Archive for Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Athletic stars’ fame can be fleeting

November 26, 2008

He was a nice-looking young man — with a modern haircut and clothes — he wouldn’t look out of place with today’s high school seniors. Paging through an old Bonner Springs High School yearbook, an outline of the young man’s achievements took shape, and while he was an outstanding student he was probably more known for his athletic achievements.

He had been a class officer, participated in all sports and had achieved a lot of success. I had to feel a bit sad as I wondered what he might have done in his life had conditions in the world been different.

Let me first state that I count myself as somewhat of an expert on Bonner Springs High School athletic history. Then, if there is something I don’t know, I can always turn to Jim Finley, who is the ultimate keeper of history. Neither of us had heard of Gilbert Slagle until local historian Ella Mae Mitchell gave me some information. These clippings point out the difficult task BSHS will have if it tries to establish an athletic hall of fame. There are many like Slagle who had outstanding careers at Bonner Springs High School but whose achievements have slipped through the cracks.

Maybe the real lesson here is how fleeting local fame is and how soon people and their achievements are forgotten.

What really piqued my interest was a statement in an obituary that pointed out he had led Bonner Springs to the championship of the Class B state tournament. If that were true, local sports history would have been rewritten, however, it wasn’t. He had led Bonner Springs in 1929 to the state qualifying tournament championship, which was played here. Bonner avenged two earlier losses and defeated Shawnee Mission, 28-25, to win the title. Unfortunately for local fans, Bonner Springs lost in the first round to Richmond, 22-16.

Really, it was interesting to read about the 1928-29 teams at BSHS. They had good success in basketball and had a winning record. What also interested me was the team was coached by Chub Meisenheimer, who also taught manual training. As a youth, I heard great stories about him since he was the coach at Garnett High School when my late father and former Bonner Springs mayor and civic leader Del Heininger were students. Meisenheimer must have been a good coach since he led Garnett to the only undefeated season in its history in the early 1920s.

In the opening game of the season, Slagle scored 17 points as Bonner Springs defeated Welborn. While he was mentioned as starring in many games, only one other story had his scoring total – seven points in the tournament championship game.

Bonner Springs teams didn’t have a nickname in those days. They didn’t become the Braves until 1936. However, they played a schedule that included many schools that no longer exist. They had a couple of tough games against Linwood and defeated Edwardsville en route to the school’s first Kaw Valley League championship. It would appear that Bonner’s biggest rivals were Edwardsville, Linwood and Shawnee. I had to wonder why Basehor wasn’t on the schedule and, apparently, they weren’t members of the Kaw Valley League.

Even though Bonner Springs took second place at the Shawnee Mission meet, Slagle was named to the all-tournament team. He was described as “probably the most outstanding man in all sports ever enrolled at Bonner Springs.”

Slagle’s athletic career didn’t end after the high school season. He joined his coach in forming an “athletic club” team that won the Leavenworth tournament. A guard, he continued his outstanding play and was named to the all-tournament team.

In the fall, he enrolled at Pittsburg College (now Pittsburg State) where he made the football squad and “gave great promise in basketball.” Unfortunately, the world was about to spin out of control and in October 1929, the stock market crashed and the United States moved into the Great Depression. Apparently, he was among many young people whose lives were changed dramatically.

He returned to Bonner Springs and then moved to Los Angeles for a job. Gilbert Slagle died on March 13, 1931, at the age of 21 after a five-hour illness with pneumonia.

Over the years, he has been forgotten, which is extremely sad. Hopefully, Bonner Springs does initiate an athletic hall of fame and competitors such as Gilbert Slagle will be remembered with the latter-day sports heroes.

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