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1955 Panthers remember coach Al Burns
spt cp Al Burns KSU basketball

Editor’s note: This is the final of a two-part series commemorating the 1955 GBHS state championship baseball team. Terry Knowles, a member of the 1955 Panthers, wrote the feature and, with teammates, recalls, 60 years later, that glorious season in the history of the GBHS baseball program.

Jack Curtis recalled, “I will always be grateful to coach Burns for allowing me to be a part of the baseball program at GBHS as a freshman and for the opportunity to learn from him during those succeeding four years.  It was a great experience. He was a terrific model for his players.”

Bill Smith remembers coach Burns as a stern disciplinarian and a coach who worked hard with
his players to help them learn and understand baseball fundamentals.  “His only objective
was to help each of us perform to our very best.  That’s all he ever asked--do your very best.”

Terry Knowles described coach Burns as a no nonsense leader who understood how to develop high school athletes into winners for life.  “The lessons that we learned from coach Burns went far beyond the playing field.  I am grateful for all of the time he spent with us, all during the school years and every summer, helping us to develop into responsible, caring young men.”

Terry Leek stated, “Al Burns was my coach for over 125 baseball games covering high school and American Legion and I don’t ever remember seeing him get mad, being upset with a player, or arguing with an umpire….regardless of the situation. I recall pitching in a game and the umpire called three straight balls on pitches that I thought were ‘right down the middle.’  I was frustrated and threw my glove down.  Coach Burns called time out and calmly strolled to the mound.  I complained, ‘Those pitches were perfect! How could they be balls?’  But coach explained, ‘First, the umpire called them balls.  Second, the umpire is standing back there with his left arm raised and three fingers pointed upward. And third, look at the scoreboard, what do you see next to the word balls?’ I said, ‘Three red lights.’ ‘Right!’  coach said. ‘The count is three balls, now let’s get some outs.’  That being said, he left the mound and returned to the dugout.  For me, that was a strong teaching moment.  Coach Burns was not concerned about what was in the past because we could do nothing about it.  His ‘big picture’ was simply to get some outs and win the game.”

Where did they go after GBHS?

Coach Burns not only fielded a championship baseball team but his players went on to highly successful careers in medicine (Dr. Larry Markel), ministry (Bill Smith), journalism (Jerry Emerson), banking (Harold Langrehr), government (Bob Durheim), landscape architecture (Gaylen Sullivan), law (Jack Curtis and Terry Leek), accounting (Harry Eckert), and law enforcement (Terry Knowles).  Six members of the 1955 team served in the military.

Jack Curtis was the shortstop and leadoff hitter for the 1955 team.  He played a key role in the championship game with two hits, two runs scored, two RBI and his usual stellar defense in the infield.  Curtis was student body president at GBHS during his senior year in 1956. Following graduation from GBHS, Curtis went on to the University of Kansas where he earned his law degree and then settled in Hays to practice law.  He is a member of the Kansas Bar Association and manages real estate holdings.  Curtis and his family currently live in Hays, KS.  

Bob Durheim was the “rock solid” third baseman for the Panthers and was credited with five hits during the 1955 tournament.  Following GBHS, he served three years in the U.S. Army in Korea.  He was a 16-year employee with the U.S. Post Office and was with CenTel Power & Light for 11 years before retiring.  Durheim and his family currently live in Dodge City, KS.

Harry Eckert was an outfielder for Great Bend.  After GBHS graduation, he enlisted in the Navy and served on the USS Osberg.  After military service, Eckert returned to Great Bend, played one year with the Great Bend Ban Johnson baseball team, and later attended Fort Hays State University, majoring in accounting.  He served as an accountant for Southwestern Bell Company for 30 years in five different cities.  Eckert and his family currently live in Hazelwood, MO.    

Jerry Emerson was an outstanding catcher for the 1955 team, providing strong leadership and timely hitting.  Emerson had three hits and two RBIs in the championship game and batted .500 during the three-game tournament.  He graduated from Kansas State University with a degree in business administration, followed by service in the Wisconsin and Minnesota National Guard.  He was a writer/managing editor for newspapers in Wisconsin, Minnesota, Kansas, and Colorado. Emerson and his family currently live in Overland Park, KS.

