The year was 1964; a history making year. It was the year Junior League football, the precursor to the Great Wichita Football League, was formed. It was Alvin (Pappy) Allen and a few of his good friends that made it happen.
It was still a time of innocence. The crime rate was low, for a Midwest City, Wichita was reasonably integrated, although housing and schools were mostly segregated. Kids played in outside until the street lights came on, and baseball was king. Pappy Allen had played a little baseball in his day. He played on a semi-pro league and during exhibition games, he played against some of the great Negro League Players who would go on to integrate the National Baseball League.
Even though Pappy was a good player, he had to put his dreams on hold to take care of his growing family. Pappy and his wife Ruthalyne, had a growing brood at home and by the time they finished, they had eight children in all, seven boys and one girl. Pappy, worked as a butcher at the packing house, a good job for a man with so many mouths to feed. But those well fed boys needed a way to burn off some energy, as well as a way to stay busy. Pappy started the boys in the sport he knew best – baseball.
Field of Dreams
So in the 1950s, he organized and coached baseball teams as part of the City’s Westside Athletic League. That kept the boys busy during the summer, but Pappy needed to keep this group busy a little longer. At that time, the only organized youth football league was the Aircraft League, and it was only open to the children of aircraft industry employees. That excluded a lot of kids in the neighborhood and Pappy decided to do something about it.
He approached some people he knew, including some coaches from baseball, with his idea of starting a youth football league. It would be easy to say the rest is history, but a 50 year legacy takes a lot of work to build. However Pappy’s vision would turn into one of the most popular and prosperous youth football businesses in Wichita.
Don’t get the wrong idea; Pappy never made a dime off the league. In fact, Pappy was the kind of guy who went into his pocket to make sure kids who didn’t have money to play could. Plus, he was never looking to make any money from the league. He just wanted to provide children in the neighborhood an opportunity to play ball.
Back then, a lot of parents had big families, and many were struggling economically. So, when Pappy started the league, it was free. He approached the City about using their football fields and an amicable agreement was reached. Two years later, the City approached him about taking over the league.
“He was always looking out for those less fortunate,” says his son Larry Allen. “It [starting the league] was a very selfless act that came from a man who still to this day has a humble heart full of love and consideration for others.”
From the Ground Up
This was a home-grown organization with Pappy managing all the details during the evenings and on weekends. Larry says he recalled painting the first horseshoe, the Colts emblem, on a helmet, waiting for it to dry, then painting the other side. Pappy helped raise money for uniforms and for the player and league fees. No, the league wasn’t free any more. When the City took the program over, they immediately began charging players and teams a participation fee.
Larry says he knows full well there were costs associated with the league, since too often he saw his father go into his pocket to help cover costs, but he was more than disappointed that his dad wasn’t offered even a part-time position assisting with the league he started and had grown.
After the City took over the league, Pappy worked on building the Colts brand. He grew the organization to include a team at each of the levels: 3rd, 4th, 5th,6th, 7th, 8th and 9th grade. Then the organization added cheerleaders, which provided a way for young girls in the community to become involved.
At one point the League had so many youth come out they knew it was time to start another organization.
“We had 70 something players come out and we could only keep 33,” recalls Larry. “We didn’t want all of those interested not to have an opportunity to play, so Theo Cribbs, who was a part of our organization broke away and started the Bulldogs.”
The Allen Boys
Early on, Pappy saw athletics as a way for children who came from homes where money wasn’t plentiful, to get a college education. He also saw the potential for his sons. Even though Ruthalyen worked for the Model Cities Program, it still would have been tough for the Allen’s to send eight children to college.
All seven of his son’s played baseball for him, but Sterling stuck with the game. He played high school baseball at Wichita Southeast as well as football. Sterling attended Neosho Junior College on a baseball scholarship. At Neosho, he was a first team All-American, and after two years, he was drafted into Triple A baseball by the Detroit Tiger’s Farm club.
His son Ron was a three sport start at Wichita Southeast. He played baseball, football and basketball. Ron, who also attended Neosho Junior College, finished his career playing basketball at the University of Arizona. Ron was drafted as a free-agent guard by the Philadelphia 76er’s. The politics and competition revolving around a team that at the time featured Dr. J, did not lend itself to a long professional career for Ron, who returned home to Wichita to coach high school basketball.
Ron started out on the coaching staff at Wichita West High School and spent a few years at Wichita North before landing a job as the head basketball coach at Wichita East High. After 20 years as the East High Aces head coach, he retired with two state titles and the 3rd winningest coaching record in City League history. He has been inducted into the East High, Biddy Basketball, Southeast High and Kansas Sports Hall of Fame.
Ron has two sons who are current coaches. RJ is a top assistant at Kansas Newman College and AJ is an assistant coach at Wichita East. During each of their senior years, both brothers played on State Championships Teams coached by their dad.
Larry, who says he found baseball too boring, really took to football. After graduating from Wichita South, where he played football and ran track, he attended Garden City Junior College where he was a JuCo all-star running back. He transferred to the University of Dayton (Ohio) but returned home in his senior season when his mother became ill.
That was 1976, and Larry stepped right in assisting his father with the Colts. He coached several championship teams before taking over his father’s role as the Colts president and general manager. Larry worked as an assistant coach at Kapaun Mt Carmel High School for 10 year s and for three years at Wichita Heights before getting a head coaching position at Sunrise Christian Academy. After two years, he moved to Wichita Southeast where he was an assistant coach for five years.
During this time, Larry was working full time at Boeing, finishing his College education, managing the Colts, and raising a family of his own. It got to the point he could no longer do it all, so after two decades running the Colts organization, he stepped down in 1998.
The Colts were managed for a while by Curtis Whitten and then Terry Dean before Greg and Betty Phillips stepped up to manage the organization.
Larry still keeps his hands in the football game as the football coordinator for the Boys and Girls Club youth football team, the Stars. Larry’s son Larry, Jr. works with him as his top assistant at the Boys and Girls Club. Larry Jr., played two years at Kapaun and two years at Heights before heading off to K-State for a year.
Most of Pappy’s boys are continuing his legacy in one way or the other. Robert recently retired from coaching youth football with the Wichita Trojans. In the 1980s Robert also shared Colt’s coaching responsibilities with his brother Larry. After high school he joined the military. The baby of the family, Dale, played football and baseball at Wichita South and played basketball at Pratt Junior College.
Two of the brothers are deceased: Greg, the oldest son died in 2008 and Alvin, Jr., the next to the oldest, died in 2010. Janet Allen Campbell, the sole girl in the family, was her brother’s greatest fan growing up. “She was also our household organization conductor, keeping us all grounded, rooted and on the straight and narrow,” says Larry about his sister who currently resides in San Antonio, TX.
It’s easy to see the impact that Pappy had on his own family, but there were many more, such as Barry Sanders, a Wichita native who played on the Colts team.
“There are many role models that come from our city and we do not want to discount or overlook any of the men and women who have impacted our city but there is no question that the current 90 year old Alvin (Pappy) Allen is one of those individuals that had major influence,” said Allen.
His legacy will live on well into the next generation of those who desire to help others. To his son’s and grandson’s who currently still labor in the community helping inner-city kids become all they can be, just keep on keeping on! The mission is simple and the fight is never over. Pappy would say just continue to write history. If you do not believe this story book journey just stop by and talk to the 90 years old plus Pappy Allen, his mind is still sharp and he remembers the date and times of it all. What a blessing!