Afternoon walks sometimes take me to the Kansas State campus, where I enjoy strolling through venerable old buildings filled with memories of my time as a K-State student in the early 1970s.
The other day, I ventured into the Gymnasium section of KSU’s Ahearn Field House complex to re-explore the building where I took a couple of courses, including one that was required for all students in the 70s but isn’t anymore — physical education, or “gym class.” Somehow, it was kind of reassuring to see that, though our world is ever-changing, the old Ahearn gym looks much the same now as it did in my phys-ed days.
Back then, the gym was open in the evening for students who wanted to play recreational basketball. I was no great athlete, but I sometimes joined my buddies from Marlatt residence hall in a rough-and-tumble game of three-on-three at the gym.
One never knew who else would show up at the gym, wanting to play. One night, Nick Pino — one of the few 7-footers to play basketball for K-State — teamed up with us. (This was after Pino’s Wildcat career, and he was still living in Manhattan.) As guys often do in pick-up basketball games, we were playing “shirts against skins,” and Nick wound up on the “skins” team.
“Take off your shirt, Nick,” one of the guys told the gigantic Pino.
“Can’t,” said Nick. “I’ll sweat all over the floor.”
We all agreed Pino could keep his shirt on — nobody would mistake him for somebody else.
Another evening, as I was leaving the gym, I passed a man in the hallway. We both smiled and exchanged greetings, and as I walked on, I thought to myself: “I think that was the new basketball coach. Jack ... uh ... Jack ... uh ... Jack HARTMAN — that’s it.” I — and thousands of other K-State fans — became much more familiar with that name in the years to come.
My recent walk around the Gym building eventually took me to a small flight of steps leading into adjoining Ahearn Field House, K-State’s basketball home from the 1950s to the 1980s. Many stars climbed those steps from the locker rooms below into the historic arena — and not just basketball stars.
Ahearn was the Bramlage Coliseum of its day, and — like Bramlage — it was sometimes the site of major musical concerts.
One evening my dorm friends and I thought it would be cool to see the rock group Three Dog Night, which was appearing in concert at Ahearn. But we didn’t have tickets. In fact, we didn’t even intend to go to the concert. We just wanted to be able to tell people we had seen the band.
So we made our way into the bowels of the Gym building, stood by those steps leading into the field house, and greeted the band members as they headed from one of the locker rooms, which was serving as their dressing room, into Ahearn for their show.
I recall the rockers smiling and acknowledging us as they passed by. But, amazingly, I don’t
remember there being any security personnel around. Certainly there were none of the metal detectors, body wands or other high-tech security gizmos we have wherever crowds gather nowadays.
Nor, apparently, was there any concern about three or four guys without tickets hanging around inside a venue where a world-famous musical group was playing. We even lingered downstairs and listened to a few of the band’s songs — unhassled. That seems incredible now.
One concert I DID attend at Ahearn happened even before I was in college. Herb Alpert & the Tijuana Brass, one of the most famous musical groups of all time, appeared at K-State in 1967. I remember basking in the sound of my favorite band as its greatest hit tunes reverberated through the drafty old “barn” that was, and is, Ahearn. I remember “The Lonely Bull,” “Tijuana Taxi,” “Whipped Cream” and other delights. I remember being enthralled!
And I recall something else that seems amazing by today’s standards: The price of my ticket. $3.50.