Today, Nichols Hall houses the communication studies department, the Kansas State debate team and the Mark A. Chapman Theatre. Fifty years ago, this was not the case. Nichols Hall, then known as Nichols Gym, was home to the women’s basketball team.
When it was built in 1911, Nichols Hall was built as a gymnasium with a basketball court and swimming pools.
The first Kansas State women’s intercollegiate basketball team had their inaugural season in 1968. Mary Stamey, a member of the 1968 team, walked into Nicholas Hall where she saw a sign about basketball tryouts.
As a junior majoring in physical education, Stamey did not know what would come from that tryout. Stamey was a senior during the first full season, when the program switched from a six-member team format to a five-member one.
Currently resident of Manhattan, Stamey said she had never played on a basketball team before K-State. There’s a lot of life lessons that come from being on a team, Stamey said.
“Getting along with your neighbors and teammates and learning to work together were some of those life lessons,” Stamey said.
“Looking back,” Stamey continued, “we never thought of ourselves as starting anything.”
After the fire, the head men’s basketball coach, Cotton Fitzsimmons, was very supportive of the women’s team and let them practice in Ahearn Field House.
The women’s team had to show up early in the morning and later in the day to practice since they couldn’t practice at the same time as the men’s team. They used the equipment from the men’s team; this was at a time when the basketballs were the same size for men and women. The women would show up to games already in their uniforms and used the locker room space only for games.
The Wildcats finished their first season under head coach Judy Akers with an 11-3 record overall. That year, they reached their first postseason tournament, the National Women’s Invitational Tournament. They lost the Amarillo, Texas, tournament, but the players learned from the experience.
“We lost in that tournament, but we didn’t care,” Stamey said. “We got to play against really good teams and see how they played.”
K-State was the first team in Kansas to be invited to an out-of-state tournament.