Bill Tidwell Born: April 8, 1932 (Kiowa, KS) Died: March 16, 2023
Sponsored by: Emporia State Athletics Graduated: Kiowa High School, 1950; Emporia State University, 1957, MSE 1958; Columbia University, PhD, 1968
Kansas has long been recognized as one of the premiere states for producing distance runners, producing the likes Kansas Sports Hall of Fame inductees Glenn Cunningham, Jim Ryun, and Wes Santee, just to name three.
Today, the Kansas Sports Hall of Fame adds another runner, Bill Tidwell, to this prestigious list. His accomplishments at every level of competition rank him among the state’s most decorated distance runners.
Growing up in Kiowa, Bill Tidwell was an all-around athlete. He played half-back in football and guided the basketball team to the state tournament in 1950, but in track, Bill Tidwell was a standout and earned the nickname the “Kiowa Flyer.” Competing regularly against Wes Santee of Ashland High School, the two runners made for drama each track meet where they lined up for the mile race. At the 1949 State High School track meet their junior year of high school, Santee bested Tidwell by less than one second. In 1950, Tidwell returned the favor by beating Santee and breaking the State High School Meet record set in 1930 by Glenn Cunningham.
Tidwell chose to run collegiately for Emporia State, under then head coach and Kansas Sports Hall of Fame inductee, Fran Welch, however his collegiate career was interrupted from 1952 to 1954 as Tidwell entered the armed services. However, the rivalry with Santee followed Tidwell to the services, where Tidwell defeated Santee in the 1954 half-mile event at an inter-service meet in Camp Lejeuene military base in North Carolina.
Tidwell returned to Emporia following his time in the service and continued to shine. In his first season back in 1955, Tidwell won both the 880 meter and the mile NAIA National Championships. The following season in 1956, Tidwell repeated the feat by defending both titles and in 1957, he added the “Most Outstanding Performer” at the Kansas Relays to his resume. In total, Tidwell was named a four-time NAIA All-American in the 880 meter and mile races. His NAIA 1,500 meter record set in 1956 stood for twelve years until it was broken by fellow Kansas Sports Hall of Fame inductee and Emporia State Hornet, John Camien.
Tidwell was also an outstanding cross country runner. During his final two years at Emporia, Tidwell lined up for fourteen cross country races. He won first in twelve and was finished runner-up for the 1956 NAIA National Championship.
An injury prevented Tidwell from taking part in the 1956 Olympic trials yet when he recovered, he was back to full form. He was invited to some of the nation’s most prestigious meets to compete against the world’s best runners, including three Sugar Bowl Classic meets where Tidwell set a meet record for the 1,500 meter in 1956.
Following his collegiate career, Tidwell became a teacher, coach, and administrator, affecting the lives of thousands of athletes. He was named the Physical Education Department Chair at Oberlin College in Ohio in 1959 before returning to Emporia State as Chairman of the Physical Education Department and the Athletic Director in 1971. During his twenty three years as Athletic Director of Emporia State, Tidwell oversaw numerous national championship teams and guided the Hornets from NAIA to the NCAA Division II in 1992.
The “Kiowa Flyer,” Bill Tidwell, was added to the NAIA Track and Field Hall of Fame in 1963. He is also a Charter Inductee in both the Drake Relays Hall of Fame in 1959 and the Emporia State Athletic Hall of Fame in 1982.