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Rockhurst University to Mark 50 Years Since Historic NAIA VictoryMarch 18, 2014
Fifty years ago, on March 14, 1964, in front of a record-breaking crowd at Municipal Auditorium in Kansas City, Mo., the Rockhurst College men’s basketball team made history.
That night, the team brought home the NAIA national championship with a 66-56 win over Texas’ Pan American College in the 1964 tournament. With the win, the Hawks would also become “Kansas City’s champion,” bringing the trophy to the city where the tournament had been played since its inception in 1937.
This year, members of the team will once again gather to celebrate 50 years since that victory. The University will honor all of its past basketball players during a luncheon banquet at noon Sunday, March 23, in the Convocation Center on campus. At 11 a.m. Monday, March 24, players and their family members will see a new exhibit about the 1964 tournament victory unveiled at the College Basketball Experience. At 6 p.m. that evening, the '64 players will be led into Municipal Auditorium through a spirit tunnel of more than 80 students, harkwning back to 1964's "Hike for the Hawks." And members of the 1964 team will be recognized during halftime of the NAIA men’s basketball tournament semifinals, about 6:30 p.m. on Monday, March 24, in Municipal Auditorium.
Despite finishing their previous season with a record of 27-4, the members of the 1964 Rockhurst men’s basketball team never took continued success for granted, especially given that they would be starting that season minus Pat Caldwell, the team’s top scorer from the year before.
“There was some wonderment as to whether or not we could do this,” said Denny Rabbitt, one of the players on the team. “It was not at all a given. It was really a lot of work, every single night.”
Bolstered by its returning roster and some newer recruits, a rigorous training regimen and a few buzzer-beating shots, the Hawks found themselves in a position to take the trophy, a sort of “Cinderella story” that served to further drive interest for a tournament that already enjoyed a status as an annual event for Kansas Citians.
In the final, the Hawks would face the defending champion team, Pan American College of Texas, featuring tournament MVP and future NBA All Star Lucious Jackson. By that final game, hopeful spectators were reportedly climbing through the windows in the hopes of catching a glimpse of the action.
Accounts from the time describe a dominant Rockhurst defense holding back Pan American’s offensive threat. Still down with 15 minutes left in the game, the Hawks rallied behind leading scorers Caldwell and Dick Hennier, scoring 13 points in four minutes and building a 59-47 lead. Rockhurst would lead through the remainder of the game.
“In the last three minutes, we knew it was over,” said Ralph Telken, who would earn the NAIA National Tournament Hustle Award and an NAIA All-American nod for his performance.
The 10,783 people in attendance that night would break previous records for the NAIA tournament. Even more, the victory by a hometown team would further boost the stature of the NAIA in Kansas City for years to come, according to Blair Kerkhoff, a sportswriter for the Kansas City Star who has authored several books on college basketball.
“You’ve got the strong local team against the strong out-of-town team,” Kerkhoff said. “That’s the kind of strong national basketball drama that sells, and it definitely did.”
For more information on the celebration, click here.