Friday, October 9, 2015

Roy “Peewee” DeWitz- the pride of Barrington, Illinois- grows to All American status at Kansas State

It was March 14, 1958- and Kansas State was leading Cincinnati 74-73 in the NCAA Midwest regional finals in Lawrence Kansas. Cincinnati’s All American- Oscar Robertson was awarded two free throws with one second remaining on the clock.  K-State’s head coach- Tex Winter placed his hand over his face when the referee handed Oscar the ball for his first attempt.

Assistant coach Howard Shannon stood in silence with one hand on his hip- waiting for Oscar to put the dagger in the Wildcats.  Most of the 17,000 fans in attendance at Allen Winter-Shannon- NCAA Regional 1958- Oscar & CoField house expected Kansas State to lose.

Tex Winter, March 14 1958
(A stunned Tex Winter hand over face & Howard Shannon with hand on hip) photo- courtesy of Rich Clarkson-legendary Sports Illustrated photographer now living in Denver, Colorado.

Robertson swished his first attempt hitting nothing but net and tied the game 74-74. One more made free throw, and Cincinnati wins.

“I was thinking we’re dead” said Roy DeWitz- K-State’s first team all Big 7 clutch performing guard -who now lives in Conroe, a suburb of Houston, Texas.  K-State’s 6’9” center Jack Parr replied, “We are toast.” when I asked what he was thinking.

But- something strange happened.  “Robertson delayed his second attempt and put the ball on the free throw line”, said DeWitz. 

“Oscar turned his back to the official and walked toward his teammates- who were positioned near midcourt.”  Dewitz heard the official say, “One shot and the ball is in play.”

Robertson was unaware that play had resumed until his teammates beckoned him to shoot the ball.  He hurried to the line – grabbed the ball-threw it towards the basket and missed.

“The second shot hit the back edge of the rim and sailed high in the air and I caught it, “said Dewitz.  The referee’s use of a seldom enforced ten second time limit to shoot a free throw obviously disturbed Robertson and sent the game into overtime.

DeWitz, a first team district five- All American- went to work and scored all of Kansas States’ 9 points during the overtime and the last 6 points in regulation play.  Kansas State won 83-80.

After the game Tex asked Dewitz, “What made you decide to start shooting?”

Dewitz said, “No one else was scoring and I wanted to win.”  Kansas State beat Oklahoma Roy DeWitz- Basketball photoState in the championship game 69-57 to advance to the final four in Louisville.

Dewitz- who received 40 of the 42 votes for the all regional team said he became endeared to KU’s coach Phog Allen- when Allen was asked by a reporter, ‘Does Dewitz play that well all the time?’ Dewitz, said Allen told the reporter- ‘Hey, listen- you don’t realize how much these kids sacrifice playing in the Triple Post Offense’.

Huddle: (L to R) Matuszak, Frank, Parr, Boozer, DeWitz & Tex Winter –KSU-Cincinnati March 1958

‘Dewitz could have been playing like that all year’.  Winter’s Triple Post Offense was designed to get the ball inside to the big guys first and a scrappy player like DeWitz who was a heady dribbler and playmaker- seldom had the chance for heroics when it came to scoring.

A week later on March 21st in Louisville- Kansas State lost to Elgin Baylor’s Seattle team during the first round game of the Final four tournament- 73-51- and then to Temple 67-57 the next day in the consolation game.  Kentucky beat Seattle 94-72 to win the national championship game.

Before winning the 1958 Big 8 title and a trip to play Cincinnati in the Midwest regional’s, Kansas State won a thriller in double overtime over Kansas at Allen Field House on February 3rd, using a concocted zone defense to stop KU’s “Wilt the Stilt” Chamberlain.  I was even more impressed with the victory when I learned that DeWitz, not Chamberlain, not Boozer and not Parr led both teams in rebounding.

