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Morning Sun
  • Educator, coach Hawkins honored at FSCC

  •  Professor Ernest J. Hawkins was an educated man with an extensive vocabulary, but there was one word the longtime Fort Scott educator and coach did not know.

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  •  Professor Ernest J. Hawkins was an educated man with an extensive vocabulary, but there was one word the longtime Fort Scott educator and coach did not know.
    “He said there was no such word as ‘can’t’,” said Anne Colum, one of several speakers Wednesday in a program honoring Hawkins at Fort Scott Community College. “He said that ‘can’t’ is a sluggard. That sent me to the dictionary to find out what a sluggard is.”
    A sluggard, someone who is habitually indolent and lazy, is the exact opposite of Hawkins. When he was told that African-American students could not participate in extracurricular activities sponsored by the Fort Scott schools,
    He established a basketball league for African-American students and a team, the Whirlwinds, which compiled an astonishing record of wins.
    For that, Hawkins, who died in 1946, has recently been posthumously inducted into the Kansas State High School Activities Association Hall of Fame. A plaque in his honor will be presented to Fort Scott High School.
    Speakers during the Wednesday program included historian Arnold Schofield, Don Miller, Fred Campbell, Anne Colum, Elouise Young, Kirk Sharp, Jill Warford and Roy Colum, the last known surviving member of the Whirlwinds.
    “This all started in 2006,” said Warford, director of the Gordon Parks Museum. “We had gotten a small grant and the project we were researching was ‘Buried Roots of African-American History in Fort Scott’.”
    Among that rich history they found Prof. Hawkins, and a Hawkins Committee was formed to research the remarkable man.
    “Prof. Hawkins was born in Fort Scott in1875,” Schofield said. “His parents, former slaves from Arkansas, came here in 1866. He graduated from Fort Scott High School in 1891, at the age of 16.
    Hawkins, who eventually earned a bachelor of science from Pittsburg State University, was a teacher at the first and second Plaza Schools for African-American students from 1900 until his death in 1946. The school was renamed in his honor as a tribute to  his memory.
    Hawkins organized his African-American basketball league and the Whirlwinds team in 1921.
    “This was approved by the Fort Scott School Board, but they provided no funding for it, and no compensation for Prof. Hawkins,” Schofield said.
    Nevertheless, the Whirlwinds did Fort Scott proud. On Jan. 21, 1921, the team won its first victory, battling a team from Olathe in Fort Scott. Many more victories followed.
    “The Whirlwinds played 420 games and won 380 of them,” Schofield said. “They also won a total of eight state championships, five of them between 1928 and 1934.”
    Hawkins was inducted into the Kansas Teachers Hall of Fame in 2001, and Robert Nelson told how that came about.
    “In 1997 a Uniontown High School student of Norm Conard was looking for a History Day project and he contacted Arnold Schofield,” Nelson said. “Arnold suggested Prof. Hawkins. Henry called his project “TEARS,” standing for ‘Teaching Excellence Against Racial Segregation’. It won at the local level and went to state.”
    Page 2 of 2 - Yount was so inspired by Hawkins’ story that he and Conard decided the professor should be in the Kansas Teachers Hall of Fame. However, when he nominated Hawkins, he received a letter saying that posthumous nominations were not accepted.
    “Henry submitted the nomination again and they eventually did accept it,” Nelson said.
    Sadly, Yount did not live to see Hawkins inducted, but died in a house fire on Nov. 5, 2000.
    “I gave the induction speech because Henry had passed,” Nelson said.
    Education was always a priority for Hawkins, and to be a member of the Whirlwinds, a young man had to first be a member of Ad Summa, a club recognizing high academic achievement.
    Roy Colum, the last surviving Whirlwind member, played on the team in its last year, after Hawkins had passed, but attended Plaza School  and knew the professor well as a teacher and principal.
    “He was a very disciplinary person,” Colum said. “He put the word out very strong. You didn’t like the discipline at the time, but as the years went on, you realized it was something good for you.”
    Don Miller, Fort Scott educator and coach, also spoke.
    “Prof. Hawkins was a man of conviction, a driver who would see that you got things done with dignity and class,” he said. “As I understand, I think he was a friend to all, and very interested in everyone being successful. I think he was a life coach, and I wish I could have seen his play book.”
    The KSHSAA nomination came from the Hawkins Committee, suggested by Kirk Sharp, whose parents attended Plaza School.
    “I thought for a lot of years that this was a story that needed to be shared,” Sharp said. “It’s so inspirational, you could write a book about this, or make a movie.  Prof.  Hawkins was a man of pride and honor and all those characteristics, and he had the respect of black and white people.”
    Research will continue Prof. Hawkins and Fort Scott’s rich history.
    “He was the winningest coach in basketball in Fort Scott High School history,” Schofield said. “We’re hoping to learn more and get more Whirlwinds trophies, a jersey, a cap, anything people may find in their attic. If anybody does find anything of this nature, we’re hoping they’ll contact Jill Warford at the Gordon Parks Museum.”
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