Terry Knowles was a two-sport athlete, an outfielder for the 1955 team with three hits in the tournament and captain of the Panther basketball team.  Later at Kansas State University, he was a three-year baseball starter as catcher, and he played semi-pro baseball with the Wichita Boeing Bo-Jets.  Following K-State graduation in 1961, he served as a U.S. Marine Corps infantry officer in the Far East.  Knowles then served 24 years as an FBI Special Agent, culminating as Special Agent in Charge of two field divisions.  Retiring in 1989, he was Chief of Police at Springfield, MO, and then Director of Public Safety for the State of Missouri.  In 1995, he returned to Kansas to serve 10 years with the Kansas Bureau of Investigation as Deputy Director of the KBI.  In 1998, he earned his master’s degree at Washburn University and served as a professor in its Criminal Justice Department.  Knowles and family currently live in Topeka, KS.

Terry Leek was the winning pitcher in two of the three games in the 1955 tournament.  First, he beat Wichita North in the opening game, and then, with less than 24-hours rest, he pitched a brilliant five-hitter to win the championship game.  Although only a sophomore, Leek was a dominant factor throughout the tournament.  A superb three-sport athlete at GBHS, he received a football scholarship to play quarterback at Kansas State University but his football-playing days were cut short by a knee injury during spring practice his freshman year.  Leek transferred to Washburn University to play basketball and baseball where he earned his Bachelor’s degree in 1962 and his Juris Doctor in 1965.  He has practiced law in Arizona since 1968, is a member of the Arizona Bar Association and was admitted to practice before the United States Supreme Court.  Leek and family currently live in Prescott, AZ.

Harold Langrehr was a two-sport athlete at GBHS, a baseball outfielder and an outstanding linebacker on coach Harry Kline’s Panther football team.  Following GBHS, Langrehr served three years in the U.S. Navy aboard the USS Collett.  He then returned to Great Bend, first as sales manager with an automobile dealership for 25 years, then a banker for 24 years, and now a licensed real estate agent. Langrehr and family currently live in Great Bend, KS.

Larry Markel was the winning pitcher in the semi-final game against defending state champion Wyandotte which was ranked as the best team in the Kansas City area.  In the 1955 state tournament, he limited Wyandotte to one run for an ERA of 1.28.  Markel then went to the University of Kansas where he earned a bachelor’s degree in business and pre-medicine, and then earned his medical degree at the KU School of Medicine in 1964.  Dr. Markel served as a professor of medicine at Kansas University for 19 years.  In 1983, he moved to Bartlesville, OK, where he served as a urologist for 29 years before retiring and returning to the Kansas City area.  Dr. Markel and family currently live in Leawood, KS.

Bill Smith was a two-sport athlete at GBHS. The baseball infielder also played on the Panther basketball team. He graduated from the University of Kansas with a bachelor’s degree, earned a master’s degree from Indiana University, and a doctorate degree in theology from Yale University.  He enjoyed a 33-year career as a Methodist minister, serving in five different churches in the northwest.  Smith and family currently live in Ocean Shores, WA.

Gaylen Sullivan, the Panther first baseman, was credited with driving in the tie-breaking run in the bottom of the 6th inning of the championship game.  The left hander was a regular fixture at first base for GBHS, Great Bend American Legion, and Great Bend Ban Johnson baseball teams for a number of years.  He was a three-year starter at Kansas State University where he graduated with a degree in landscape architecture and design in 1961.  He served as a landscape designer and planner for the city of Anaheim, CA, for the next 28 years.  Sullivan and family currently live in Lake Arrowhead, CA.

Four members of the 1955 championship team are deceased.

Alvin F. “Al” Befort: b. 3 Oct 1938, Munjor, Ellis Co., KS/d. 29 Sep 2006, Wichita, Sedgwick Co., KS

Rome Owen Freeman: b.  4 Mar 1937, Marlow, Stephens Co., OK/d. 23 May 2005, Springfield, Greene Co., MO

Louis Cleveland Kinnear: b. 21 Feb 1939, Claremore, Rogers Co., OK/d. 7 Sep 2007, San Antonio, Bexar Co., TX

Ira McCure “Mack” Taylor: b.  17 Jun 1937, Lyons, Rice Co., KS/d. 5 Aug 2013, Arden, Buncombe Co., NC

State tournament box scores from 1955 (PDF)

References:  Game information and box scores were obtained from the May 14, 1955 issue of the El Dorado News-Times and the May 15, 1955 issue of the Great Bend Daily Tribune, both of which were made available at the Newspaper Archives Section of the Kansas Historical Society at Topeka, KS.  The Kansas State High School Activities Association (KSHSAA) provided information concerning high school classifications.  The four baseball photographs were obtained from the 1956 Great Bend High School yearbook (Rhorea).  The 1938 basketball photograph of Al Burns was provided by the Sports Information Department at Kansas State University, Manhattan, KS.  Birth and death information was obtained from the Social Security Administration Death Index.  Quotes and individual recollections were obtained by personal contact with members of the 1955 state baseball championship team.