“Parr was playing behind Chamberlain and Boozer in front so I can guarantee you that a lot of those rebounds fell on the floor first,” said DeWitz.  “My job was to screen off Ron Leneski KU’s guard- so I was able to get those rebounds while Boozer and Parr kept Chamberlain occupied.”  But in other games it was not uncommon for DeWitz to snare rebounds in double figures.

“Tex used to say my effective height was not 6’ 3”- but 6’ 5”- because my sleeve length is 37”, DeWitz said. “I’m not sure they keep rebound records anymore for guards but I believe when I was a sophomore during the pre- season tournament in Kansas City, I may have set a rebound record of 14 in that game.”

It’s hard to imagine DeWitz would ever be 6’ 3”.  He was only 4 feet 9 and ½ inches during his freshman year at Barrington, Illinois high school and weighed 99 pounds.  “My nickname was Pee Wee back then”, said DeWitz.  “I grew to 5’3” my sophomore year and got to play some varsity ball later in the year, but I had to roll up the warm up pants due to the length.”  “I was 5”5” my junior year”, said DeWitz.

DeWitz was competitive in all sports and loved baseball almost as much as basketball.  During the summer of his junior year, his high school baseball coach- who was a scout for the Cleveland Indians arranged for DeWitz to play Ban Johnson ball in Larned, Kansas. The Ban Johnson movement began in Kansas City Missouri in 1928 for amateur players under age 21, and named the league in honor of Bancroft Johnson, who founded the American professional baseball League in the early 1900’s.

“When I arrived in Larned that summer, I played with Harold Patterson from Rozel, Ks, - a great basketball, baseball and football star at Kansas University who played on KU’s 1953 runner up NCAA championship basketball team,” said DeWitz.  “Harold- we called him “Hoss”, hovered over me and took care of me,” said DeWitz.  Patterson and DeWitz crossed paths years later during a KU and Kansas State alumni game in Great Bend, and Patterson asked DeWitz, “Roy, do you remember me?”  DeWitz said, “Hoss, I could never forget you.”  (Photo left: Harold “Hoss” Patterson)

Harold Patterson- KU starDeWitz made an impression as an outstanding short stop on Larned’s Ban Johnson team, and was soon recruited to play on the Larned Legion team. The American Legion Junior baseball program started in 1926 for boys age 17 and under.

“I did not want to play Legion ball because I could have played Legion ball in Barrington”, said DeWitz.  “I wanted to play against college players in Ban Johnson ball to make me a better high school player.”

The Larned legion coach finally called on Gene Keady, a local Larned boy to recruit DeWitz to see if he’d be willing to travel to Lyons Kansas for a Legion game and serve as first base coach- thinking if Dewitz traveled with the team, he might eventually join.

Keady, who later enrolled at Kansas State on a football scholarship-then became one of the premier college head basketball coaches in the nation while at Purdue- didn’t learn until a few years later, that DeWitz agreed to travel with the Larned Legion team because he knew he would be sitting right next to Keady’s sister in the car during the 80 mile trip to Lyons.  “Keady’s sister was beautiful and I used to stand on the corner and just watch her walk by to see where she was going since she worked in one of the downtown stores in Larned,” said DeWitz.

Keady, Gene April 1980 Purdue CoachPhoto- (Courtesy Purdue website- Gene Keady, April 1980 –new Purdue basketball coach-DeWitz said, “When Keady and I met again at Kansas State, Keady asked, ‘Do you remember me- I’m the guy from Larned and we traveled to a Legion game together one summer?’  DeWitz replied, “Oh you’re the guy with the beautiful sister”.  DeWitz told Keady, “I wasn’t interested in you at all back then- but I remember your sister.” “The reason I went to Lyons that day was because I got to sit next to your sister.”  Keady and Dewitz became great friends - and even joke about the sister issue to this day.

By the time he was a senior in high school- DeWitz grew to 5’7” and weighed 115 lbs.  He led his Barrington team to a 29-1 record and the sweet sixteen of the Illinois State basketball tournament which was a monumental task since Illinois high schools all played in the same class and there was no distinction in the size of the school. Barrington high school finished in the final eight- a school record that still stands. 

