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Lawrin’s Grave

13 Nov

Where: 59 Le Mans Court, Prairie Village, Kansas

Kansas City’s best-loved sports figures are instantly recognizable by their first names – Buck, Lenny, George, Tom, Lawrin.

Lawrin?

Lawrin was a thoroughbred race horse bred right here in Kansas City and holds the distinction of being the only Kansas-bred winner of the Kentucky Derby, having won both it and the Flamingo Stakes in 1938.  It was also the first Kentucky Derby win for famed jockey Eddie Arcaro.

Lawrin and his sire Insco are buried in a tidy little cemetery in Prairie Village on the site of the former Woolford Farm, home to the well-known racing stable owned by Herbert Woolf, whose father and uncle started the Woolf Brothers clothing store in Kansas City.

The cemetery is only about 300 square feet and contains just the two headstones – Lawrin’s and Insco’s.  A small encasement displays old race photos; a well-preserved clipping from the Kansas City Times remembers the Woolf family and their farm.  A beautiful wrought iron fence marks the perimeter, and it all sits in the middle of a lovely neighborhood cul-de-sac northwest of  83rd and Somerset.

Lawrin lived from 1938 until 1955.  His headstone reads simply, “Kentucky Derby Winner, 1938.”  Insco lived from 1928 until 1939.  His headstone reads, “He goes on to greatness through his progeny.”

Young Hank Aaron

30 Jun

~ photo courtesy of the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum, Ed Scott

Where: Negro Leagues Baseball Museum, Kansas City, Missouri

A young man – maybe 19 – stands in front of his local train depot in 1953.  He could be waiting for a favorite cousin to arrive, or he may be about to board the train that will deliver him to his destiny.

This photograph was taken of Henry “Hank” Aaron in Mobile, Alabama  just prior to his departure for the Negro Leagues.  Bunny Downs, team manager of the Indianapolis Clowns,  had just negotiated the deal with Aaron’s family that would allow the young recruit to leave home and join the team on the road.  It is presumed that Downs took this photo.

“This is not the largest or most well-known item we display, but it is by far one of my favorites,” says Dr. Raymond Doswell, vice president of curatorial services for the museum.  “This photograph denotes a moment in American history when greatness was discovered.”

Aaron played for the Clowns in 1953 and was then recruited by the Milwaukee Braves, who later moved to Atlanta.  The rest, they say, is history.  Aaron developed into one of the greatest baseball players of all time, breaking Babe Ruth’s long-standing career home run record of 715 before setting the new one at 755.

The College Basketball Experience

30 Jun

Where: 1401 Grand, Kansas City, Missouri

There’s Danny and Norm and Michael and Phog.  Shaq and Lew and Hakeem and Wilt.  And Dr. Naismith, of course.  All the titans of college basketball are here, and our local heroes are well-represented, too.

It’s called the College Basketball Experience, a vague name that belies the actual, well, experience of what transpires during your visit there.

“This is not a museum,” says Kevin Henderson, CBE CEO.  “This is a living facility that represents the full 100 years of college basketball.”

The entire facility is designed to replicate what it feels like to be part of a high-energy basketball game from both a fan’s and a player’s perspective.

Your game day experience starts in the elevator where the pre-game pep talk gets you amped for the game.  As you step out of the elevator, you enter the locker room tunnel, complete with a roaring crowd and images of cheerleaders rooting just for you.  The experience is loud and blood-pumping, and you find yourself eager to step onto the court that you know must be at the end of all this magic.

Located adjacent to the Sprint Center at 14th and Grand, the CBE is a project of the National Association of Basketball Coaches and its foundation, also based in Kansas City.  The National Collegiate Basketball Hall of Fame is also housed here.

“The history of the sport in this region – all the Final Fours at Municipal, Dr. Naismith and Phog Allen – is why this facility is here,” says Henderson.

Pay your admission and you can play basketball all day long on the just-shy-of regulation main court.  Or, alternatively, there are countless smaller courts on two levels that test your mettle in actual game situations – all with loud, distracting audio replicating an opponent’s crowd, their band and their hecklers.

One such test is called “Last Second Shot.”  Check the live clock; there are five seconds left, the score is tied and you have the ball.  There are six large, inlaid disks on the floor and only one will illuminate.  Your job is to dribble there and take the shot – successfully perhaps – before the buzzer goes off.  Maybe you’ve won the big game, forever securing your spot in sports trivia sports annals, or maybe you’ve missed it, in which case your ego will compel you to repeat this simulation again.

Don’t miss the “Epochs of the Game” display which chronicles the game’s rise in our sports consciousness and how its development paralleled that of our country’s, particularly during the early years of integration. The coaches’ “family tree” exhibit is also fascinating and a must for those who like to debate coaching lineage facts.

The College Basketball Experience is open Wed. – Sat., 10-6 and Sun. 11-6.  Admission is $12 for adults and $9 for those under 17 or over 65.  See http://www.collegebasketballexperience.com for more information.

BY THE NUMBERS:

18                    Karat gold medallions are awarded to Hall of Fame inductees

8                      Average number of Hall of Fame inductees per year

60+                  Number of coaches in John Wooden’s “family tree” – the most of anyone

5000+              Number of collegiate basketball coaches in the United States

23                    Shoe size of Shaquille O’Neal, which is approximately 18 inches long

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