By RICK PETERSON
Like just about everybody else I know, I was ecstatic to put 2020 in the rearview mirror and get started on a new year.
But it’s also important that we remember those that we lost over the past year, including four men who had a lasting impact on high school sports in Topeka and the state of Kansas.
Topeka High coaching legend Willie Nicklin, 92, and longtime Kansas State High School Activities Association administrator Kaye Pearce, 85, both passed away over the final month of 2020 (Nicklin on Dec. 10, four days after Pearce) while Washburn Rural fixture Ray Glaze, 85, and former KSHSAA and National Federation of State High School Associations executive director Brice Blaine Durbin (92) passed early last year -- Durbin on Jan. 4, Glaze on Feb. 8.
For those who had the opportunity to rub elbows with any or all of the four men they’re well aware of the contributions of Durbin, Glaze, Nicklin and Pierce.
For those of you that didn’t have that opportunity, here’s a brief look at the legacy they left.
WILLIE NICKLIN -- Nicklin taught and coached at Topeka High from 1965 to 1991, taking over as the Trojans’ head coach in 1970 and leading High to state titles in ‘73 and ‘86.
Nicklin registered 501 wins in his coaching career (all levels) and his teams won 12 I-70 League championships. Topeka High’s basketball court is named in Nicklin’s honor.
Nicklin was known as a strict disciplinarian, which Professional Bowlers Association Hall of Famer Chris Barnes, who played on the Trojans’ 86 championship team, remembers well.
“I think it helped me to be an athlete and maybe more importantly to have been with a coach that made everybody so accountable,” Barnes told The Topeka Capital-Journal in a 2017 interview. “There was no skipping a beat and saying, “Oh, I didn’t mean to.′ That didn’t cut much weight with Willie. You were still running those big bleachers whether you liked it or not.
“I had a lot of great coaches along the way but most of them were nice guys. Willie made you accountable. You loved him at the end but you didn’t really like him too much along the way sometimes. But the accountability part was needed where I was at in my life as a teenager then. He had a lot to do with my success afterwards.’’
KAYE PEARCE -- Pearce spent 20 years on the staff of the KSHSAA, including four years as the executive director. Pearce joined the KSHSAA in 1976 and served as the Association’s executive director from ‘93 to ‘96.
Pearce was well known for his long tenure as the referee for the state track and field meet in Wichita, a role that continued after his retirement.
A native of Salina, Pearce coached and taught at Salina High School znc Salina Central and posted a record of 91-48-4 as a head football coach.
Current KSHSAA executive director Bill Faflick said of Pearce:
“Mr. Pearce was an ardent supporter of Kansas students and schools and his life work touched many lives. His faithful service as a teacher, coach and administrator helped make Kansas better.”
RAY GLAZE -- Glaze was a key contributor to many of Washburn Rural’s greatest athletic moments in the ‘70s, ‘80s and early ‘90s.
Glaze was defensive coordinator for head football coach Ron Bowen throughout Bowen’s 23 seasons at Rural as the Junior Blues won three 5A football championships in the ‘80s and played in the 6A championship game in ‘92.
Glaze also served as Rural’s wrestling coach and coached multiple individual state champs.
Washburn Rural’s football stadium is named Bowen-Glaze Stadium in honor of the two former coaches and close friends.
“He was real technical,″ Bowen told The Capital-Journal. “Things had to be just right and I learned a lot from him. Our whole success there, he was responsible for a big part of it. I told him I wanted a certain kind of defense and he was fine with it, and after not too long of time he was it. I worked for him on defense.″
BRICE DURBIN -- Durbin was a legendary figure in high school athletics at the state and national level and was credited with helping launch girls sports in Kansas.
“He went up to Iowa, where basketball was so big for girls, and was just so impressed with the way they filled arenas with girls basketball. He believed that girls should be having the same opportunity to do whatever sports that guys did,” Durbin’s son, Brice H. Durbin, told The Capital-Journal.
Durbin is referred to in his Kansas Sports Hall of Fame bio as “the father of girls high school athletics in Kansas.”
Durbin was an assistant director and then the executive director of the KSHSAA for two decades and then served as executive director of the NFHS for 16 years before retiring in ‘93.
Postseason playoffs in Kansas high school football also started in 1969 during Durbin’s stint at the KSHSAA.
Durbin served as an assistant basketball coach at Wichita University (now Wichita State) under legendary coach Ralph Miller and was selected to throw out the first pitch before the fifth game of the 1980 World Series game between the Kansas City Royals and Philadelphia Phillies.