By Dr. Ken


If I didn't know the definitive location of either Ohio or Cincinnati prior to leaving the New York City area for college, it was a certainty that I had no idea where Wichita State University was. Always an early riser, a typical Sunday during high school football season would have been to awaken prior to sunrise and trudge downstairs to the basement to lift weights, still an unusual and cult-like activity in the early '60's. Without knowing it I was adhering to sound scientific and physiological principles, training as soon as was reasonably  possible after Saturday's game and giving myself maximum recovery time prior to the upcoming contest. Ignorant of science and its theories, long before the days when lifting weights was an acceptable form of athletic preparation, and at a time where "exercise science" did not yet exist, I trained when the opportunity arose. I found that any soreness from Saturday's high school game would abate sooner if I trained first thing on Sunday morning. Then, as the sun was coming up, I would jump on my bicycle, and ignoring lower body fatigue, pedal the mile or so to the nearest stores to buy Sunday bakery products for my father and a copy of the New York Times. I should be clear that no one in my family actually read the N.Y. Times or any other newspaper nor did we see a newspaper in the house at any time, but I would rush home on these mornings, lay the sports section of the Sunday Times out on the floor, and immediately look through all of the college football scores from the day before. The Sunday Times had the most complete section of scores from all around the country, with only the teams from the Far West perhaps left out as their games had ended too late to make the morning's publication. I would see teams like Wichita State, Kent State, Abilene Christian, and Drake and wonder where they were located, what type of colleges these were, and who the players were that represented their schools. In time, I figured out that Kent State was in Ohio and Abilene Christian was in Texas from the location of their opponents.  Wichita State however, remained a mystery because I can recall that their opponents seemed to come from many parts of the country. It was only after being at Cincinnati that I discovered that Wichita State was located in Kansas, was a member of the Missouri Valley Conference, and that they did indeed play a wide-ranging, varied schedule and recruited their players as often from Pennsylvania and New Jersey as they did from Kansas and Iowa.
Unfortunately, Wichita State's football history was checkered and often dispirited. I knew that they had a great running back who helped lead the Philadelphia Eagles to the NFL Championship in 1960 in Ted Dean and I had seen Roland Lakes' name on the San Francisco 49er roster, but there was little else about the program that was distinguishing. From 1960 through 1969 they changed head coaches on a regular basis, six times in all, and this was a pattern that continued until football was terminated as a varsity sport after the 1986 season. They rarely had stability and recruited a lot of junior college players. They had a reputation of bringing in many "outlaw" type players and at least in the mid-sixties, played a very tough, aggressive brand of football. Upperclassmen noted that if nothing else, the Wheatshockers always played tough and physically against us. In the 1963 game, a 23-20 WSU victory for the 7-2 Shockers, end Bob Long and QB Henry Schichtle played well enough to make the UC All Opponent Team, and two-way back and receiver Miller Farr assured himself a number one draft choice slot with the Denver Broncos based upon his All Conference play. They also, and I'm sure, unknowingly to almost everyone who did not live in Wichita, ranked second in the entire nation in total offense and sixth in scoring. I knew Schichtle's name because he was a sixth round draft choice of the hometown N.Y. Giants although his career comprised of but one game appearance and he then put in time with the Waterbury (CT.) Orbits, the Jet's farm team in the Atlantic Coast Football League. Long eventually made it big with the Packers as a key receiver on their Super Bowl teams under Vince Lombardi and then followed his coach to the Redskins in Lombardi's brief time with them. Long made it even bigger as one of the first Pizza Hut franchise owners which made him financially independent. He and a tackle at Wichita State that also made the  '63 UC All Opponent team received a pizza-making education as they supplemented their football scholarships by working in a pizza parlor near the Wichita State campus during their undergraduate days. By the time we would be getting ready to play them, this tackle was a Shocker assistant, coaching the line and walking their sidelines although he too would make it a lot bigger in later years considering that I am referring to Bill Parcells!


