Wednesday, February 08, 2006

The 10-Year-Old Kid Asked His Teacher, 'What's a Phi Beta Kappa?' The Answer Is Chuck Darling, Whose Number Should Be Retired At Iowa

I’m pretty sure we were the last family on our block to have a TV in our home.

I’m talking about when I was a kid.

I grew up on 18th Avenue in southwest Cedar Rapids, with Linwood cemetery to the east, Lincoln Elementary School to the west, Alex Stechcon’s place with pigs and pigeons to the south and the two gas stations to the north.

If we wanted to watch something on TV, my dad would either take me to the Duck Inn, a place known as a “beer joint” on 6th Street, or to my Uncle George’s house.

For some reason, Uncle George had a TV and we didn't. Nobody ever told me why.

Those were the days when they’d say it was “snowing” on TV. I think “snow” meant that the signal was so weak that the picture on the tube was virtually non-existent. That happened at the Duck Inn a lot.

In those days, I don’t think there were any TV stations in Cedar Rapids. Anything the "Bohemies," as they called us, wanted to watch had to come from Davenport or Moline.

My dad and I were at the Duck Inn one Saturday afternoon, thinking we were going to watch a college football game on TV.

“Damn it, it’s snowing!” said a guy who was drinking a Hamms.

I don’t think that guy realized the weather wasn’t causing the problem. It was the poor TV signal.

Anyway, one winter night my dad took me to Uncle George’s place because an Iowa basketball game was on TV.

That, of course, was a big deal. There weren’t many games of any kind on the tube then –- certainly very few played by Iowa.

That night, a player named Chuck Darling [right] would be in uniform for the Hawkeyes. For a kid my age, watching the 6-8 Chuck Darling play for Iowa was a very extraordinary thing.

I’ve forgotten which team won the game that my dad and I saw at my Uncle George’s home on Williams Boulevard. Darling lettered in 1950, 1951 and 1952 at Iowa, and I can’t even recall which season it was that we saw the big guy play on TV.

Anyway, after all those years, my friend Al Schallau brought Chuck Darling’s name up to to me the other day.

Al, who grew up in Iowa and now is an attorney in California, thinks it’s time the University of Iowa retired Darling’s jersey number.

“I really would like to have your support in an effort to get Chuck’s No. 27 officially retired,” Schallau told me. “When anyone asks me, ‘Who was the greatest Hawkeye basketball player you ever saw?’ – my answer is always Chuck Darling."

Al, you've got my support.

“His number should have been officially retired many years ago," Schallau said. "The Rules Committee has already retired his number because, in college basketball, a player cannot wear a digit on his back that is higher than 5.

“But he should be accorded that honor by the University of Iowa, where he was a Phi Beta Kappa, a first-team all-American and later won an Olympic gold medal as a member of the 1956 U.S. basketball team [left].”

[In the Olympic photo, Schallau says Darling is "the tall dude with glasses in the back row. He's standing between No. 4 and Bill Russell]."

Schallau says Darling “is the embodiment of everything that is great about the University of Iowa.”

Because Darling, who now lives in Centennial, Colo., was ahead of my time at Iowa [I enrolled at the university the year after Chuck graduated], I asked Schallau for more information on him.

“I remember Chuck most for his senior year in 1952 when he was a first-team all-American,” Schallau said. “He averaged 25.5 points per game and he had the most beautiful hook shot [with either hand] that I have ever seen.

“In 1973, Bill Russell told me that Darling, Clyde Lovellette and Cliff Hagan were the three greatest hook shooters he ever played against. But Darling was the only one who could shoot hook shots equally well with either hand.”

Schallau said the game he recalls the most was against Illinois in Darling’s senior season.

“The game was in Iowa City,” Schallau said. “Johnny Kerr played center for Illinois, and he was very good. Chuck got tagged with four personal fouls during the first 10 minutes. But coach Bucky O’Connor left him in the game, and Chuck played the full 40 minutes in Iowa’s 73-68 victory.

“Chuck was tough as nails in the pivot and was an exceptional rebounder. But he was also an excellent free throw shooter. He shot his free throws underhanded – Rick Barry style – and he made over 80 percent of them.

“Where Darling inspired me the most was by his academic achievement as a Phi Beta Kappa. I was 10 years old and living in Williamsburg, Ia., in 1952. I went to my teacher and asked her, ‘What is a Phi Beta Kappa, and how does one get to be a Phi Beta Kappa?’

“She told me, and her words motivated me more to want to excel in academic efforts. I didn’t make Phi Beta Kappa at Iowa, but I did well enough to be accepted by the University of Southern California School of Law.”

Darliing was named the Big Ten’s most valuable player in 1952. He holds the Iowa record, at 30, for the most rebounds in a game. He’s a member of Iowa’s All-Century Team and the All-Time All-Big Ten Team.

After his Hawkeye career, he was a standout for the Phillips Oilers' amateur basketball team.

Players whose numbers have been retired at Iowa include B. J. Armstrong, Ronnie Lester, Carl Cain, Bill Seaberg, Bill Logan, Bill Schoof, Sharm Scheuerman, Christ Steet and Greg Stokes.