Cy Sickles – East’s Explosive, Irrepressible Basketball Coach

Coach Sickles’ career at East began in 1951 as an assistant basketball coach, a position he held until 1956.  He then became head coach, a stint that lasted twelve years.

Considered a coaching legend, Sickles amassed a record of 221 wins and only 56 losses.  His teams never finished lower than second in the City League.  Although he never had a losing season at East, his teams only won one state title, 1961-62, when the team finished the season with a 24-1 record.  During those twelve years as head coach, Sickles’ teams missed playing in a state tournament only twice.

Players on East’s 1960 basketball team remember that Coach Sickles suffered a heart incident and missed the championship game with Wyandotte.  East had beaten this rival earlier in the season. Some team members attributed the narrow loss of the state championship to the absence of their very effective coach. At left, Coach Sickles admires the championship trophy won by the Aces at the hotly competitive Dodge City Tournament with team stars Gerald Burton and Steve Buxton.

Walt Shublom, legendary coach of East’s rival Wyandotte High School, commented that Sickles was a fiery kind of coach, but “a great old guy” who always had his kids ready to play.

Gerald Fry ’60, wrote about Sickles in My Life as a Sports Nut, published on this website. “Cy Sickles, our Athletic Director, had an innovative spirit.  Somehow, he learned that there was a Wichita Unicycle Club, which included those who played basketball on unicycles.  Mr. Sickles had the idea of arranging for East students in the club to perform at the halftime of Shocker games at the new Round House.  His idea was accepted and we performed a number of times before large crowds at the Round House.  I got to ride the really tall unicycle and be the center near the rim.  As a “reward” for our efforts, Cy made us all official members of the Wichita High School East gymnastics team.” Fry attributes having an athletic experience to list on his college submissions a crucial factor in being accepted to Stanford, and study there had a profound effect on his life.(Left, Cy Sickles, 1958; right, Gerald Fry in 1960)

Gene Carter, as manager of the basketball team, witnessed different sides of Sickles’ personality and approach to players. His volcanic explosions could be genuine or not.  His volume varied from soft-spoken to forceful.  Yet, he was a happy hummer, and loved traditional folk songs.  “My best memory is my first weeks when I had the job of laundering practice outfits.  Neither of us knew anything about the washers.  We reasoned it was a hard practice so we put in lots of soap,  I recall mounds of suds bursting around all sides of the slanted front-loader.  At one point Cy muttered, ‘Well, that’s too much.  Do we mop or what? I guess shut if off.’  He fled.”

Dick Zinn, ’59, recalls the story of Cy and the white chair.  A white, wooden, 1950’s  vintage office chair, equipped with casters, has little animation or personality – unless it’s Cy Sickles’ chair.  Then it comes to life as the court-side venue for the successful, volcanic, irrepressible, and entertaining (unless viewed from the perspective of a basketball official) Blue Aces basketball coach during the late 1950’s and early 1960’s.

During East games, Cy exploded from the white chair so often that he appeared to be coaching gymnastics, not basketball.   Because the explosions usually were accompanied by shouts about incompetence directed toward the game officials, the Wichita City League directors imposed the “Cy Rule.”  The rule said, in effect, “Cy, remain in your chair during the game or a technical foul will be called.”  How could Cy manage?

He did, but not as anticipated by the City League directors. East students of that era will remember that the gym was supported by steel pillars throughout the facility.  Fortunately for Cy, one of them was near the East bench and the domain of Cy and his white chair.  Although he remained seated in the white chair, he would place his feet on the pillar, push off as if shot out of a circus cannon, and roll along court-side while hurling verbal abuse at the officials.  The rolling white chair thus enabled Cy to continue to explode at will, to abuse the game officials, to amuse the players and fans, and to frustrate the City League directors who neglected to be forewarned about the animated white chair.

The fate of the white chair is unknown, but its memory, along with Cy’s, lives on for East basketball players and fans during his successful reign as coach for the Blue Aces.

Sickles retired from coaching in 1968 because “The thrill had gone.  When the victories weren’t as important as they once were and the losses hurt more than they ever did,” it was time to quit.  He moved  on to serve as vice-principal at Mead Junior High for 2 1/2 years until his death at the age of 55 from a heart attack.  Allen Douglas, the head basketball coach at Mead, commented, “I think he missed the kids more than anything.”

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