breaking: Six COVID-19 cases linked to Oklahoma County partylive: Oklahoma coronavirus confirmed cases: 1,327; 51 dead

NewsOK: Oklahoma City News, Sports, Weather & Entertainment

OU basketball: Ahearn Fieldhouse once was the equal of Allen Fieldhouse

Lon Kruger’s Sooners play at Kansas on Saturday, which means a game in Allen Fieldhouse.

Of all the sports venues in which I’ve covered games, Phog Allen Fieldhouse is my favorite. The Rose Bowl, Notre Dame Stadium, Wrigley Field. I put the Phog at the top.

I’d rank the Roman Colosseum ahead of Allen Fieldhouse, but the gladiators are long gone. It’s only a tourist attraction these days.

Not so with The Phog, where Jayhawk basketball still rides high and 16,300 fans still cram into the gymnasium that opened in 1955.

But there once was a gym that was the equal of Allen Fieldhouse in ambiance and stature and big-time hoops. And it was in the same state.

Ahearn Fieldhouse was the home of Kansas State basketball from 1950 through 1988.

I never got to see a game in Ahearn; I started covering Big Eight basketball on the road in 1991, by which time the Wildcats were in Bramlage Coliseum, which remains their home.

But the stories of Ahearn are many. The Sooners won at Kansas State in the 1947-48 season, then didn’t win again in Manhattan until January 1979. OU went 0-for-Ahearn for 28 straight years.

Ahearn was named after Mike Ahearn, who spent 42 years at K-State in a variety of capacities, including athletic director.

Ahearn Fieldhouse opened in December 1950 with a capacity of more than 14,000. By the end of Ahearn’s run as home of KSU basketball, the capacity had been reduced to 12,220 for basketball.

Ahearn hosted part of the NCAA Tournament six times – 1953, 1955, 1960, 1962, 1965 and 1969. Henry Iba’s Cowboys played there in both the ’53 and the ’65 NCAAs.

The legendary Tex Winter coached KSU from 1953-68 and said in his biography, Trial By Basketball, “Kansas State won a lot of ballgames because of that crowd. Many times during timeouts you couldn't hear yourself talk. All I could do was scribble a play on the floor. The crowd there never died, even in one of our lulls – the crowd would come alive and pick us up.”

K-State spent much of the 1980s raising money for a new arena and finally opened Bramlage in 1988.

In the last 40 years, University of Kansas basketball has far surpassed K-State basketball. But we sometimes forget the status KSU had in the ‘40s, ‘50s, ‘60s and ‘70s.

Wildcat basketball under Jack Gardner (1946-53), Winter, Cotton Fitzsimmons (1968-70) and Jack Hartman (1970-86) was big-time.

Gardner coached KSU to the 1948 NCAA semifinals and the 1951 NCAA championship game. Winter had the ‘Cats in two Final Fours, 1958 and 1964. K-State played in 15 Sweet 16s from 1948-82, and most of those years came when the NCAA Tournament allowed only conference champions in its field.

KSU during those years won 12 outright conference championships and tied for three others. During that same span, KU won nine conference titles and tied for three others.

Kruger knows the history well. He grew up in Silver Lake, Kansas, just west of Topeka and equidistance from Manhattan and Lawrence.

“I grew up a fan of both, but when they played each other, I was a K-State fan,” Kruger said. “I grew always hoping they would be undefeated when they played each other. But when the choice came, to be a Wildcat had kind of been there all along.”

Kruger went to K-State, played point guard for Hartman and was the Big Eight player of the year in 1973 and 1974. And Ahearn Fieldhouse was quite the place.

“Back in the ‘60s and ‘70s, ‘50s, ‘60s, ‘70s, it was pretty equal in terms of crowd and intensity,” Kruger said of KU and KSU. “Yeah, difficult to win. Very true. K-State probably back in the ‘50s, ‘60s, ‘70s had as many conference titles, if not more, than Kansas did.”

Kruger succeeded Hartman as the KSU coach and took the Wildcats to an historic NCAA regional final showdown against the Jayhawks. KU won, went on to the NCAA championship and the programs have been vastly different ever since.

Kansas is Kansas and Allen Fieldhouse has become a national cathedral.

Kansas State basketball has been mostly middle-of-the-road in the conference. In those 32 years, KSU is 10-13 in NCAA Tournament games. KU has been to seven Final Fours.

Ahearn Fieldhouse today is the home of KSU volleyball and athletic department offices. But there was a time when Ahearn was the equal of Allen Fieldhouse.

Related Photos
FILE--Long-time college Kansas State basketball coach Jack Hartman, 73, waves to the crowd at Ahearn Fieldhouse in Manhattan, Kan., after his final game as head coach in March 1986. Hartman, who coached at both Southern Illinois and Kansas State, died Friday, Nov. 6, 1998, in a Santa Fe, N.M., hospital. He was 73. (AP Photo/Topeka Capital-Journal, file)

FILE--Long-time college Kansas State basketball coach Jack Hartman, 73, waves to the crowd at Ahearn Fieldhouse in Manhattan, Kan., after his final game as head coach in March 1986. Hartman, who coached at both Southern Illinois and Kansas State, died Friday, Nov. 6, 1998, in a Santa Fe, N.M.,...

<figure><img src="//cdn2.newsok.biz/cache/r960-e10827d3b5641b2f8c414c79e540522e.jpg" alt="Photo - FILE--Long-time college Kansas State basketball coach Jack Hartman, 73, waves to the crowd at Ahearn Fieldhouse in Manhattan, Kan., after his final game as head coach in March 1986. Hartman, who coached at both Southern Illinois and Kansas State, died Friday, Nov. 6, 1998, in a Santa Fe, N.M., hospital. He was 73. (AP Photo/Topeka Capital-Journal, file)" title="FILE--Long-time college Kansas State basketball coach Jack Hartman, 73, waves to the crowd at Ahearn Fieldhouse in Manhattan, Kan., after his final game as head coach in March 1986. Hartman, who coached at both Southern Illinois and Kansas State, died Friday, Nov. 6, 1998, in a Santa Fe, N.M., hospital. He was 73. (AP Photo/Topeka Capital-Journal, file)"><figcaption>FILE--Long-time college Kansas State basketball coach Jack Hartman, 73, waves to the crowd at Ahearn Fieldhouse in Manhattan, Kan., after his final game as head coach in March 1986. Hartman, who coached at both Southern Illinois and Kansas State, died Friday, Nov. 6, 1998, in a Santa Fe, N.M., hospital. He was 73. (AP Photo/Topeka Capital-Journal, file)</figcaption></figure>
Berry Tramel

Berry Tramel, a lifelong Oklahoman, sports fan and newspaper reader, joined The Oklahoman in 1991 and has served as beat writer, assistant sports editor, sports editor and columnist. Tramel grew up reading four daily newspapers — The Oklahoman,... Read more ›

Comments