He died that night. It was
February 8, 1965, and it was one of the greatest tragedies
in Cache Valley. He was with his friends walking over
to see a car accident. A live power wire was hanging
down a little more than six feet off the ground. Wayne's
roommate walked under it, Wayne did not.
When I started writing the story, I had vague ideas
of maybe talking to his old coach or quoting some newspaper
clippings from the time. I had no idea it would lead
me to an old sports writer who'd had a huge crush on
him, to Wayne's high school gym to watch his nephew
play basketball, to the radio announcer at the time
Wayne was playing, or to his roommate's house.
When I started the story, it was going to be about
Wayne, and that's what I ended up writing about. But
by the time I was done I was not writing it for myself
anymore, I was writing it for all the wonderful people
I had come in contact with. The story, for me, had changed.
Eleanor Olson: She had been a sports writer
at the time Wayne was going to school and she'd written
a book about Wayne. I had a sneaking suspicion she'd
had a crush on Wayne. Talking to her confirmed that.
When he died, she said it was like the whole world had
ended. "After [the memorial] was over it took a long
time for the fieldhouse to empty. It was like if we
walked away we were admitting he was gone and wasn't
Anaconda, Montana: My friend Benji and I planned
the entire trip one day in class. We'd go with Benji's
dad to visit Wayne's dad in Montana, they were old friends.
Pulling into Anaconda was not very exciting. There was
a lot of nothingness and big sky, then all of sudden
there was a mine and tiny house built upon tiny house.
They were all old with old rusty cars parked in front
of them. Most of them didn't have a yard, but nearly
every house we passed had a basketball hoop nailed above
the garage door. I could almost see Wayne shooting hoops
in the driveway.
We drove past the high school, cars lined the streets
for about six blocks around the school. The gym was
so packed that I couldn't turn my head, and the halls
were completely full of people just standing around
waiting for the game to get over. I could only see a
little corner of the action, and my heart nearly stopped
when I saw a boy dribbling the ball up the court with
a No. 33 and "Estes" on the back of his jersey. It was
Wayne's nephew, wearing Wayne's number.
John Cheek: I didn't use a lot of quotes from
my interview with Wayne's high school coach. But he
was a very colorful man and could talk forever about
how hard Wayne worked. "I've had three great players,"
he told me, in his 28 years coaching. Wayne was one
of them. Every once in a while Cheek would tear up and
stop talking for several minutes. "I'm sorry. My wife
died two months ago," he said, choking on the tears.
"We began going together when we were both 14 and were
married for 61 years." He was such a sweet old man and
hardly knew how to live without his sweetheart. The
Cheeks had been like second parents to Wayne in high
school. I was crying too.
Del Lyons: Wayne's roommate, he was with Wayne
the night he died. I was told he didn't like to do a
lot of interviews because he wasn't happy with the way
the media portrayed Wayne. I nearly passed out when
he said he would do the interview. Everything about
Wayne was so fresh on my mind, I felt like I had known
him and gone to school with him too. When I walked in
and saw Del, I was surprised at how old he looked. The
story had been so real to me that I was almost expecting
Reid Andreason: I went to his home in Millville
to interview him. He had been the Aggie radio announcer
at the time Wayne played basketball. I nearly fell out
of my chair when he jumped up and started reenacting
one of Wayne's last plays. "That's how I remember Wayne.
In the corner on the baseline, faking one way and turning
around and hooking the ball up over his head and scoring."
He told me that he wanted them to name the Dee Glen
Smith Spectrum after Wayne.
Dr. John Worley: He was the team physician
at the time Wayne was killed. He was so friendly and
we talked on the phone for about an hour. Worley said
he remembered the last time he saw Wayne alive. "A vivid
memory to me is one of this big, good-looking guy leaving
the dressing room. Got everything going for him. Then
to walk in the emergency room and see him lying there
dead, smell the burn."
Dr. Worley liked to talk about all the weird coincidences
that had happened that night. At first Wayne couldn't
make a shot, his arms were all tingly, but when Worley
looked at him, Wayne was fine. Then all of a sudden
Wayne couldn't miss a basket for the rest of the game.
Worley was called away from a party to the hospital
to work on a guy who'd been in a car accident -- the
very same one Wayne had been looking at -- that's why
he was there when they brought Wayne in.
LaDell Anderson: It took me forever to get
hold of him. He was such a busy man that I almost didn't
do the interview, it seemed like too much of a hassle.
"The first game after he was killed, I think I broke
down in the dressing room after the game," he said.
"I was by myself and I just sobbed. I did that two or
three times after games. He was such a wonderful person.
He was everything you want in a basketball player. Everybody
wants a son like Wayne Estes."
After I hung up the phone, I was so glad I'd talked
to him. I realized that everyone I talked to had a part
of this story.