficial over time.
Abbott-headline Iowa State upsetAbbott received his first starting assignment against Iowa State in Ames, during his sophomore year - January of 1956. He didn’t disappoint his coach as Abbott scored 27 points making (11 out of 15 field goals) and- 5 out of 6 free throws in front of a sellout crowd of 6000 in the old Armory and led the Wildcats in a 68-64 televised upset win over #5 rated Iowa State.
The sports reporter for the Des Moines Register, Maury White wrote, “At one time after 11 minutes of play, Abbott was leading the Cyclones 18-14.” Abbott put on a one man show in spite of the fact that he fouled out of the game with 9 minutes remaining.
Spring arrived in 1956, and Winter remained- as Abbott and company provided Tex with his first Big 7 championship title - and made it to the first round of the NCAA tournament.
Abbott was known to shoot running hook shots off the glass. During an overtime game against Kansas and Wilt Chamberlain in the 1958 season, Abbott remembered attacking the basket on a fast break play while Chamberlain stood at the free throw line ready to defend Abbott’s drive to the basket. Abbott recalled the players on the bench told him later - when he approached Chamberlain, Tex started hollering , ‘Hayden Hayden no,’- but as my running hook shot over Chamberlain banked in the basket, Tex changed his tone and said, ‘Nice shot Hayden’”, Abbott said.
During Abbott’s senior year in 1958- the Wildcats finished 22-5, won the Big 7 Championship and made it to the Final Four.
Abbott-1958-TeamFollowing graduation, Abbott enrolled at UMKC (University of Missouri Kansas City) dental school and lived with two other roommates one block south of Kelly’s Irish Pub in Westport just north of the Plaza area. One night while sipping on his dime beer at Kelly’s, which he said, “could last most of the evening,” he spotted a beautiful dark haired woman.
Abbott said, “I told my roommate, boy look at that good looking gal, I’ve got to get to know her.” My roommate said, “Don’t bother; she’s from the KU medical center.” According to Abbott, “The Kansas University medical staff usually socialized at Jimmy Jiggers bar near the medical center, but on this evening my dream girl was at Kelly’s.”
Abbott described her as having “ beautiful long black hair and looked almost Polynesian”. But- after a few missed attempts to get her to notice him- including a visit to the medical center where she worked as a nurse, she returned to Kelly’s bar in March during the annual St. Patrick’s Day celebration of 1961.
“I walked in Kelly’s, and saw my beauty queen standing on a table with a guy supporting her with his hand on her hip.” said Abbott. “I thought to myself, that doesn’t look very nice, so I went over and reached up under her arms and removed her from the table.”
Abbott said, “I thought she was going to slap me when she said, ‘What are you doing?’” “Fortunately her friend Martha Harris told her, ‘Be nice to him- he’s Hayden Abbott’”, said Abbott. The beautiful dark haired lady-Dottie Agnew, with a Bachelor’s degree in nursing from St. Theresa College (now Avila), agreed to be nice, and ended up marrying him five years later in August of 1966- after Abbott had returned to Kansas City from his Air force service and was in his second year in orthodontist school at UMKC.
Abbott spent the next thirty years as a practicing orthodontist in Prairie Village, Ks, a suburb of Kansas City- where he and Dottie raised two daughters Michelle and Nicole. Michelle married Steve Griffith, and they have twin daughters –Claire and Ally who will be age 12 in July. Nicole married Matt Spachman. They have two boys - Hayden, age 8, and Ian, age 9. Both families now live nearby.
Kwan Wu- sculptorAbbott wanted to paint and do sculpting when he retired. He enrolled in a sculpting class during 1999 led by internationally known sculptor Kwan Wu. Wu encouraged Abbott to pick something special he wanted to do for his first sculpting project. Abbott chose to do a bust of his former basketball coach Tex Winter.
Abbott’s dentistry training had prepared him for the basics of sculpting which required accurate measuring- and- as he said, “we dentists consider ourselves sculptors because of the type of work we do.” While attending a basketball alumni reunion at Kansas State, Abbott took his former coach Winter aside, and asked if he could measure his head.
Winter agreed but asked Abbott, ‘What are you doing’?, Abbott said. “Coach- I can’t tell you now because if it doesn’t come to fruition, I don’t want you to be disappointed.” Winter replied, ‘You’re not going to hurt me, are you?’”, said Hayden laughing. Abbott got his measurements and then returned to his class under Wu.
Finally the sculpting of Winter’s head was complete.
But -Abbott remembered hearing the story of former Kansas State basketball coach Jack Hartman rejecting the work (the first time around) of a commissioned artist who was hired by the athletics department to paint Hartman’s portrait.
Abbott didn’t want to make the same mistake. “The Hartman story was in the back of my mind,” said Abbott.
Abbott called Ernie Barrett (Kansas State’s former Athletic Director), and told him, “I want to show my work to someone before the university accepts it and the last thing I want to do is embarrass Tex.”
A committee was formed and when Abbott removed the cover of the wax sculpture which looked just like the bronze, the group said, ‘O my God, you‘ve captured Tex,’” said Abbott.
The Kansas State athletics department was ready to receive the gift and Barrett arranged a lunch with Abbott to discuss the details of labeling it. Barrett asked Abbott what words should we put on the plaque? Abbott replied, “How about Dr. Hayden Abbott, artist and the date?”
“Barrett had a surprised look on his face” said Abbott. “He asked me, ‘are you sure you want to do that’,” Abbott said. Abbott told Barrett, “Why yes, I’m the artist.” Barrett was astonished- and said, ‘you mean you did that’”, noted Abbott.
Barrett thought Abbott provided the funds to commission an artist to do the sculpture.
Abbott said -with a hearty laugh, “I think Ernie thought I was plagiarizing the artist part and wanted to get credit for it.”
The moment of truth came during the official presentation to Tex Winter. “When I unveiled the sculpture for Tex at a special ceremony, he walked around it with a smile on his face and I knew he was pleased,” Abbott said.
Abbott is truly a “Renaissance Man” with a broad range of intellectual interests in sports, the arts, and sciences.
But, now he’s engaged in his biggest challenge of all. He is battling bone marrow cancer and started a new experimental treatment this week.
But knowing the competitor he is, he’s not throwing in the towel.
I stayed longer than I should have during my visit but once we got started we just couldn’t stop talking because Hayden and Dottie have had a wonderful life together with so many stories to tell.
Fighting a major illness is no easy task, but I want Hayden and Dottie to know we are all in your corner. He is truly one of Kansas State’s all time great basketball players but more than that he is a wonderful human being that has given so much to others.
I know many of Hayden’s teammates, family and friends are praying for him. If you’d like to send him a note, send it to: Hayden Abbott, 8415 Reinhardt Lane, Leawood, Ks 66206.
Hayden Abbott “Sculptor” Samples of some of his work… photos taken by (L Weigel) on April 21, 2013. This does not even include many of his paintings.
Black Belt. Sculpture in honor of wife Dottie who has her black belt certification… don’t mess with Dottie…