Dealing with a tarnished legacy: Lindley Hall

Chad Frey
Unified School District 373 maintenance workers place the letters "Historic Lindley Hall" on the gymnasium at Santa Fe 5/6 Center in 2008. The building was named after  principal and basketball coach Frank Lindley. Lindley coached in Newton for 31 years, from 1914 to 1945, and served as school principal from 1921 to 1951.

Related story (April 28, 2019): Under a coaching legend, NHS basketball was segregated

Related story (Oct. 30, 2019): History to be denoted at Lindley Hall

The name of Lindley Hall, and how to document the basketball history made within the building by former coach Frank Lindley, is an issue Newton Unified School District 373 has been struggling with for the past few years.

The issue at hand is not the success of Frank Lindley and the championships won. The issue is one of racial sensitivity. Lindley coached in Newton for 31 years, from 1914 to 1945, and served as school principal from 1921 to 1951.

Lindley was successful as a coach, but he did it with rosters full of only white players.

“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 on Monday night. “... 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.

“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.”

Cuellar was one of a group of three members of the Newton Community to approach the board about the naming issue on Monday.

It is a conversation the Board of Education had in October of 2019 — and at that time the board did not see a path forward to change the name of Lindley Hall, though it did discuss the creation of a plaque or display in the building to address the history of the sport at the time.

On Monday, 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.

“I would like them to bring something back to the board,” Treaster said. “... I would like to have them formulate a plan for moving forward.”

Andy Ortiz and Luke Edwards agreed to represent the board on that committee. Five more members will be appointed to the committee by members of the board.

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.

When work was done to the building in the late 1990s, the original hardwood floor was removed and saved by members of the Hall of Fame board. Pieces of the floor were sold as collector’s items and a fundraiser for the hall of fame — and funded the lettering on the side of the building.

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.

For some of the winningest decades of basketball in the history of the school, only white people were allowed on the team. The first nonwhite 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.

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.

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. However, nonwhites were not allowed on the school basketball team under Lindley.

“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.”

In other business Monday, the board:

• Approved revenue bonds on behalf of the Public Building Commission for the construction of a new municipal pool and improvements to Centennial Park.

• Voted in favor of naming an area of the high school used for wrestling, spring baseball and gymnastics after the Thaw family.

• Received an update on SPARKS and CARES act funding. The district was awarded $910,000 in SPARKS funds, and have spent $470,000 of those funds. All SPARKS funds must be spent by Dec. 31.

• Discussed COVID-19 gating criteria. The district currently has 258 students and 64 staff in quarantine. There are 27 students and 23 staff who have tested positive for COVID-19, up from 22 students and 19 staff the previous week. The board did not change educational modes, having approved the current mode — pre-K through sixth grade in school, seventh and eighth grade in hybrid and high school in online only — through Thanksgiving break.