Six-Foot-3 French Stood
Head And Shoulders Above Foes
Standing just 6 feet, 3 inches tall, Bill French might be the shortest Hutchinson Community College center to ever earn All-America basketball honors.
But those who watched him play all offered the opinion that French stood head and shoulders above the competition.
French is a posthumous inductee to the 2016 Class of the Blue Dragon Quarterback Club Hall of Fame.
A Reno County native, French first earned notoriety on the basketball court at Pretty Prairie High School, where he graduated in 1958. Hutchinson Community College Hall of Fame coach Sam Butterfield convinced French to play for the blue Dragons and he became a two-year starter for the Blue Dragons.
While only standing 6-3, French was a center in Butterfield’s fast-paced offense who used a soft left-handed touch to baffle opposing defenders. With a broad set of shoulders and a good mentality of playing inside, French more than held his own against taller players.
“He had good hands and a wide body and long arms,” teammate Herb Stange said. “He was able to use his skills of quickness around big guys, his broadness and strength to go get rebounds.”
“He wasn’t a jumper, but he took a lot of space,” French’s roommate Darrell Fouser said. “He always found a way to get around his man and teams weren’t ready for him to go to his left and he had a little left-handed hook.”
In French’s freshman season in 1959, the Blue Dragons went 18-8. That team had several injuries, but French led the 1959 Blue Dragons to a Jayhawk Conference title.
In 1960, the Blue Dragons went 24-7 and won the conference title once again. In 1959, Hutchinson lost to Arkansas City in the Region VI Tournament. French made sure that wouldn’t happen again as the Blue Dragons defeated the Tigers 61-58 in the 1960 regional championship game to earn a berth in the NJCAA Tournament.
French and the Blue Dragons advanced all the way to the national semifinals, but lost 82-80 in double-overtime loss to Tyler Junior College and the Blue Dragons wound up sixth in the tournament.
French was named to the 1960 All-Tournament Team as well as a 1960 second-team NJCAA All-American. He averaged 17 points and nine rebounds per game during his sophomore season.
“We had a good ballclub,” Fouser said. “We won 25 home games in a row. Bill was a big, big part of that.”
To make a go of it on the court, French had a never-ending battle off of it. He was diagnosed with diabetes at age 14.
“He always had to have oranges and an insulin shot at halftime,” Stange said. “To be the type of athlete that he was, that was pretty exceptional.”
“There wasn’t the technology like there is today and he wasn’t able to test his blood sugar like people can today, so it was a tough road,” French’s sister-in-law, Patty French, said. “He had to be very careful.”
From Hutchinson, French transferred to the University of Wyoming. After his playing days were over, French returned to Hutchinson where he was a science teacher at Union Valley School.
On November 30, 1968, French and his wife, Mary Kay, were killed in car crash.
“It was Thanksgiving weekend,” Patty French recalled. “He went into diabetic shock and drove off the side of the road. It was very traumatic situation and it was very emotional thing here.”
In honor of French and his achievements, the American Legion for the 1969 NJCAA Tournament named the tournament’s Most Valuable Player trophy after the Blue Dragon All-American.
“It’s too bad his life was cut short too early,” Fouser said of his two-year roommate. “He was an outstanding person and a good citizen all the way around. He had a good outlook on life.”