Kapaun’s first state championship team reunites 50 years later
Kapaun Mount Carmel’s baseball team won its only state championship 50 years ago, but when players from that historic group gather for a reunion on Thursday, it won’t be about an anniversary. Just a good excuse to get the guys together again.
H.D. (Dee) Cartwright and Andy Anderson organized a similar event 10 years ago for the 40th anniversary, but only most, not all, of their teammates could make it. All 13 living members of the team, now in their mid- to late-60s, and coach Dave Egan are expected to attend.
“The 50th (anniversary) is the occasion, but the team was very cohesive,” Cartwright said. “It’s just a reflection of everybody (having) such a fondness for the team and for the coach that we wanted to be there.”
Cartwright and Anderson’s job of finding teammates was helped by the facts that many of them remain in touch and that eight live in the Wichita area and nine in Kansas. To find the four out-of-staters, Cartwright and Anderson relied on social media and a database of Kapaun alumni.
The former players have all gone on to successful careers outside of sports – Mike Hawk was an aircraft engineer, Ken Highberger a television executive for NBC and Buzz Santer an owner of a boat-painting company, for example.
Occupational productivity won’t be the topic of conversation at Thursday’s reunion, though. As remarkable as the post-baseball achievements have been, nothing lights up the players’ faces like talking about a magical season that ended with a 3-2, 11-inning win over Kansas City Wyandotte in the Class AA title game in El Dorado.
“I don’t know if that’s unusual or not, but it’s typical of these guys,” Egan said of their reunion. “This is a special group of guys, there’s no question in my mind. I don’t think there’s very many coaches that got to coach a group like this. Nothing they do is surprising to me.”
Egan coached Kapaun’s baseball team for three seasons, going out a state champion and with a feat no Kapaun baseball team has matched since. The chemistry the players now speak of was built on the practice field, if it could be called that. The team worked out on a cow pasture that was accented with a backstop.
It wasn’t an ideal setup, but it made Kapaun hungry, confident and close.
“We did our best,” Cartwright said. “We worked hard. We raked, we shoveled dirt, we cleaned out grass to try to get it to where it was playable. It still wasn’t the perfect diamond, but it was something we all did as a team; we worked together.”
Egan oversaw and sometimes participated in that process. Even though, at 27, he wasn’t much older than the players, the 1960s were a different time and the players saw him as strictly an authority figure.
He felt the same way; in fact, Egan still calls his former players “kids.”
“He wasn’t one of the guys,” Anderson said. “… We were 16, 17. (Egan) seemed more mature and in charge and in control. Because of the discipline of the school, we respected our elders, I guess. What the coach said went, and we were glad to do it because we were interested in playing baseball.”
The memories from the season extend beyond the championship game, which late-inning defensive replacement Allen Walcher won with an RBI single in the 11th. Kapaun lost one game, to South early in the season, which it avenged in a blowout later. Wins over Southeast and East were also memorable, even though Kapaun — then a boys-only school — wasn’t in the City League then.
“We were kind of the David against the Goliath,” Anderson said.
The team’s hitting depth was contrasted by a pitching staff largely carried by Tony Mayer and legendary Kapaun athlete Hi Lewis, who combined for 12 regular-season wins and combined for all 11 innings in the title game.
Those Crusaders found a model that worked, but no team since has done the same. Kapaun has 91 team championships, but only one baseball title. The 1963 Crusaders claimed Kapaun’s first team crown.
“We take pride in that,” Cartwright said. “We want to be supportive of the school. We would be supportive of any team (trying to match the accomplishment). A few years ago, they had a pretty good team and we talked about getting together with that team and talking about our experiences and encouraging them.”