For a significant number of Newton High School basketball fans, walking past a photo of Frank Lindley in the Newton High School Hall of Fame brings forward conflicting emotions.
The gymnasium, replete with a floor named after an Olympic gold medalist, is named for John Ravenscroft — a coach who brought four state titles to Newton, the first one in 1946. He is known for success on the court. For some, he is also known as the first basketball coach to allow nonwhites to play.
He had taken over for Frank Lindley, who coached from 1914 to 1945. Lindley finished his coaching career with a record of 594-118, eight state titles and eight state runner-ups. He also served as Newton High School principal from 1921-1951. The gymnasium at Santa Fe 5/6 Center is named for him.
This year comments were made at the Newton Board of Education about if his name should remain on the building, and a group of students and teachers at Newton High School have had conversations about that as well.
The issue is not about Lindley's win/loss record or titles. It is about the makeup of his teams in the pre-Brown vs. Board of Education era, a court decision that forced the integration of schools.
Lindley was successful as a coach, but he did it with rosters full of only white players.
Looking through files, photos and responding to why those teams looked that way, a former team manager and current member of the Newton High School Hall of Fame Committee Phil Anderson explained it with an off-the-cuff remark.
"Frank Lindley would not play black players," Anderson said. “... He was prejudiced as hell.”
Anderson has photos at his bookstore of all-black teams, and Hispanic teams that played during the era. He also has a collection of trophies, cast aside by the school district decades ago, won by all-white teams.
It was an era of history that saw schools segregated in multiple states — including Kansas. Newton was not segregated, at least not officially. All ethnicities were allowed to attend school in the same building. The era of segregated schools came to a legal end in 1954 with the May 17 supreme court ruling in Brown v. Board of Education.
However, for some of the winningest decades of basketball in the history of the school, only whites were allowed on the team. The first nonwhite to play basketball appears in the team record books in 1952, when No. 13 Bernie Castro earned a spot on the club as a freshman. Newton won a state title that year.
“I told Mr. Lindley that if he wanted me to be head basketball coach for Newton High School that I wanted to play all the kids, not just the white kids,” Ravenscroft said in an interview for “Can You Hear the Whistle Blowing," a documentary about Newton basketball produced in 1998. “I knew then that there were no black kids or Spanish kids in the eighth grade or ninth grade in the competitive teams and it would be several years before they would have the dribble, pivot and pass drills and all the patterns that we use so they could play for us.”
The first black players appeared in 1955, with Newton High School Hall of Fame member Floyd "Skippy" Garnet wearing No. 3. Garnet also ran track and appeared in Life magazine in a photo from a track meet in Lawrence. In 1956, he helped Newton High School win a state basketball title.
It took Lindley six years, as he first had to get players to sign up in middle school and start through the system. Nonwhites were used to not being allowed on the team — and played on their own teams. There were Hispanic teams that played in another gymnasium, winning upwards of 30 games a year playing against anyone who would let them play.
It's not that athletes at Newton were all segregated — the football team was integrated during the Lindley era. But there was, again, a rift there.
According to a documentary produced in 1998, nonwhites were allowed on the football team because the team wasn't winning state titles — they didn't win much at all. Newton has always been a basketball town — the sport first introduced 1900, according to an account in The Newton Kansan.
“Basketball in Newton was the sacred cow. They were winning without us,” said Philp Kratzer, class of 1951, during an interview for “Hear the Whistle Blowing.” “You were not even allowed to go out for basketball. They said the black players were too rough. I do not know if that was the administration of the school or just the times we lived in.”
Kratzer played on a black-only basketball team, wearing hand-me-down uniforms from Newton High School. The school provided money for transportation.
“I believe, personally, had they allowed a black player on the team and the team was not successful, it would have been a tremendous weight on the coach and player that they allowed to integrate at that time,” Kratzer said. “... They did not want anything to tarnish Newton basketball.”