DeWitz caught the attention of some college recruits when he scored 35 points against East Rockford, Illinois.  Kansas State’s head coach, Tex Winter was recruiting and later signed East Rockford’s 6’5” star Bill Laude. But- it was Laude’s father, the coach at East Rockford who told Winter about DeWitz.

“I wanted to go to the University of Wisconsin because Madison was only 90 miles from Barrington and my high school coaches were Wisconsin graduates’, said DeWitz.  “I was 5’7” and 115 lbs- but after my Wisconsin visit their head coach Bud Foster called one of our assistant coaches at Barrington and said, “I don’t think DeWitz can play in the Big Ten conference, he’s just not big or strong enough.”  “They offered me tuition only- but I came from a very poor family and said there’s no way I could go and pay part of my way.”

“The University of Illinois offered tuition and books and a chance to join a fraternity and get my room and board if I served meals and worked at the fraternity. “said DeWitz. “Northwestern had the best offer of all with room board tuition and $90 per mo but didn’t offer a degree in Physical Education or anything related to coaching.”  “Then North Carolina State offered room board and $15 per month, but I chose Kansas State for books- tuition- room and board and $15 per month and the recruiting efforts of Howard Shannon and Tex Winter influenced my decision,” said DeWitz.

Little did DeWitz know at the time that his decision to play for Kansas State may one day put his life at risk?  During his junior year the team flew from Manhattan to Lubbock on December 2, 1956- to play the first inaugural game in Texas Tech’s brand new Municipal Coliseum.  Kansas State won 90-84.  The team had chartered two planes owned by Capitol Airlines of Manhattan.  Nancy Winter, Tex’s wife- had flown in the first plane on the way down to Lubbock. But before takeoff, from the Manhattan airport, the pilot forgot to switch the gas tank over and the plane ran out of fuel in midair.  The plane lost altitude quickly before the pilot got the tanks switched and regained control.  All arrived safely in Lubbock.

Bluegoose-1937 Lockheed Photo of The “Blue Goose”

As the traveling party met at the airport on December 4th for the return trip to Manhattan, Nancy told Tex, “I’m not flying back in that plane”-( meaning the one that nearly ran out of gas in mid-air on the way down to Lubbock.)  She and seven team members including Hayden Abbott-Larry Fischer-Bob Jedwandry-Jack Kiddoo-Don Matuszak, Jack Parr and Roy Dewitz along with Ken Thomas head of Kansas State’s Radio and TV department… boarded the second plane- a 1937 Lockheed called the “Blue Goose” flown by Nick Delere and co pilot Leroy Farley.  The body of the plane was painted white with blue paint on the wings and blue on the tail fin. Some folks described it as a large goose flying in slow motion.

The lumbering “Blue Goose” was doing fine until it crossed the Oklahoma-Kansas border in south-central Kansas.  Suddenly flames shot out of the port engine and it stopped.  The aircraft was too low and could not gain altitude with the heavy load and only one engine. Nancy Winter, having had a similar experience on the way down when the plane she was riding in began losing altitude-this time sensed eminent danger and called out to the passengers, “Get a pillow-we’re going down-we’re going to crash.”  The plane was headed toward the Anthony airport - located about 50 miles west of Wichita- while Pilot Delere radioed to let them know he was having mechanical trouble and needed to make an emergency landing”

“I was sleeping in the back of the plane and sitting right near Don Matuszak and soon noticed we were losing altitude,” said DeWitz. “When I awoke, I could see one of the pilots sweating profusely and frantically cranking a device in the cockpit by hand, but it looked more like he was pumping it big time.”  DeWitz didn’t know then- the co-pilot was trying to lower the landing gear wheels manually since the hydraulic system had failed.

