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Wednesday, March 27, 2013
Cinderella Stories: Wichita State Shockers

By Patrick Dorsey

The original Pizza Hut restaurant at Wichita State University
What does this old building have to do with the No. 9 seed in the West region?
The Sweet 16 is set, primarily with big schools from bigger conferences. But it's also got a few outsiders. So, as we did last week, Playbook continues to profile the little guys, looking at their exploits inside sports -- and far away from the fields of play.

Check out our look at Florida Gulf Coast -- from before the tournament.


With their win over Cinderella-turned-top-seed Gonzaga, the Wichita State Shockers reached the NCAA tournament's round of 16 for the second time in eight years -- not exactly the résumé of a college hoops nobody. This is also a program that reached the 1965 Final Four, plus won the 2011 NIT.

Still, this school of 12,000-plus undergraduates -- located in Kansas' largest city -- doesn't share the local (and sometimes national) reputation of fellow Sunflower State schools Kansas and Kansas State. Not that it's without noteworthy influence, achievements and alumni, even if it is absent a football program ...

• With Wichita the soon-to-be-former (but longtime) home of Boeing (and many other such companies), it's no surprise WSU is among the leaders in flight; in 2009, it ranked second nationally in aviation research and development expenditures.

• The school predates the Wright Brothers, though; founded in 1885 as the women-only Fairmount College, it was affiliated with the Congregational Church before becoming coed in 1892, a city-run school in the 1920s (University of Wichita) and, in 1964, a state school with the name WSU.

• Some of WSU's most significant moments took place while it was called Fairmount; one of them was flight-related, both were in the field of football. First: the first forward pass, which -- so the story goes -- was thrown on Christmas Day 1905 against Washburn College, from Fairmount center Bill Davis to right end Art Solter. (However, this game has been labeled "experimental"; it wasn't until the following year that college football legalized the throw.) Second: the first night game west of the Mississippi River, paid for by Coleman -- whose gas lanterns lit the field (the host Wheatshockers beat Cooper College 24-0).

• Speaking of Wheatshockers, that once was the team's nickname (and is the unshortened version of today's "Shockers"), supposedly first floated in 1904 because many of the team's players made summer money harvesting ("shocking"), well, wheat. WuShock, the school's intimidating mascot, followed in 1948.

• Speaking of intimidating, one of football's most commanding modern presences played and later coached at Wichita State: Bill Parcells, who played linebacker for the Shockers and, after being selected in the 1964 draft's seventh round by the Detroit Lions, returned to lead the defensive line in 1965. He went on to do big things.

• The football program, however, felt hardship over the next two decades, chiefly an October 1970 plane crash in Colorado that killed 31 passengers -- including players and personnel. The team chose to continue the season -- and nine years later WSU made history by hiring the first black head coach in major-college football history (Willie Jeffries) -- but by 1986 rising debts and other troubles caused the Shockers to drop football.

• Sports is still vibrant in Wichita, though. Evidence: that accomplished basketball program (featuring ex-NBA alumni such as Dave Stallworth, Xavier McDaniel and Antoine Carr); a prominent baseball team (1989 College World Series title; Joe Carter is among the many ex-players); and big-time bowling squads (nine women's Intercollegiate Team Championship titles, 10 men's).

• And now that pizza. As in, Pizza Hut, whose 1958 start came in Wichita, courtesy of brothers Dan and Frank Carney. The Carneys, who both studied at the school, opened their first restaurant for $600 -- a building that later was moved onto the WSU campus (pictured above).