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Online petition seeks to rename USD 373's Lindley Hall

Chad Frey
The Kansan
Floyd "Skippy" Garnett, 3, was the first black player to play for Newton High School basketball in 1955, playing for coach John Ravenscroft.

A new grassroots effort is showing support for the renaming of Lindley Hall at Santa Fe 5/6 Center on Change.org.

A building that bears the name of the principal, and basketball coach, that got it constructed. However, Frank Lindley — one of the most successful coaches in the history of Newton High School Sports — established practices that were racist.

"Newton School Board chooses to honor a racist who has caused decades of unfair treatment and emotional distress to many community Hispanic and Black American students. While the name, Lindley Hall, may bring smiles to those who were deemed worthy enough to benefit from his tenure in Newton, it remains a horrible scar on the souls of minorities," wrote Maia Cuellar Serafini, the author of the petition located at Change.org on behalfon behalf of her father, Anthony Cuellar. Anthony Cuellar, a retired teacher form Newton USD 373, has been outspoken at the board of education about this issue. 

The petition, launched about one week ago, started with a goal of 200 signatures. In about four days, the petition showed more than 500 signatures and a new goal of 1,000.

Community members have, more than once, approached the Newton USD 373 Board of Education requesting there be a change to the name of Lindley Hall.

In 2019 during Black History Month, the Newton Kansan published a story documenting the racial practice of Lindley in the area of basketball

For some of the winningest decades of basketball in the history of the school, only white people were allowed on the team. The first non-white person 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 under coach John Ravenscroft — for whom the current gym at Newton High School is named. Newton won a state title that year.

Under Frank Lindley,  people of color never played basketball on the Newton High School team. People of color were part of other sports teams — most notably football — at the school. Separate teams for Black and Hispanic basketball players were established. The Black team was given hand-me-down uniforms from the high school team. Neither the Black or Hispanic team were able to practice or play games at Newton High School or Lindley Hall. 

Frank Lindley was the Newton High School boy's basketball coach from 1914-45 and is considered one of the first coaches in the country to use the zone defense. Lindley finished his coaching career with a record of 594-118, eight state titles and eight state runner-ups. In 1931 his team finished undefeated. He also served as Newton High School principal from 1921-1951.

The most recent use of the board of education's public comment section for that purpose was Nov. 9, 2020. 

“It is pretty clear he wasn’t a nice guy. He was a racist,” said Anthony Cuellar, a Newton native and retired teacher, during a board of education meeting. "Back in the days when sports wasn’t everything but it was the only thing, I can see why people allowed themselves to look the other way. That sports legacy that he brought to this town has kept some of us, even today, from opening our eyes — despite all the hurt, all the pain.”

Cuellar told the board that when the building was labeled “Historic Lindley Hall” in 2008, the community placed undue honor on Lindley. The lettering was placed on the building using privately donated funds — raised from the sale of pieces of the original basketball floor. 

“This is 2020 and we are paying homage to a racist. We have placed his name in a place of honor,” Cuellar said. “In 2008, we publicly decided to make him a special citizen. Maybe in 2008, we didn’t know this, but we know this now.”

In November, the board of education took a move forward — creating a seven-member committee at the suggestion of board member Matt Treaster to discuss how to recognize the history and racism displayed. That action was a follow-up to discussions that occurred on Oct. 29, 2019. 

During that meeting, the board discussed the creation of a historic display documenting Lindley's racial practices and his success on the court. 

In 2019 new board members Andy Ortiz and Luke Edwards agreed to represent the board on a committee to discuss how to document the history of Frank Lindley. Five more members have been appointed to the committee by members of the board.

That committee is scheduled to meet for the first time this month. 

Letters designating "Historic Lindley Hall," purchased with private funds, were placed on the building in 2008.

The building, which is owned by USD 373, is the gymnasium for Santa Fe 5/6 Center. The letters designating the building “Historic Lindley Hall” went up on the building in 2008, nearly 75 years after the gymnasium was built on North Poplar.

Lindley Hall was built in 1934, used both as a gym and as an auditorium. The building’s stage was sealed in 1999 for use as a storm shelter for the Santa Fe Middle School campus.