Oct. 27, 2011
Lee Flachsbarth (Football, Men’s Basketball 1959-63)
Flachsbarth was an integral part of the 1961 Bluebonnet Bowl team, which was the first KU squad to win a bowl game. The Atchison, Kansas native came to Lawrence as a quarterback, but an injury forced him to halfback and paved the way for KU legend John Hadl to take his place behind center. During his collegiate career, Flachsbarth split time between Memorial Stadium and Allen Fieldhouse as he saw limited playing time as a center for the men’s basketball team. After coaching high school football in the Shawnee Mission area, he returned to Lawrence to work in radio sales and has raised his family in the town he once went to school and played football in.
You recently joined your other teammates who were apart of the 1961 Bluebonnet Bowl team for a weekend in Lawrence, is it hard to believe it has been a half of a century?
“Yes it is because it seems like it was just yesterday. Being back here has been very difference from being away from Lawrence, because I see what is going on and see people who come back from different occasions, but 50 years?, No, because in my wildest dreams I would have not thought it could have ever been that long from those days. I had my high school 50 year reunion back in 2008 and I looked around and said, ‘who are all these old people!?”
What was it like to play on a team with such great talent and coaching?
“These guys here were a great group to play with and be associated with and we had a really close coaching staff. Historically though, we were the first Kansas team to win a bowl game, so that will go down in the memoirs, but it was just awesome playing with those guys.”
What do you remember as best individual moment out on the field during your Jayhawk career?
“Well I had one outstanding game when we played Boston University in Lawrence and I believe I threw for three touchdowns and ran for one. I had a heck of day, so when we had our quarterback meeting the following Monday, coach (Jack) Mitchell sat in on a part of it and said, ‘you know what? You had a heck of a game and did a great job, I am really proud of you… but you know, they weren’t very good’. So he let the air out of me pretty quick and made me humble.”
You actually got your start on the Jayhawks at quarterback, what was the reason you switched to halfback?
“Well, I redshirted after my sophomore year because I got hurt at Colorado, which was around the second to last game of the year. I was playing quarterback at the time behind Duane Morris (1957-59), who was the senior quarterback, so when I redshirted they moved John Hadl (19591-61) to quarterback and they moved me to halfback. In a way, I made an All-American out of John Hadl and I remind him that every time I see him. If it wasn’t for me, he would have been an All-American halfback.”
How would you say the game has changed since you last played?
“It has changed tremendously. The size, the strength and speed at the skill positions has improved. When I played, we ran a double tight end and didn’t have flankers, we also hardly threw the ball at all. We would work on it in practice all the time though and coach Mitchell would say, ‘We’re going to throw the ball 30 times this week’, so I would get all hot and bothered getting ready for it and then we would run the dive, the option and the fullback but we didn’t throw the ball that much. But I would say today, the size factor is the main thing. I was actually one of the biggest guys when I played at 6-5, 215 lbs, but that would be kind of small now.”
What has being a Jayhawk meant to you?
“Well other than my family, my church and my flag, the Jayhawks rank right up there. It is amazing because when I used to travel a lot, I could go anywhere and somewhere I would run into a Jayhawk. My daughter went to the University of Arizona and she played volleyball there. The first time we went out to visit her in the fall for a football game, I was sitting there in the stands with just a plain Jayhawk shirt on and this guy started tapping me on the shoulder and said, ‘I’m from Pittsburg, Kansas and you played quarterback at the University of Kansas’. That just blew my mind because I had been out of school 37 years and he still knew who I was.”
How often do you go back to Memorial Stadium and watch a game?
“I’ve got season tickets, so I go to all the football games. I won’t miss one. I would say my favorite game that I watched in the stands would be against OU, when Bobby Skahan (1964-65) was the quarterback for KU and we scored on the first play of the game and the last play of the game to beat the Sooners. I was coaching at Shawnee Mission North at the time and all the coaching staff came up for the game because most of them were KU grads, so that was an exciting game.”
What did you do professionally after leaving Memorial Stadium and KU?
“I have been with the local radio stations here in Lawrence (KLWN, KLZR and the Bull) going on 23 years. I am kind of part time now and serve as a consultant as I have graduated from sales agent. I raised my family here locally and most of my kids live within a thirty mile radius. I have five grown children and seven grandchildren, with one on the way.”
If you had any advice to current student athletes, whether on the field or in life, what would it be?
“First of all I would say, go to class and get your education and just do what’s right. I think that is the main thing because when you are at the university you have tutors, coaches and others looking after you all the time, but once you graduate you are pretty much on your own. That is why you have to learn how to do it right when you are in school and then apply those principles later on in life. If you do that, you will be successful.”