TOPEKA, Kan. (WIBW)___In the 1940's, basketball was the only sport that remained segregated at Topeka High. Students never even thought of it as a big deal at the time. Jack Alexander, a ball player for the all-black team, The Ramblers, said, "I never new anything about the Trojans. When I came to Topeka High I just wanted to become a Rambler."
The Ramblers and Trojans boys basketball teams were both funded by the school district and fielded talented squads. The Ramblers played home games in a separate gym, at East Topeka Junior High, while the Trojans played in what is known today as the "Dungeon," taking 3rd place in the 1948 state tournament.
Trojan basketball player from 1946-48, Bill Bunten said, "If we would have had the black athletes playing with us, we would have been really good, but i would not have made the team."
After the 1948 season Bunten's teammate Dean Smith who would go on to great success as a college player and coaching at the University of North Carolina, approached the school's Principal with the idea of integration.
Jack Alexander, who would go on to become the city's water commissioner, and a close friend of Smith's, reflected on the incident saying, "Dean said, I was all for equality and doing what was right, but I also wanted to win more basketball games."
While Dean's competitive fire may have been the catalyst that caused the request for integration, it was still a huge step towards uniting his community.
Bill Bunten, who would go on to serve a Topeka City Mayor, put the move in perspective, saying, "What he did was a small part but it was a part of something that spread throughout the entire country."
Looking back, there is just one thing Jack Alexander wishes he could have done. "I would have laced up the shoes and played against the Trojan 1949 team and spanked them good."
Topeka High alum Dean Smith also helped integrate the ACC college basketball conference by recruiting African-American players.