Born Blvd.: Medicine Lodge to name street, gym for B.H. Born

photo: basketball

University of Kansas basketball great B.H. Born waved to the crowd during a February 2002 reunion of the 1952 NCAA championship team.
EARL RICHARDSON/The Capital-Journal

By Ric Anderson , The Capital-Journal

When Kansas All-American B.H. Born learned that the folks in his hometown wanted to name a street after him, he was a little apprehensive.

"I said, 'You know, I'd be upset if somebody said they were going to come in and change the name of the damn street where I lived,'" he said. "I wouldn't want to change my address, get my magazine subscriptions redone and all that. And this is funny. They said, 'Don't worry about it. It's only a block long.'"

OK, so Medicine Lodge's East First Street isn't particularly long or wide.

But when the little road is rechristened as B.H. Born Boulevard on Saturday during the community's "B.H. Born Day" celebration, the honoree will be feeling more pride than you could squeeze onto eight lanes of superhighway.

"I'm excited about it," he said. "I'm really looking forward to going back. Lotta good people there."

Fifty-two years after his graduation from Medicine Lodge High School, Born will return to his alma mater -- now an intermediate school -- to watch as the gymnasium is rechristened "The Bert B.H. Born Auditorium." The daylong festivities also feature a joint reunion of the classes of 1947-50.

Harold Hosey, a 1949 Medicine Lodge grad who grew up with Born and was behind his 1998 induction into the Kansas Sports Hall of Fame, spearheaded the celebration.

"A lot of other people have done similar things," said Hosey, an Emporia resident. "Like with Steve Grogan in Ottawa, they named their football stadium after him. Then there was (John) Riggins, they named a street after him in Centralia, where he grew up. I said to myself, 'Why hasn't Medicine Lodge done something like that?'"

Hosey said Born, whose number is retired at KU, deserved all the honors he could receive.

"I always felt like he was one of Kansas' greatest players, because guys like Clyde Lovellette and Wilt Chamberlain were transplants who came from out of state and then went back home after they left KU," Hosey said. "B.H. is a native Kansan and considers Kansas his home."

Born at a glance

Saturday is B.H. Born Day in Medicine Lodge, where a street and an auditorium will be named in honor of Born, one of nine basketball players to have his jersey retired by the University of Kansas.

Born was named the most outstanding player in the 1953 NCAA Tournament, when KU lost to Indiana 69-68 in the title game. In the 64-year history of the NCAA, only 10 players from non-championship teams have received the honor, and he was the first.

Born was named to the All-Big Seven team his senior season, when Kansas went 16-5 and finished third in the conference.

He was chosen in the third round of the 1954 NBA draft by the Fort Wayne Pistons but never played for them. Instead, he went to work for Caterpillar Tractor Co., beginning a 43-year career with the company.

Before Born followed KU coach Phog Allen to Lawrence, he already was a hometown hero after scoring a record-breaking 111 points over four state tournament games as a senior. Two years later, he became a member of the Jayhawks' 1952 NCAA championship team as Lovellette's backup.

"Clyde and I averaged 30 points a game," Born said. "The problem was, he'd have 28 1/2 and I'd have 1 1/2."

But in 1953, after Lovellette's graduation, Born came into his own. The 6-foot-9 center averaged 18.9 points and 11.2 rebounds to lead KU back to the championship game, where the Jayhawks fell 69-68 to Indiana.

Born finished his collegiate career by averaging 19.0 points and earning All-Big Seven honors. An Olympic team alternate and U.S. representative in the 1954 world championships, he went on to a 43-year career as an executive in the Caterpillar Tractor Co. in Peoria, Ill., where he still lives.

He's never too far from his hometown, however, maintaining close ties to Hosey and other natives and visiting as often as possible.

"I lived right across the street from the gym and I went to the Methodist church, which was right by the school," Born said, recalling his early days. "I had a job at the store, which was half a block from my house. My scope wasn't too wide for quite a while."