Steve Henson still remembers how much Kansas State meant to him before he ever played for the Wildcats.
When he was a teenager, he also wanted to make the 2-hour trip from McPherson to Manhattan to watch the football and basketball teams play on Saturdays. And how on Saturdays, playing inside both Ahearn Field House and Bramlage Coliseum left an impact he’ll never forget.
Henson, a men’s basketball star from 1987-90, is just one of 11 who entered the K-State Athletics Hall of Fame on Friday night.
“I feel honored, excited to get to share it with family,” he said. “It means a lot, it’s a special place to me. I grew up two hours from here and just coming to Manhattan on a Saturday afternoon when I was in junior high or high school was a big deal. That was special.”
In fact, special is a word that seems common with all the inductees of the class. Whether it be the special places that they say K-State and Manhattan are, or the people that go with it, it’s a community that sticks with everyone.
And to see the way the school and community around it have grown since their own time here seems to hit a special note with each and every one of them.
Along with Henson, men’s basketball player Roy DeWitz (1956-58), women’s basketball player Tammie Romstad (1978-82), football player Jaime Mendez (1990-93), women’s tennis player Yana Dorodnova (1996-98), volleyball’s Lauren Goehring (2000-03), heptahlete Austra Skujyte (2001-02), administrator H.B. Lee (1956-68), and contributors Jack and Joann Goldstein and Dr. Richard Baker were all inducted as a part of the class of 2013.
Henson, a member of K-State’s All-Century team, led the Wildcats to the Elite Eight in 1988 and is currently an assistant coach at Oklahoma under former head coach Lon Kruger.
Henson said he’ll never be able to forget playing conference games on Saturdays in Manhattan, especially in Ahearn where the fans were practically on the court.
“In Ahearn, the lights shining through the windows, the buzz in Bramlage in the student section, those are things that stood out,” he said. “I remember sneaking into the student section when I was in high school. People who never witnessed it (at Ahearn) can’t understand.”
DeWitz was a First Team All-American in 1958 when the Wildcats went all the way to the Final Four only to lose and finish fourth. DeWitz said he will always feel like they were the team to beat during the 1957 season, when Kansas went to the national title game.
“We knew we were a really good team and unfortunately Wilt (Chamberlin) was a real load,” he said. “We were a much-better team than KU, we just felt that we were capable of winning the national championship. I’ve always said I apologize to all the K-State people that we haven’t had a national championship, because that team was the best in the country that year.”
Mendez, a Ring of Honor member, was given just another reason to come to Manhattan with his induction into the Hall of Fame. Mendez, who has done business in Manhattan with his credit card processing business recently, said it meant a lot to him to be included in this class.
He also joked that he didn’t know he wasn’t in the Hall of Fame until K-State coach Bill Snyder sent him a letter.
“It’s special, and I’m sure everyone of us would say something similar,” he said. “I actually, when they put me in the Ring of Honor, I’ve been joking all week that I thought I was in the Hall of Fame. The fact that the people here, the community thought enough of me to induct me is very special, and I’m very honored and humbled by it.”
Mendez, an All-American in 1993, said he keep in contact with Snyder throughout the year and has been impressed with what the coach has accomplished in his second stint as head coach.
Looking back at those correspsondents, Mendez laughed about a letter he sent to Snyder when the Wildcats were looking to fill the vacancy left by the dismissal of Ron Prince.
“I remember writing a letter to him when Prince got fired and telling him what a lot of the older guys thought about how we needed one of our own to come back” he said. “And he has the letter and has read it to the team. I was upset, there were a lot of us that were upset about what had transpired. When he took the job he sent me a letter and said, ‘so what do you think about the guy we hired,’ and I was laughing. I’m still laughing about it.”
Romstad was a two-time Wade Trophy finalist during her time at K-State and has previously had her jersey retired in the Bramlage rafters. In addition to Hall of Fame festivities, she was excited to take in the Basketball Training Facility and speak with the team.
Romstad said she is looking forward to the basketball season and thinks coach Deb Patterson might have something up her sleeve with a young group that the former player really likes.
She said she’s been impressed to see how much has changed in just the four years since her jersey was retired in 2009.
“I bleed purple, women’s basketball especially,” she said. “I was all purple before it was cool, and now it’s the thing, and it’s neat to see that. I think the people here are special and different from everyone else.”
Goehring, an All-American in 2003, said she has been in shock since learning of her induction, 10 years after her career came to an end. She said she was honored to be back in Manhattan and to be recognized by the university.
And she spoke about how much it means to be a former athlete and come back to find the team doing so well and being supported by the fans.
“When you’re done it’s sad,” she said. “I loved playing volleyball, and to see that they’re so strong and still compete at a high level and are so well known nationally, it’s fantastic. It means a lot to see it that way.”