Several former Blue Comets mentioned
Local sports fans – and history buffs in general – might be interested the new book, “Go Hard,” which chronicles the life of Independence High School’s Hall of Fame coach Walter “Kayo” Emmot.
The book is a biography of Emmot’s life, but centers on his years coaching Independence to a 90-13-1 record (from 1954-66). After an inauspicious 3-4-1 start at the helm of the Bulldogs, Emmot’s teams would go the next 67 games – a span covering almost eight and a half football seasons – and lose only two more games.
Included in that run was a 49-game winning streak that stood as the Kansas state record for 11-man teams until the 2000 season. Notably, Emmot’s six consecutive unbeaten, untied seasons (1957-62) remains a record unmatched among Kansas high school football teams of all classes.
Obviously, since Chanute squared off against the Bulldogs each year as a fellow member of the Southeast Kansas League, several former Blue Comets are mentioned in the book.
Some of the CHS gridders named in the pages of “Go Hard” include:
Rick Clark, Russell Anderson, Bob Hawley, Bruce Benson, Bill White, Jerry Johnson, Oliver Ambler, Gary Grogan, Kenny Jones, Chuck Ambler, Don Umbarger, Mark Steeves, Richard Thompson, Ben Ennis, David Martin, Bobby Orr, and of course, the venerable Ralph Miller. Former Blue Comet coach Dick Purdy is quoted prominently in the book.
“Obviously, the book focuses on Emmot and his Bulldog players,” said Craig Null, the book’s author and a lifetime Independence resident. “But the opponents had a part to play in the story as well, and I think all residents of southeast Kansas will find the book interesting.”
Null said the early reviews of the book have been very positive, with most of the comments mentioning all of the nostalgic non-sports references in the book, providing the reader a sentimental look back at a bygone era.
“I love sports, history and small-town nostalgia, so it made sense to combine all three into a book,” said Null, a retired teacher and coach who also wrote for the Independence Reporter for 11 years before going into the classroom. “The book weaves all three of those areas together, giving readers a sense of how everything – not just sports – was ‘different back in the day.’
“One reader said the book reminded him of a Ken Burns’ documentary. That’s quite a compliment – and a comparison I’ll take any day.”
Emmot was a two-sport standout at Washburn University before embarking on a legendary Kansas high school football coaching career for Independence.
One of Emmot’s prep athletes became Washburn School of Law graduate Bill Kurtis – who gained notoriety for urging Topeka residents “For God’s sake, take cover!” during the massive tornado in 1966 – propelling Kurtis to a broadcasting career that influenced millions on a national stage over the past five decades.
“With the exception of my father, I don’t think I ever experienced another soul who had a more important impact on my life,” Kurtis said of Emmot, his tough, no-nonsense football coach at IHS, where Kurtis graduated in 1958.
Kurtis, who wrote the foreword to the book, continued, “I think his value was as a model of what a man could be. Not the body-slamming, screaming example he could show, but as one who cared so much about the goal that little else mattered. It became evident that many of his former players felt the same way I did, that the influence of Kayo set us on a course that was positive, full of confidence and, having experienced what it takes to win, installed a champion’s heart in us.”
For that reason, Kurtis believes the book appeals to a much broader readership base than just Independence residents.
“Go Hard will thrill anyone who has played or watched high school football. It captures the life lessons of amateur athletics and the impact a revered coach had on the young men whom he led,” Kurtis said.
At Washburn University, Emmot suited up against such coaching giants as Phog Allen of Kansas, Jack Gardner of Kansas State, and Henry Iba of Oklahoma A&M.
In a rematch with KU as a junior (a 52-34 Jayhawk victory on New Year’s Eve 1940), Emmot canned 10 of 13 free throws as the “midget forward” and led Washburn with a dozen points, going against the legendary likes of KU’s Ralph Miller, Dick Harp and Bobby Allen — the son of the legendary Jayhawks head coach.
Emmot later said of his performance that evening, “KU had the big names, Ralph Miller, Dick Harp – and they won the game, but I made monkeys out of those guys.”
Emmot was inducted into the Washburn University Athletic Hall of Fame in 1971 and the Kansas State High School Activities Association Hall of Fame in 1981.
Emmot died in 1996.
“Go Hard” is available on Amazon or by contacting the author at email@example.com