ORIGINALLY WRITTEN ANDREW OTTOSON
An out-of-state publisher once asked Steven Farney, “Why would you write about teams and towns in Kansas that nobody has ever heard of?”
“Because there are teams and towns in Kansas that you should have heard of,” the McPherson resident replied.
Two years later, Farney’s book, “Title Towns: Class BB Boys Basketball Champions of Kansas” hit the shelves in bookstores across the state.
The story begins in 1952 and walks the trails blazed by 17 state championship teams before the 5A-1A classification system took over for the 1968-69 season.
The book visits Marion County twice along the way.
“The principle (reason for the book) is historic,” Farney said. “I really felt like the big schools are the remembered schools, particularly their sports teams.”
“They’re in major media markets and the media will remind us of past great Wichita teams and great Salina teams, but small schools don’t have that luxury.”
Farney retells the stories of the extraordinary seasons had by both the 1953 Burns Hornets, who went 27-2, and the 1963 Durham Hornets, who were undefeated at 26-0.
Durham resident Bob Klein, a member of the 1963 team, said opening night brought the eventual BB state champs to Hillsboro for a matchup with the Trojan, who at that time were a class B team.
Klein said the Hornets’ 44-41 win was “pretty exciting coming from a small town.
“I think that was one of the first games played in the new Tabor College gym-someone should check into that.”
Durham won 25 games in a row after that, and no team came within six points of derailing the team’s state-title quest.
“There were some special times with a great group of guys, and the coach was excellent,” Klein said.
Klein recalled that the taste of success the team sampled in the previous year helped the 1963 team set its sights high.
“We had gone to state, and the majority of the group was all back, and we felt that whole year we had a chance, that (winning the title) was what we wanted to do.”
Klein has a signed copy of “Title Towns” and thinks Farney did “a very good job…the game details are very good.”
Beyond the broader interest of preserving history, Farney also has a passion for basketball.
“I played on a very good team out of Wilson, which is a 1A school,” Farney said. “We did not get to state, and I thought to myself, ‘I know what it’s like to be in a small town and play on a very good team. I wonder what it’s like to be in a small town and play on a great team.”
As a youngster, Farney said he would pour over page upon page of boxscores in the Salina Journal to learn the outcomes of games played the night before.
But finding that same information five decades later proved in some ways to be a little harder than he had anticipated. Only three of the 17 schools still had their official scorebooks.
“(Small schools) have to deal with consolidation and closing,” Farney said. “When your school consolidates or closes, it doesn’t take long for the four winds to scatter everything.”
Farney said picking up the trail of fading paper was much more than a one-man job, as is evidenced by the book’s acknowledgements:
“Initially, the towns were maybe a little surprised that somebody was going to write about their teams.
” But once they accepted I was serious, they just threw open the doors.
“People in all these little towns helped me paint by numbers…giving me phone numbers of people to call, looking through attics and sheds and scrapbooks. I couldn’t have done this without so many people helping me literally piece it together.”
Farney said “Title Towns” is available through eBay, bookstores in Salina and McPherson, or locally at Thee Bookstore in Hillsboro.