 The 1964 game was payback as future Eagle DB Al Nelson, HB Bill Bailey, and wingback Errol Prisby buried WSU under 328 yards of rushing in a 19-7 win. Wichita stumbled from their 1963 tie with UC for the Missouri Valley Conference Championship to a mediocre 4-6 record. The 4-6 slate included what was the toughest game of the season for National Champion Arkansas.This varying level of performance was typical of Wichita State, in part due to the many coaching changes and JC transfers they regularly had; 3-7 in '62, 7-2 in 1963, 4-6 in '64, a drop to 2-7 in 1965; 2-8 in 1966; 2-7-1 in '67. They played great games and poor games. After the 1964 season, head coach Mecellino "Chelo" Huerta left to assume the same post at Parsons College of Iowa and for '65, WSU named George Karras, the former line coach at UMass as their new head coach. In addition to a very young Bill Parcells another assistant coach was Gary Wyant. While perhaps not a name well-known to the general public, Wyant went on to be a highly respected assistant coach at the University Of Tennessee and then moved up to a position as an executive administrator who served the Volunteer athletic department for many productive years. Despite the end-of-year record they had a few terrific players. Naturally, I checked out their list of fullbacks but already knew that All Missouri Valley Conference performer Pete DiDonato, a 5'10", 195 block of muscle was their primary ball carrier and a good receiver. If you can look at a running back during warm-ups and know he is a good player, DiDonato was that guy. I was surprised that he never made it in the NFL after signing with the Broncos but he played two years for a poor Wilmington Clippers team in the Atlantic Coast Football League. Their other first team All Conference player was center and linebacker Jim Waskiewicz, a big-for-the-day 6'4", 240 pounder who hit like a bulldozer and gave our guys fits. When he showed up on the Jets for 1967 and then part of the 1968 season, filling in on both sides of the ball as a center, tackle, and linebacker, I wasn't surprised. The QB who had taken over for Schichtle was a Brooklyn guy named Lou Confessori who threw very well and who later rostered with the Redskins and then played in Canada with Winnipeg. Don Cherry was also an effective runner against us. Some of us noted a really big tackle who wasn't listed in the program as a starter but who played all game and was a defensive standout. At 6'7", you couldn't miss number 73, Earl Edwards, who developed into a great college player by the end of his career and then went on to play eleven years in the NFL primarily with the 49ers and Bills. Edwards, out of Florida played a solid, effective game and was another of our All Opponents as was DB Howard Starks. UC triumphed 14-6 indicating that this two-win team was actually quite tough to go against. It was a bit easier in '66 as the Shockers again finished with only two wins and Cincinnati won 20-6. However, in typical Shocker fashion, their two-victory team led the nation in passing offense behind QB John Eckman and receiver Glen Meltzer. The 1966 team also had an All MVC defensive end in tall, lean Jimmie Jones who spent time with the Jets and then a few seasons with the Redskins.
Things that stood out when looking at the Shockers, reading the game program, and then watching the films was that unlike a lot of opponents that were on the UC schedule, they did not have a lot of home grown talent and seemed to have a lot of excellent players mixed with a number of less disciplined athletes. I believe they had fewer than ten players from the state of Kansas and perhaps a few more from neighboring Nebraska, Oklahoma, and Iowa. Most of their players were from Pennsylvania and Florida, the effect I'm sure, of having so many junior college transfers. Their uniforms were distinctive in part due to the great color combination of black and gold/yellow and I always believed that the constant coaching merry-go-round allowed each successive head man to try to design a more memorable and exciting uniform for the players to keep enthusiasm high. Karras was gone prior to my college graduation and the Shockers brought in Boyd Converse for '67 who had won the National Junior College Championship as head coach at Kilgore, Texas JC but after he and his staff were placed on probation for recruiting violations that first season, a staff that included future Oklahoma State, Miami, Dallas Cowboy, and Dolphin head coach Jimmy Johnson and long-time Switzer and Dallas Cowboy assistant and administrator Larry Lacewell, his one year run was terminated and former Wichita State star Eddie Kriwiel was named as head coach. Continuing in their usual fashion, Kriwiel's one year 0-10 record led to his release and the '69 hiring of Ben Wilson to close the decade.
The 1965 helmets were a Green Bay gold with a black center stripe flanked by white stripes and a black oval type of logo on each side that had what I recall as a white "W" within it. In 1966, the helmet shell was changed to a bright shade of gold with a black oval containing a gold "W" on each side. The black jerseys were very cool-looking with a Green Bay type of gold and white sleeve stripe design and large gold numbers at home. In '66 a white outline was added around each gold number that gave the entire uniform a terrific appearance.The away jersey, worn in '65 at Nippert Stadium in Cincinnati, was a simple white jersey with black numbers and sleeve trim, a typical look for the era.
Unfortunately, the Wheatshocker program suffered an unspeakable tragedy on October 2, 1970 as one of the two airplanes carrying the team to a game in Logan, Utah against Utah State crashed into the side of a mountain near Silver Plume, Colorado. Head Coach Ben Wilson and fourteen players were among the twenty-eight passengers and three crew members who were killed in a horrific crash that a careful reading of the Federal accident report indicates was completely avoidable and due to human error. Thanks to Jamie and Kelli for the above photo.  While the October 17th game against Cincinnati was re-scheduled and played on October 31st, the team, program, and school first battled back and returned to the field against ninth-ranked Arkansas at Little Rock on October 24th under the leadership of former assistant coach Bob Seaman. The patchwork team of crash survivors, previously redshirted players, and freshman lost 62-0 but played out their "second season" and gained the admiration of the entire nation. Not as publicized as the Marshall University football team plane crash that followed only five weeks later on November 14, 1970 in which seventy-five people perished, many felt that the Wichita State football program's demise began with this singular tragic event. Never quite a "big time" program and yet consistently producing CFL and NFL players, the Shockers remained in a netherworld of name-recognition, scheduling problems, and financial viability.  At the conclusion of the 1986 season, awash in a sea of red ink with little hope to field a profitable football program, Wichita State University abandoned football after ninety years of competition.