The Kansas State Wrestlers
Good times, bad food and non-varsity athletic endeavors
Between the time I left the farm near Claflin, Kansas and the time I started my military career at the U.S. Naval Academy, I spent two years as a student at Kansas State University in Manhattan. Actually it was called Kansas State College when I started there in September 1957, but the name was changed to KSU before I departed in May 1959. Both of my parents had attended Kansas State in the 1930s, and since I was unable to get an appointment to a service academy out of high school, it was a foregone conclusion that I would go to Manhattan. We were pretty much a K-State family. Lots of aunts, uncles and cousins went there too. My brother Mark defected and went to KU in Lawrence, but that’s a story for another time.
As it turned out it was a good thing I spent time at KSU before entering the Naval Academy. My high school years were not real challenging academically, and I went into a state of shock when the requirements of a college engineering curriculum were placed before me. I had no idea how to study or manage my time. I was overwhelmed. After about two months I learned how to deal with it and did alright after that, but had I gone straight to Annapolis out of high school, with the demands of Plebe Year and academics thrown at me, I’m not sure I would have survived.
Anderson Hall. The last time I visited KSU it was the only building I recognized
Although my Dad wanted me to join his old fraternity, Lambda Chi Alpha, I had no interest in becoming a fraternity boy…a frat rat, as we called them. So I lived in one of several independent boarding houses near the campus. I was happy being a “GDI” for my two years at K-State. This house was called “Kasbah”. Where the name came from I have no idea. Housing about 20 students, it was a fairly typical place as college boarding houses go. As I recall most were freshmen, but we did have several upperclassmen, to include a couple of seniors. A lot of guys moved on to fraternities or made other arrangements as sophomores, but I liked Kasbah well enough to stay both years. Besides that my roommate was my best friend from high school, Wes Mathis.
The denizens of Kasbah were a pretty typical cross section of K-State students. A number of us were in the School of Engineering and about an equal number in the School of Agriculture. The Ag school was the reason KSU was founded in the first place in 1863. The rest were liberal arts types. All freshmen and sophomores were required to be in ROTC. That was the rules for land grant colleges in those days. The only ones exempt were veterans, and we had two in the house; one Army and the other Navy…both Korean War vets.
The main floor of the place housed the kitchen, dining area (I hesitate to call it a dining room), a small living room, and an enclosed living room for the house mother, Mrs. E.E. Rogers. There were two rooms in the basement, probably six on the second floor, and a couple on the third floor. Mrs. Rogers was a plump older widow lady with white hair who sat in front of her black and white TV and laughed most of the time. You could hear her peals of laughter ringing through the house any time of day or night…”Ahhhhhh, ha ha ha!”
The food was pretty typical of an independent boarding house in those days, I suppose, but we bitched about it all the time. Subsequently we bitched about the food at the Naval Academy, in the Marine Corps and aboard the ships we rode as Marines. If it wasn’t Mom’s home cooking, it wasn’t good enough. Anyway, because of the food we named the Kasbah “The Puke-atorium”. We dreamed up and drew pictures of Rube Goldberg devices designed to extract puke from the residents of Kasbah which was transported to an imaginary holding tank underneath the house, and was subsequently served up as Kasbah meals. We called the devices “Rogers Machines”. I guess you could say we were early proponents of recycling.
During a visit to Kansas a couple of years ago I took a side trip to Manhattan to look around. Things had changed so much that about the only thing I recognized was Anderson Hall, completed in 1884, and shown in the picture above. The Kasbah was gone, probably burned to the ground from a grease fire…as plausible an explanation as any. Nothing had been built to replace it, and no grass grew where it had been.
If we weren’t studying there were several ways we passed the time. We had a lot of Saturday night penny-ante poker games up on the third floor. We’d go to an Aggieville bar and get a gallon jug of draft beer and pass it around all evening during the game. For those who aren’t familiar with K-State, Aggieville is an area just off the southeast corner of the campus that housed a number of bars, book stores, a movie theater and the like. To soak up the beer we’d go to the local White Castle and get about 50 of those little hamburgers they sold. I think they went for something like a nickel or dime apiece.
But the pastimes that I remember most fondly were in the nature of athletic endeavors. One was a variation of handball played in our rooms called “Newman Ball”, named after that Mad Magazine icon, Alfred E. Newman. Usually a tennis ball was used and was bounced off the walls of the room much to the annoyance of non-participating occupants, as well as folks living in the room on the opposite side of the wall. I carried this activity to the Naval Academy as well where we changed the name to “Room Ball”, and drove our neighbors nuts with the incessant thumping of ball against wall.
The other “sport” was called “Armpit Wrestling”. This activity was a somewhat conventional wrestling match, but to win you had to pin your opponent’s face into your armpit for three seconds. If you’ve ever wrestled competitively you know how physically brutal that sport is. It is hard enough to pin your opponent’s shoulders to the mat. It was doubly difficult to hold someone’s face into your armpit for three seconds. For one thing, by the time you reached that stage of the match, you were usually soaked with sweat and your armpits were lathered up and ripe. This provides plenty of incentive to make every effort to keep your face as far away as possible. You tired out quickly as the matches were very intense. The winner was usually the one who could muster that last ounce of stamina. There was a very long room on the third floor of Kasbah where the matches were held. We would move all the beds, desks and chairs against the walls. The spectators sat on the beds and desks and the wrestlers stripped to skivvy shorts and went at it. We would roll all over the open floor area and bounce off the furniture and walls during the course of a match. As I recall most of the matches ended in draws due to the difficulty of pinning a face into an armpit, but there were winners and losers on occasion. The draws were usually the result of total exhaustion of the fighters. I remember one epic battle between myself and Paul Boughton, a wiry kid from Emporia, if I correctly recall. I can’t remember if there was a winner or if the match ended in a draw, but we were totally spent after it was over.
And there you have the story of life as a GDI at K-State in the late 1950s. I was an active participant in Armpit Wrestling, and I am convinced that it helped harden me for the rigors of Plebe Year at the Naval Academy when I entered that institution in July of 1959. Do you need more proof that the crazy antics of college boys are ultimately worthwhile?
Dirck Praeger sends