April 1, 2014
By Mark Janssen
For those relatively new to the Kansas State sports scene, the name Larry Dixon may not mean a thing. But for those who followed the Wildcats in 1968 and 1969, there was a non-athlete from back east who caused a ruckus in the stands to help the Wildcats to many a victory.
His name: Larry "Bring On The Cats!" Dixon.
He was K-State's "Mike Man" as a part of the Wildcat cheer squad for the 1968 and 1969 football years, and for the 1968-69 basketball campaign ... before Mizzou coach Norm Stewart stepped in. We'll have more on that later.
ARRIVING AT K-STATE WAS A MISTAKE ... SORT OF:
Larry Dixon had just graduated from high school in Glassboro, N.J., and had landed a job with AT&T splicing cables during the following early-winter months in Rochester, N.Y.
"I didn't want to go to college out of high school (1965), but when I was splicing those cables outside in the winter I decided maybe I should give college a try," said Dixon, adding a reflective laugh. "My dad said I could come home as long as I did something worthwhile with my life."
Admitting that he "wasn't much into academics" in high school, that prevented him from getting into schools on the east coast. With that being the case, Dixon decided to follow a cousin to Kansas State.
At least he 'thought' he was following a cousin to Kansas State.
"My cousin said he was going to K-State to play basketball, but ended up in a school called Bowie State in Maryland," said Dixon. "When I told him that I had been accepted at Kansas State and wanted to go back with him for the second semester, he admitted to me, and his family for the first time, that he had never gone to Kansas State, but was in Maryland."
What followed was a series of firsts with Dixon's arrival at K-State.
It was his first plane ride: Philadelphia to Kansas City; from Kansas City to Manhattan.
"Getting to Kansas City was OK, but that leg from Kansas City to Manhattan on that small plane was rough," recalled Dixon, who added that it was the first time he had been west of the state of Pennsylvania.
Arriving at the Manhattan airport and not knowing a person, or even the direction to the campus, as Dixon picks up the story, "Mr. (Harry) Wareham ... the guy that owned the theater and hotel ... came up to me and said, 'Young man, do you need a ride?' He took me to Goodnow Hall. That was a great first impression of the people of Manhattan and Kansas State. What a kind act."
IN THE MINORITY:
By Dixon's count, there were 32 African Americans - 24 men (21 of those were student-athletes) and 8 women - on the Kansas State campus at mid-year in 1966.
"I didn't know a person and it was a different culture. I knew returning home wasn't an option, but I wasn't happy knowing I had to say," said Dixon.
After a sluggish start, the Manhattan/Kansas State community started to grow on Dixon as the Business Education major battled his way through academic probation during his third semester. But by his junior year in 1968-69, it was Dixon who grew on the K-State Nation.
KSU's Black Student Union was making a push to get a black male yell leader, and a couple black female cheerleaders. The BSU president was desperate for individuals to try out, so Dixon was coaxed into what would be a two-man tryout.
"I was a high school athlete who had no intention of being on a cheering squad," said Dixon, who was his high school's Athlete of the Year and a four-sport letterman. "I said, 'No way in the world do I want that type of position.' "
Well, Dixon became the school's first "Mike Man," while the other candidate became K-State's yell leader.
"I guess I was a natural because I enjoyed talking," said Dixon, who would later marry a "Gibson Girl". "My first job was at a pep rally with about two games left in the (1968) season. My job was to get people enthused about football. Afterward, Vince (coach Gibson) came up to me and said, 'You're just what we need!' "
*** On Wednesday: The man behind the mike ***