Mahoney "Invents" Pass into Hall

Editor's Note:  This is the fourth in a four-part series, exclusive to OSR, on Kansas Staters who will be inducted into the Kansas Sports Hall of Fame in Wichita on Sunday. The lineup includes Steve Henson, Ken Swenson, Don Calhoun and Ken Mahoney. This story originally ran in the Oct. 2, 2009 edition of the Kansas State Official Sports Report. To signup for your free subscription to the Kansas State Official Sports Report, visit www.officialsportsreport.com.

by Mark Janssen, Senior Writer, Kansas State Official Sports Report

MANHATTAN, Kan. - As a Kansas State Wildcat basketballer from 1946-49, Ken Mahoney scored 30 points - 12 field goals and 6 free throws. From that beginning, we come to Sunday when Mahoney enters the Kansas Sports Hall of Fame in Wichita.

Walk into any professional, collegiate or high school basketball arena in America, or go to any basketball practice, and you'll likely see why the soon to be 85-year-old Mahoney is being enshrined.

Mahoney is credited with inventing the "Tossback" that coaches use all over the country as a coaching tool, the snap-back rim designed to prevent the shattering of backboards, and the current design of the backboards that hang in every gymnasium.

K-State coaching legend Tex Winter said of Mahoney, "Basketball has been Ken's whole life. He's someone who has been overlooked for the contribution he has made for basketball."

The start of the "Tossback" started when Winter was an assistant to Jack Gardner, and Mahoney was a Wildcat senior. At that time the program was preparing to make the move from the quaint Nichols Gymnasium to the vastness of Ahearn Field House.

With the distance from the basketball goal to the wall being no more than a stride in Nichols, as Mahoney reflects, "Tex would throw the ball off the wall, it would bounce back to the player and he could work on drills and his footwork. Then we went over to the new place and there were no walls by the court."

Mahoney, along with his brother Elmo, would return to his home in Dorrance (population 250 just southeast of Russell in central Kansas) and go to work developing an iron frame supporting a strong webbing that would allow players to work on pass-and-catch drills.

Baseball already had its pitchback, and now basketball had its version called a "Tossback."

In the late-1970s, Darryl "Chocolate Thunder" Dawkins was shattering backboards throughout the NBA creating lengthy delays in televised games, not to mention adding costs to replace the equipment.

As a country boy, Mahoney had worked with equipment that would snap back if it hit a rock. With that experience, he invented the snap-back rim.

"There was an old high school gym across the street from the St. Patrick's Cathedral in New York City and the NBA invited six of us in to show our product," said Mahoney, who now resides in a rest home in Russell. "They brought in former players off the street and gave them a few bucks to see if they could tear our rims down."

With the support of the legendary UCLA coach John Wooden, the NBA accepted Mahoney's concept that originated in a small limestone building on the isolated prairies of central Kansas.

It was also about this time that the NBA feared serious injury would result from players hitting their heads on the bottom of the backboards, which at the time were nine feet off the floor.

It was Mahoney's simplistic idea to cut six inches off the bottom of the board and today's backboards are now 9-feet, 6-inches off the floor.

And that rubber padding that covers the entirety of the backboard? That's Mahoney's invention, as well.

In the late 1980s, the company was sold to St. Louis-based Gared Sports, who, in Mahoney's words, "Paid me better than I could pay myself."

Today, Mahoney's sons, Tom and Tony, are operating Pro-Bound Sports out of the same limestone building in Dorrance with a focus on soccer goals, bleachers for sporting events and score tables.

Oh, back to Ken Mahoney, the player?

"I wasn't much," he admits with a chuckle.

As the story goes, Mahoney was one of 200 KSU students who tried out for the K-State program in 1947 and was one of only two or three kept.

"I still remember Gardner coming over and pinning a number on my underwear," Mahoney said.