MY TOWN WITH JENNIFER LANE: WICHITA, KS

My Town is a feature to VCUathletics.com where we give an in-depth look into the hometowns of one or several of our student-athletes. For this trip, we head to the Mid-West to take a look at Wichita, KS. It is the home of junior women's basketball Jennifer Lane. VCU Athletic Communications Graduate Assistant Mollie Wallace sat down with Lane to talk about her hometown in the "Sunflower State".

Kansas…I don't know about you but the first thing that comes to my mind when I think about Kansas is the Wizard of Oz. I used to love that movie when I was little but would always fast forward to the color part (I didn't appreciate black and white cinema until much later). So a runaway girl in pig tails with a little dog was about the extent of my Kansas knowledge….but not any more.

Kansas is a very interesting place. It was the 34th state to join the union and its nickname is the "Sunflower State". Kansas also boasts the largest population of wild grouse in North America, more commonly known as the prairie chicken. And if you ever travel through the state be sure to sing or at least hum "Home on the Range" because it is the state song.

But it is pretty important to know that in Wichita, before proceeding through the intersection of Douglas and Broadway, a motorist is required to get out of their vehicle and fire three shots gun rounds into the air. Why is that important to know? Well in case you were to ever go and visit the hometown of women's basketball junior Jennifer Lane.

"It is small but it has a lot of the same things that bigger cities might have," commented Lane. "One of the best things about Wichita is that you can pretty much know everyone because it is so small."

Wichita boasts a population of a little more than 366,000 and is the most populous city in Kansas. Now you might be wondering how is that small but compared Richmond Metro area that houses about 1.2 million people, it is a dot on the map.

Wichita is located on the Arkansas River in south central Kansas. It was incorporated in 1870 and originally served as a trading post between businessmen and native populations.  It was a destination for cattle drives headed north due to its positioning on the Chisholm Trail which provided easy access to railroads that traveled into the eastern markets.

"There aren't many activities," said Lane. "In high school, we would go to the movies. It was pretty much the only things we had to do." Well now, that isn't the only thing to do in Wichita but probably as a teenager, going to art and history museums is not tops on the list.  But if that is your cup of tea then Wichita is your kind of town.

Wichita is considered to be the cultural capital of Kansas due to several art and history museums as well as performing arts groups. In 1915, a Carnegie Library opened in downtown Wichita. News reports of the time said this event brought the city in the "intellectual zone of civilization."

The Wichita Art Museum is the largest art museum in the state of Kansas, and contains 7,000 works in permanent collections. The Wichita-Sedgwick County Historical Museum in downtown Wichita occupies the original Wichita city hall, built in 1892 (pictured above).

Wichita is also home to The Moving Arts Film Journal, which is a nationally renowned film publication known for its high-brow criticism and essays. It was founded and edited by film critic, Eric M. Armstrong.

If you are the artsy type of person then there are plenty of sporting events to attend. How about heading out to a baseball game to watch the Wichita Wingnuts play. Or if you like more contact sports, you have your choice between the Wichita Thunder ice hockey team or the Wichita Barbarians which is the local rugby team. But be sure to catch the ICT Roller Girls in action who were the first all female flat track roller derby league in Wichita.

Besides Jennifer Lane, Wichita is the hometown a many notable natives including actress Kristie Alley, former running back Barry Sanders, actor Don Johnson and the guy that discovered the Titanic wreckage. It is a small town that produces big time people.

Not only does Wichita produce celebrates and athletes but it was also the site of the very first Pizza Hut. Brothers Dan and Frank Carney opened their first store in 1958 after they borrowed $600 from their mother. The named the restaurant "Pizza Hut" because the sign that they purchased only had enough space for nine characters and spaces. This first franchise unit opened in Topeka, KS in 1959 and "the rest as they say is history".

But if you aren't a huge pizza fan then you should check out Spangles. "It is the best burger restaurant," commented Lane. "They have the best fries. It is my favorite place to eat in town."  Spangles has a 1950s design down to the chrome tables, neon lights and jukebox in the corner. There are retro posters and memorabilia all over the place. It is probably just as much fun for the eyes as it is for your stomach.

Spangles is probably the place where everyone goes after the high school football game on Friday nights. "Football was a huge thing in high school," stated Lane. "Everyone in the town would go there on Friday nights to hang out and watch the game. Those were the best."

Even though Lane is in Richmond now, there are still strong ties to her high school basketball team. "My favorite thing to do when I go home is hang out with my high school basketball team. My high school was kind of small and everyone knew each other. There were only 300 in my graduating class."

So besides the close community and good places to eat, what else is special about Wichita? "We have the Wichita River Festival which takes place during the spring or early summer," said Lane. "There are a lot of events and performances from famous people. It is really fun to go, hang out with everyone and also meet new people."

The festival was started in 1970 to celebrate the city's 100th birthday. Realizing the popularity of the event, city leaders decided to establish an annual celebration so as to help maintain the progress that had begun. Originally starting out as a one-day event, the festival has now growth into a nine-day event attracting over350,000 participants not only from Wichita but across the state of Kansas. There is more than 150 hours of music entertainment that is performed by more than 100 bands. It is the only event of its size that is held in the Mid-West during this time.

All in all, Wichita has got it going on. There are plenty of things to keep you busy thanks to the museums, restaurants and festivals. It would definitely be worth your time to check out and then you will see first hand what all of the talk is about. Kansas is truly more than a girl, her dog and a tornado.

  
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