“All of a sudden the plane banked at a 45 degree angle, one wing went up and the other down and I could see the trees.” said DeWitz.  “By this time my teammate Don Matusak was as white as a sheet, and I’ll never forget that look on his face.”  “If I had known what was happening- I would have been Dellere, Nick Pilot of Bluegoosescared to death too.

  I was still waking up from my nap- but I did see cattle out the window as we landed in a pasture.” Photo: (Nick Delere- legendary Manhattan- skilled pilot who saved lives back on Dec 4, 1956)

Pilot Nick Delere maneuvered the plane in its downward flight path narrowly missing tree lines, power lines and a woman hanging her laundry out to dry.  Fortunately Farley’s efforts to deploy the landing gear were successful and the plane landed safely about 400 yards short of the sod runway of the Anthony airport.  No one was injured.

Living through a near death experience without a scratch may have helped DeWitz become a fearless competitor under pressure- and with three varsity years under his belt- he emerged as Kansas State’s most versatile player in the lineup.  Little “Peewee” had overcome all the odds of not being able to play with the big boys at the Division I level as was predicted four years earlier by Wisconsin Badger coach Bud Foster.

Now at 6’3” DeWitz was selected to play in the East- West Shrine all star game in Kansas City, Missouri on March 23-1958-and the East- West All Star game in New York’s Madison Square Garden.  He was named to the United Press 1958 all big eight first team joining a select group of stars including- Bob Boozer also from Kansas State,  Joe King- Oklahoma,  John Crawford-Iowa State, and Wilt Chamberlain-Kansas.

The Detroit Pistons took notice of DeWitz’s performance in the East West shrine game Detroit Pistons Logoand selected him as their 3rd round NBA draft pick and offered a $750 signing bonus. The Pistons said he could make $650 dollars per game.  But- there was a snag.  DeWitz had signed a salary contract to coach and teach at Manhattan High School-Manhattan, Kansas for $4250 per year.

DeWitz met with Bill Robinson Superintendent of schools and principal Herb Bishop to review his options. “They were willing to let me go” said DeWitz.  “But at the same time they said if you back out now we’re just sure you’ll be black balled in the state of Kansas and you’ll never get another coaching job.”  “That was the deciding factor and I stayed at Manhattan High school,” said DeWitz.

DeWitz took Manhattan High to the State Class AA (now 6A) basketball tournament three times and won three league championships during his six year tenure as coach.  “My last year was the first time a Manhattan High team won in the first round. “said DeWitz. “As a player, I was frustrated with the Triple post offense - but used it for six years as a coach.”  “Tex used to tell his players to go watch Manhattan High run the triple post offense.” said Dewitz.  “It’s a lot easier to coach high school players because college players all want to be the star and I was one them myself.”

Winter hired DeWitz away from Manhattan High, and he served as Tex’s assistant and freshmen coach during the 1965 and 1966 seasons, before leaving to take the head coaching position at Augustana College in Sioux Falls, South Dakota.

  “When I arrived at Augustana, they Winter-Guthridge-DeWitzwere 2-50 the previous two years”, said DeWitz.  DeWitz finished his first year at 13-12 but had some big wins over South Dakota State, South Dakota U, North Dakota State and North Dakota University.

Fitch-Jackson-Rogers North Dakota U“North Dakota had a guy on their team that was pretty well know”, said DeWitz.  “His name was Phil Jackson- and we beat them in Grand Forks while the outside temperature was 26 degrees below zero.”

Another well known person today was coaching the North Dakota team on that cold night in Grand Forks.  His name was Bill Fitch who was later named one of the ten greatest coaches of all time in the NBA.

“The greatest victory in the history of Augustana college was that night we beat North Dakota U who had two of the all time big names in collegiate and professional basketball associated with their program”, said DeWitz.

Norm Stewart of Missouri basketball fame was going head to head with DeWitz as coach of State College of Iowa later known as Northern Iowa.  “We beat Norm at our place and he kicked our butts at his place during the season”, said DeWitz.  DeWitz knew that Stewart was going to be named the new head basketball coach at Missouri and told him, “if you get the head job at Missouri, give me a call and I’ll go with you to help you build that program.”  The day after Stewart was named Missouri’s coach, he was at DeWitz’s doorstep in Sioux Falls.

