Adolph Rupp, the Winning College Basketball Coach, Dead at Age 76
(Article courtesy Harvey County Independent, December 1977. Reprinted with permission.)
Flags flew at half staff Tuesday across the Commonwealth of Kentucky as the state observed a day of mourning for Adolph Rupp, a Halstead native who became the winningest coach in the history of college basketball.
Rupp, the legendary Baron of the Bluegrass, who won 879 against 150 losses in his 42 year career with the University of Kentucky and made the name Kentucky synonymous with championship basketball, lost a long battle with cancer of the spine. He died late Saturday night at the University of Kentucky Medical Center in Lexington. He was 76.
Born September 2, 1901, in Halstead, Rupp began learning to play the game that he helped make a national and international sport as a child in the south Garden Grade School (District 33) north of Halstead. The Rupp famly farm is located about 6 miles north of Halstead. And for the first 8 years of his education he attended the one room country school near their farm.
After grade school, Rupp attended Halstead High School. There he was a leader of the high school basketball team. Glen Lehmann, now of Newton, was a member of Rupps grade school and high school teams. Ruppp played center and Lehmann was a guard on the high school team.
Recalling their high school days this week, Lehmann said of Rupp: He wasnt exactly tall, a little over six feet. Hed make as many as ten baskets a game.
Perhaps as an indication of his later coaching duties, Rupp was the team's leader, Lehmann recalled. We didnt have much of a basketball coach. Adolph was the field general.
Other living members of that team of nearly 60 years ago are Eugene Thornhill, who played guard, a retired barber, who now lives in Hutch, and Charles Saylor, a substitute, who lives in Dodge City. Forwards Art Schowalter and Roland Mitchell and another subsitute, Cliff Barns, are dead.
Conditions for playing at the high school were not too good. Halstead played its games in the city hall, where the ceiling was about 2 feet above the back boards and a hot air register at center court was another hazard, Lehmann remembered. Sedgwicks home court was an old store building with a hot pot bellied stove near one side line. Burrton played in an old garage with a cement floor.
After his graduation from Halstead High School in 1919, Rupp went to The University of Kansas, where he played basketball under the coaching of the noted Forest C. Phog Allen. At KU Rupp was a member of the 1923 Championship Team. After graduation from KU, Rupp received his masters degree from New York University. His first teaching-coaching job was at Burr Oak, Kansas, and Jewell County, then he later went to Marshalltown, Iowa, and then Freeport Illinois, where at age 28, he was hired by the University of Kentucky to be its sixth basketball coach in eight years.
Rupp arrived at Kentucky December 10, 1930, and sent his Wildcats against Georgetown College the following night. Kentucky won that game 67-19 and the next morning the newspaper account noted that new brand of basketball had come to the Blue Grass Region. If the Wildcats failed to show anything else and their initial contest on the waxed hardwood, the story went, they demonstrated that the fast break system of play used by the new coach has scoring potential.
The fast break wasnt new. Rupp had learned it during his playing days with Allen. I did change it a little bit, Rupp said once. But the fast break they use at The University of Kentucky today is exactly the same as we did at Kansas in the 1920s." Rupps accomplishments were many. I have won every honor that there is in basketball, he once said. There has been absolutely none that have escape me. I have helped make rules and I think I have helped shape the destiny of this ball game the way it is today.
His style of play gave Kentucky 15 victories and 3 losses in his first season and he never coached a losing season after, his poorest season being a 13 and 13 year.
Along the way, he captured four national collegiate titles and won the Southeasern Conference Crown or tided four it 27 times. His Wild Cats also won the National Invitational Tournament in 1946. During his tenure no player who completed his varsity career missed playing in an NCAA Tournament since Kentucky never went three years without participating.
Forced by The University of Kentucky Board to retire at the end of the season when he reached age 70, Rupp officially stepped down June 30, 1972.
In 1974, two years after his retirement, Rupp reported in an interview for The Halstead Independent during a visit here that he was still very busy. He was vice chairman of the Kentucky Colonels, a professional basketball team; chairman of the board of directors of the Shriners Childrens Hospital, and a farmer with a 500 acre farm where he raised 35, 000 pounds of tobacco a year and ran a herd of registered Herefords. He served as president of The Kentucky Hereford Association.
Rupp never forgot his Halstead beginnings and made periodic trips to his old hometown. He was a subscriber to The Halstead Independent during his entire coaching career. Once a colleague who had noticed the arrival every week of the newspaper asked Rupp why he continued to take it. I always find something of interest in it, he responded.
Rupp is survived by his wife, Esther of the home in Lexington; a son, Adolph Rupp II, also of Lexington; three brothers, H.D. and Theodore Rupp, both of Halstead, and Albert Rupp of Wichita; a sister, Mrs. Elizabeth (T.D.) Lawson. Lawrence, Kansas, and two grandchildren.