Kevin Haskin: Brett Cowdin, Sherman Parks Jr. instrumental in restoring baseball in USD 501

Longtime advocates for activities to be enshrined in Shawnee County Baseball Hall of Fame

Brett Cowdin, left, and Sherman Parks Jr., right, are two of several individuals who will be inducted into the Shawnee County Baseball Hall of Fame on Thursday. (File photo/Capital-Journal and Submitted)

The movement to revive baseball in USD 501 was far from unusual in the early 1990s.

 

The sport had already been added in other Shawnee County high schools when Sherman Parks Jr. desired the same opportunity for kids attending Highland Park, Topeka High and Topeka West.

“He was very anxious to get baseball reinstated and did get it reinstated,’’ said former USD 501 administrator Ned Nusbaum. “Sherman was such a promoter and pusher for things that were good activities for kids.’’

Baseball was particularly dear to Parks, a native Topekan who played for Washburn from 1969-72 and graduated with a law degree. He facilitated his passion for restoring the sport in USD 501 (Topeka High captured a state championship in 1947, but baseball was later disbanded), while serving as a member and president of the school board.

Another baseball advocate who worked alongside Parks was Brett Cowdin, who then coached at Highland Park.

Cowdin eventually initiated the Scots’ program and coached baseball at other Shawnee County high schools, while also launching two summer teams for collegiate players, the Topeka Golden Giants and Rossville Rattlers.

For their roles as baseball builders, and their accomplishments on the diamond, both Cowdin and Parks will be inducted posthumously Thursday into the Shawnee County Baseball Hall of Fame. The 6 p.m. ceremony will be at the Downtown Ramada Inn and Convention Center.

“One of Sherman’s goals was to bring baseball back into the schools,’’ recalled his wife, Blanche Parks. “He worked real hard on it and had a chart he made of who to contact and how it would work in the schools. He worked with different people in the community to make it happen.’’

One of those people was Cowdin.

Back then, Cowdin worked with jumpers competing in track and field for Highland Park, where he also served as a football assistant for a program Ken Caywood coached as far as the Class 5A semifinals.

During summers, however, Cowdin coached baseball. In particular, teams involving his sons, Tych and Tobi.

“I think I was in elementary school then, but I remember Highland Park was starting from scratch,’’ Tych said. “It was all hands on deck getting kids and practicing. A lot of kids in that community hadn’t played much baseball and then they got to and it was neat to see that come together.’’

The crowning achievement for USD 501 baseball after it was restored came in 2003 when Cowdin coached Topeka West to a 5A state championship.

The Chargers went 23-2 that season, but one of the defeats proved invaluable.

“We were playing Topeka High and I think we had to go to Billard and there were six or seven guys late to the first game,’’ recalled West’s first baseman, Daniel Heflin.

“I think there was some construction going on and maybe a bridge was out and guys showed up 15 minutes late back when we were driving our own cars. He sat those guys and that was one of the games we lost, but he was trying to make better men out of us.’’

Heflin and Tych Cowdin, a shortstop on West’s championship squad, routinely played on the same summer teams from the time they were 8. Once, while horsing around at the Cowdin home, they knocked a television off its stand.

“Years later, coach is at Washburn Rural and I came back for a game. They were beating West pretty bad at halftime and I decided to leave,’’ Heflin said.

“I saw coach Cowdin as I was walking out and he gave me a hug and told me he loved me. I will always remember that. I think about him just about every day and how he had that sense of humor about him, too. As I started walking away, he said, ‘You still owe me my TV.’ ’’

That was their last conversation. Cowdin died unexpectedly in 2013. He was 54.

Parks also died far too young, in 2002. He was 51.

Before prep baseball was approved for USD 501 schools, one of the bigger concerns was finding enough adequate diamonds on which to practice and play. Billard Park was used. Also, McDonald Field. Then Hummer Sports Park was built and appropriately, a baseball field was named after Parks.

“I’ve seen literally thousands of games. That was his favorite sport,’’ Blanche Parks recalled. “He would have the skill to hit the ball out of the entire ballpark. Then he would run around the bases and kind of wave.’’

Cowdin, a graduate of Topeka West and Washburn, happened to wave in many of the best to play high school baseball in Shawnee County.

In addition to Highland Park and Topeka West, Cowdin also coached Hayden to two state baseball titles and two runner-up finishes.

He coached baseball at Rossville before heading to Rural and assisting with football. One of his best players at Hayden, John Tetuan, now directs the baseball team at Topeka West.

“I think what drove my dad,’’ said son Tych, “was to inspire others to give back in some way.’’

Both Cowdin and Parks set great examples.

Contact Kevin Haskin at kevin.haskin@cjonline.com or @KevinHaskin on Twitter.

Mayoral elections are Aug. 2
MARK SCHEVE 11 days ago
Nice article about two fine people.
Daniel Grace 9 days ago
I actually caught the only game Sherman Parks pitched  and coached with Brett Cowdin ,  Great people  
 

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