Norm Stewart-Missouri coachStewart said, “Roy I want you to come to Missouri and be my assistant.”  “Oh man, I’ve been here one year -the fans are excited and I’ve recruited some very good players to build this program,” DeWitz said.

Dewitz thought it over and knew it wasn’t going to be easy to get back to major college coaching again so he accepted Stewart’s offer of $10,500 the same pay he was making at Augustana and left for Columbia as Stewarts new assistant coach.  “I fell in love with the University of Missouri”, said Dewitz.  “Norm did a great job and treated me great and told me once I don’t ever want you to leave, I’ll make this thing lucrative for you if you stay.”

But after coaching with Stewart for three years using Winter’s triangle offense, DeWitz was pleased with the progress of the team- but began having doubts whether there would be opportunities for a head job. “When I started seeing Junior College coaches like Cotton Fitzsimmons and Jack Hartman moving into head jobs, I realized that my chances of moving up to a division I head coaching position as an assistant coach was pretty slim.” said DeWitz.

DeWitz left the coaching profession and went back to his home town of Barrington, Illinois to work for his old high school baseball coach who had become the Executive Vice President of Equitable Life of New York. After a year in the life insurance business, DeWitz was moved to Dallas to teach others how to sell life insurance.  From there he moved to Houston to become a district manager. DeWitz moved up again and left Equitable and became Vice President for Indianapolis Life Insurance company and then spent about 18 months in Topeka, Ks working for Security Benefit Life as Vice President of marketing. By 1971, Roy and his wife Barb wanted to get back to Houston’s warm climate. They moved to Houston where DeWitz started his own insurance business. They now live right off the third tee at the Village Country Club.  Roy just finished a round of golf when I called his home to conduct the interview.

Roy’s son Mike DeWitz- who was born in Columbia Missouri- followed in his dad’s footsteps as an assistant basketball coach at Colorado College and spent time coaching in the junior college ranks and the high school ranks but is now the athletic director at a middle school in east Texas where he lives with Mike DeWitz, wife Kim & son Rileywife Kim and son Riley, age 12.

Roy’s daughter Kristin, Director of Marketing for a health care company, was born in Manhattan -and lives nearby with her two children Chase and Kyle Penny.  Chase is a 9th grader, and his brother Kyle just graduated from high school.

DeWitz met his wife Barb at Kansas State.  When I asked how did you meet? DeWitz said, “Barb and Bob Boozer were in a science class together and he introduced me to Barbara Parret from Neodesha Kansas.”  “She was an AD Pi and is a true blue K-Stater since her two sisters also graduated from Kansas State before her.”  “She had all kinds of boyfriends besides me but finally she gave them up and made a mistake and decided to concentrate on me- I guess”, said DeWitz.

After serving less than six months in the service, DeWitz married Barb and they started their new life in Manhattan, Ks while he coached at the high school.  I could tell this match was made in heaven because of the affection and devotion Roy still has for Barb when he speaks about her.

DeWitz said, “Barb is a very capable person. - she’s way above me from that stand point and I don’t know what she liked about me but she is smart as hell - and if you need help doing anything and she sees something good- I’ll guarantee Roy & Barb DeWitz-photoyou-she’ll help you.”

Barb certainly helped me with this story because she was the one who dug out all the old clippings and sent pictures and did all she could to help tell the story about the love of her life and the career path she and Roy took together after Barb with Kristen-Mike-grandkidsleaving Kansas State.

Roy DeWitz has lived in the shadows- all these years of teammates Boozer, Parr, Frank, and Matuszak, but when Kansas State needed that must win over Cincinnati to make it to the final four in 1958, it was little “ Peewee” the pride of Barrington, Illinois who made it happen.


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