Jump to Navigation

Athletes and Sports in Kansas - Narka baseball and Glenn Cunningham

Evan Kvasnicka as a standout in his north central Kansas community of Narka. Kvasnicka played baseball as a high school student in the 1940s. After World War II, he and his good friend Glenn Pelesky began playing baseball for the Narka town team.

Kvasnicka was passionate about the game. He played third base and later outfield, while Pelesky played left field. The Narka ball diamond was located on private property at the edge of town. Fans drove their cars up to the field to view the game.

The Narka team was made up of volunteers who usually played Sunday afternoons from May to October. On the rare occasions when they played a double-header, Narka hired a pitcher. The team traveled a 50-mile radius to play opponents from Concordia to Superior, Nebraska. Practice was held on Wednesday nights and finished in time for the free movie showing off the side of a building in town.

The players supplied their own gloves, but local sponsors provided the remaining equipment. The Narka uniform, in use in the mid- 1940s, was patterned after that of the St. Louis Cardinals. The Cerny Brothers Hardware Company of Narka donated the uniforms. A liquor storeowner from Nebraska bought matching red sweatshirts.

The townsfolk loved to watch Narka games. Pelesky recalled there was “a barber who closed his barbershop during the baseball games so he and everyone else could attend the game. The barber also kept statistics on a bulletin board in his shop.”

Kvasnicka died in 1983. His daughter recently donated the Narka baseball uniform to the Historical Society’s Kansas Museum of History.

Personal items such as Kvasnicka’s help to tell the story of Kansas athletes. Sometimes these items and photographs connect Kansans to world events.

Long before Glenn Cunningham became known as a world-class miler, he was badly injured in a fire. The gasoline explosion killed Cunningham’s older brother at their country schoolhouse. Physicians told the eight-year-old Elkhart student he would never walk again; they even considered amputation.

Cunningham was so determined that he developed a training program to build back his strength. He found that running was sometimes less painful than walking. As a high school student Cunningham set world records for the one-mile run. At the University of Kansas, Cunningham’s numerous titles earned him the nicknames “Iron Horse of Kansas” and “Elkhart Express.”

When the 1936 Summer Olympics were held in Berlin, Cunningham qualified to compete. Tensions grew as Nazi Germany used the games to showcase their country.

In the 1500-meter finals, Cunningham ran his fastest race but lost to Jack Lovelock of New Zealand. Cunningham finished six-tenths of a second behind Lovelock and won a silver medal for the U.S. From Olympic Village, Cunningham wrote to longtime acquaintance Leslie Heath about the race.

“The Olympic Games are over as far as track and field is concerned. As you know I lost my 1500 m. race. Lovelock ran a beautiful race. The weather was cold and rainy all through the games. Our boys came through in most of the events. Personally I wished for some Kansas heat for my legs,” Cunningham wrote.

Cunningham went on to become the world’s fastest miler in 1938. Many people considered him the greatest American miler of all time.

Entry: Athletes and Sports in Kansas - Narka baseball and Glenn Cunningham

Author: Kansas Historical Society

Author information: The Kansas Historical Society is a state agency charged with actively safeguarding and sharing the state's history.

Date Created: January 2010

Date Modified: November 2012

The author of this article is solely responsible for its content.