‘Mr. K-State’ Ernie Barrett dies at 93

Ernie Barrett dies at 93.
Ernie Barrett dies at 93.(Kansas State University)
Published: Apr. 21, 2023 at 11:08 AM CDT
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WICHITA, Kan. (KWCH) - Legendary K-State athlete Ernie Barrett, affectionately known as ‘Mr. K-State,’ and known for his trademark firm handshake, died on Friday at age 93 in Manhattan.

A memorial service is planned for 1 p.m., CT on Thursday, April 27 at Bramlage Coliseum with a reception to follow in the Shamrock Zone. The service and reception are open to the public.

Barrett is survived by his wife of 72 years, Bonnie, his son Brad and a grandson Ryan and wife, Lauren. He was preceded in death by his parents (Ernie and Ruby Barrett) and son Duane.

Born in Pratt on Aug. 27, 1929, Barrett called Wellington his home. He he led Wellington High School to its only state championship in 1947 as an all-state basketball player. Recruited by the likes of Kansas’ Phog Allen and Oklahoma State’s Henry Iba out of high school, Barrett chose Kansas State, beginning a long association in 1948 when he entered the university as a freshman basketball player for Hall of Fame head coach Jack Gardner and then freshman coach and future Hall of Famer Fred “Tex” Winter.

Barrett was a two-time graduate of the university, earning a bachelor’s degree in physical education in 1951 and a master’s degree in journalism in 1956.

During his near 75-year association with K-State, Barrett served the university as a student-athlete (1948-51), assistant basketball coach (1958-64), assistant athletics director (1963-69), director of athletics (1969-75), university consultant (1988-91) and director of development (1991-2007).

His list of accolades and achievements is nearly endless.

As a student-athlete, he captained the 1950-51 team that opened Ahearn Field House while guiding the Wildcats to the Final Four as the school’s first consensus All-American. As an assistant to Winter, he was part of two Final Fours (1959 and 1964) and five Big Eight titles from 1958-64. Later as athletics director and fundraiser, he was instrumental in the hiring of legendary coach Jack Hartman as men’s basketball coach in 1970 and helped spearhead numerous athletics facilities, including Bill Snyder Family Stadium, Colbert Hills Golf Course, Tointon Family Stadium and R.V. Christian Track and Field Complex.

Barrett was a charter member of the K-State Athletics Hall of Fame in 1990, while the university erected a statue of him in front of Bramlage Coliseum in 1999 as a tribute to his many contributions. He was named to the State of Kansas Sports Hall of Fame in 1996. He was selected to the school’s 13-member All-Century Basketball Team in 2003. His No. 22 jersey hangs in the rafters of Bramlage Coliseum after he was honored by the school in 2005.

Barrett was associated with three of K-State’s four all-time Final Four appearances, including the first in 1951 as a player and two as an assistant coach in 1959 and 1964, while he was part of teams that won a combined seven Big Seven or Big Eight Conference titles (1950, 1951, 1959, 1960, 1961, 1963, 1964).

As a basketball player, Barrett famously led the Wildcats to their first and only NCAA Championship game during his storybook senior season in 1950-51, while earning First Team All-America honors on the team that opened historic Ahearn Field House. He averaged a team-leading 10.3 points as a senior en route to helping K-State to a 25-4 overall record, which included the Big Seven Holiday Tournament and Big Seven regular-season titles and the league’s automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament.

In the tournament, the Wildcats defeated No. 12 Arizona, No. 11 BYU and No. 2 Oklahoma State to set up a matchup with Kentucky in the NCAA title. Due to a shoulder injury, he was limited to just 4 points in the championship game, which the Wildcats lost 68-58.

Overall, the Wildcats were 54-22 (.711) during Barrett’s 3-year playing career, which included a pair of Big Seven Conference titles in 1950 and 1951. He scored 675 points in 77 career games.

As a senior, Barrett earned First Team All-America honors from the Helms Foundation, The Sporting News and International News Service, while he was selected for second team honors by Converse Yearbook and Look magazine as well as third team honors from the UPI. He was also unanimous First Team All-Big Seven.

Upon graduating from K-State, Barrett was one of his four Wildcats taken in the 1951 NBA Draft, as the Boston Celtics took him with the seventh pick of the first round. Due to his service in the U.S. Air Force from 1951-53, he deferred his commitment with the Celtics until 1953, playing two seasons (1953-54 and 1955-56) for the legendary Red Auerbach and alongside Hall of Fame player Bob Cousy, helping the Celtics to the Eastern Division finals twice.

Barrett returned to his alma mater as assistant alumni secretary for the K-State Alumni Association in 1955 before becoming an assistant coach for Winter in 1958. He spent six seasons (1958-64) on Winter’s staff, helping the Wildcats to a 123-36 (.774) record cumulating in the 1964 Final Four. The team shared or won the Big Eight regular-season title five times in his six seasons on the coaching staff, boasting a 72-12 (.857) mark in conference play, with Final Four appearances in 1959 and 1964.

Barrett moved full-time into the administrative ranks in the fall of 1964 before succeeding Bebe Lee as the school’s director of athletics on March 10, 1969. He was the first Kansas-born athlete to lead the department. He spent seven years (1969-75) leading the athletics department, in which, he hired the school’s all-time winningest coach Jack Hartman while leading fundraising campaigns for KSU Stadium (now Bill Snyder Family Stadium), the athletic dormitory and the R.V. Christian Track and Field Complex.

After leaving for the private sector, Barrett returned to his alma mater in 1991 as the department’s director of development for which he served until his retirement in 2007.