The “Wildcat Archives” series will take a look back at a different K-Stater every week who was part of an important time in Wildcat sports history.
Jack Parr knows he can’t win every battle.
During his time on the K-State basketball team in the late 1950s, Parr faced several of the game’s best players. While he didn’t always dominate the stat sheet, Parr said he understood how to deal with challenging opponents.
“In the mundane world of sports, adversity is an ongoing issue,” Parr said. “Whether you’re talking about playing a big game against Kansas University, or a player you’re guarding who out-rebounds you, the question you have to ask is, ‘How are you going to deal with that adversity?'”
Parr said his coach, Tex Winter, showed him how to handle those challenges and how to respond when going up against a talented player. One of Parr’s toughest foes was Kansas’ Wilt Chamberlain, whom Parr had to face five times during Chamberlain’s two years at KU. Athletically and physically, Chamberlain had few equals. He ran the 100-yard dash in 10.9 seconds and won the Big Eight Conference high- jump championship, clearing a height of 6-6. But Chamberlain is best known not as a track star, but as an all-time basketball great. In those days, freshmen could not play on the varsity team, but that didn’t stop Chamberlain from dominating his older teammates during a preseason scrimmage in 1955. He scored 52 points, pulled down 29 rebounds, and led the freshmen to an 81-71 win over a varsity team that was picked to win the conference. “I had a lot of respect for him,” Parr said. “He was a phenomenal athlete.” On Feb. 3, 1958, K-State traveled to Lawrence for one of the most anticipated matchups of the season. Both teams were ranked in the top five nationally and the Wildcats never had beaten the Jayhawks while Chamberlain was on the team. “It was huge hype,” said Parr, who was a two-time All-American. “Sports Illustrated had a three- or four-page article about how significant the game was. “It was pandemonium in Lawrence. We had to win. The excitement was at a fever pitch.” To prepare for the 7-foot-1 Chamberlain, Winter had devised a special defense to slow him down. The Wildcats would use two defenders, one positioned in front and the other behind, in an attempt to neutralize his offensive arsenal. On the defensive side, Winter had to get creative to simulate Chamberlain’s sheer size. Winter would run around the practice court with a broom to remind players how tall he was. Even with Winter’s tactics, Parr said Chamberlain still was difficult to stop, especially when he was able to rise up and dunk over K-State’s double team. “One way to deal with that is to become angry,” Parr said. “That doesn’t work. Another way is to resign to it and say, ‘He’s that good, and I’m just me.’ Or you can use the old athletic clichÃ© and say, ‘When the going gets tough, the tough get going’ and by damned he’s not doing that again.” Parr and the Wildcats contained Chamberlain enough to send the game into double overtime. With time running out and the Wildcats leading by two, Kansas tried to go to Chamberlain to tie the game and send it into a third overtime. But it was Parr who would get the best of KU’s star player this time. As Chamberlain went up for what looked like a certain dunk, Parr blocked the shot, resulting in a jump ball call. But following the defensive play, Parr still had to go up against Chamberlain one more time for a jump ball. Still pumped up from his previous play, the 6-foot-9 Parr out jumped the 7-foot-1 Chamberlain to win possession and cement a 79-75 win over KU. The victory helped the Wildcats win a regular season Big Eight title and led to K-State making the Final Four later that year. Today, Parr owns a consulting firm in Salina. He said he still credits a great deal of what he knows to what he learned at K-State. “The experience at K-State was foundational for my life,” Parr said. “That experience has really had application to 40 years of being in my own business. We’ve done work in 14 countries and 46 states, and much of what I’ve picked up goes back to what I learned at K-State from coach Winter.”