Community and Coincidence: Researching Sports History in Linn County

This year, KHC features weekly posts related to the Smithsonian Institution traveling exhibition Hometown Teams, currently touring Kansas.

Linn County got its first football team 100 years ago, in 1915.  Image Courtesy La Cygne Historical Society.

Linn County got its first football team 100 years ago, in 1915. Image Courtesy La Cygne Historical Society.

When Linn County Partner Site Project Director Janet Reynolds, primary researcher Ruth Reynolds and other members of the community were considering what topics to feature in their local Hometown Teams partner exhibit, they kept finding that conversations about one topic inevitably led to another.

For example, they knew that they wanted to display a baseball uniform, glove and ball used by Hank Helm, a pitcher who played for La Cygne’s semi-professional baseball team in the 1920s. La Cygne’s team regularly faced off against ball clubs from nearby towns like New Lancaster—even, occasionally, against professional teams, who they would play in exhibition games.

Helm had a particularly interesting story, they learned. He’d been good enough to play for the Kansas City Blues, a minor league team. But talent couldn’t compensate for homesickness, and Helm returned to La Cygne to be with his new baby girl.

Helm’s story led the Reynolds sisters to another: a local woman who found a jersey from La Cygne’s long-ago semi-pro team in a thrift store in Missouri.

“A lot of it’s been coincidence,” Janet said.

Also coincidence: that the exhibit takes place on football’s centennial in La Cygne, providing a perfect opportunity to celebrate that sport’s history in the area.

Football came to town in 1915 through “Doc” Morrison, the local doctor, who also served as scorekeeper for a number of teams and coach of the first football team.

But what started out as just “a kernel of an idea” to celebrate the town’s football history expanded through discussions with the community, Ruth Reynolds said.

That’s when people in the area brought up the 1970 state champion football team from local Prairie View High School, who went undefeated in pursuit of the Buffaloes’ only state championship to date. That team celebrates its 45th anniversary this year, and people were already looking to commemorate it—another coincidence.

“It all kind of winds and ties together,” Janet added.

The exhibit celebrating Linn County’s local sports history will be on display at the La Cygne Library between August and October, with various exhibitions also on display in the La Cygne Historical Museum between Memorial Day and the Christmas Homes Tour. For more information, visit www.lacygnelibrary.org or https://sites.google.com/site/lacygnehs.