Fair adventure leads to homecoming
By DIANE GASPER-O'BRIEN
Don Bigham attends the Kansas State Fair in Hutchinson every year. And this year, he was in for a surprise treat that stirred up memories of a television show from his younger days.
But the one event the former Fort Hays State University basketball standout really has been looking forward to is this year's homecoming of his alma mater.
Included in this weekend's long list of activities for the 2013 homecoming is a reunion for the men's and women's basketball teams, as well as alumni pick-up games.
And Bigham plans to be there for it all.
"Definitely going to be there for that," Bigham said of homecoming, where he also plans to visit one of his granddaughters, Shelby Barrett, an FHSU senior from Beloit. "But the fair was a lot of fun, too."
Bigham did a double take while walking down the midway on the first weekend of the state fair. He heard a whistle blow and thought he saw Barney Fife.
Much to the delight of the midway crowd, Barney was in Hutchinson for the 100th anniversary of the state fair -- well, sort of.
Scott Epperson, a theater actor and impersonator from Benson, N.C., walked the fairgrounds for several days, reminding visitors to "nip it in the bud," and to "move along, this isn't Mayberry."
Most everyone, young and old alike, recognized the deputy from the "Andy Griffith Show," played by Don Knotts from 1960 to 1965.
"The first time I went into a police uniform, my dad said I looked exactly like Barney Fife, and it made me mad," said Epperson, a retired police detective in real life. "Now, when folks call me Barney, I think that's probably the best compliment I could receive."
Epperson said it's "weird to get recognized as Barney in airports," and the state fair was no different, where old and young alike stopped to peer at the dead ringer for Barney.
Although people didn't stop Bigham walking down the midway at the fair, he is a celebrity in his own right.
"I've shrunk as I age," Bigham said of his 6-foot, 2-inch slender frame.
"But I can still shoot baskets," added the 75-year-old Bigham, who still farms near Randall.
Bigham played basketball for Randall High School in Jewell County and, in 1956, set the Kansas state high school boys' basketball career scoring record that stood for 40 years before it was broken by Brewster's Josh Reid in 1996. The mark was broken again last year by Ottawa's Semi Ojeleye, who now is on the Duke University roster.
Ojeleye scored 2,763 points in his prep career, followed by Reid's 2,554 and Bigham's 2,544.
"I'm still third, guess that's pretty good," said Bigham, who went on to star at FHSU, where he helped lead the Tigers to their first NAIA national tournament in 1959, when they finished fourth.
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Epperson grew up in Mount Airy, N.C., coincidentally the same hometown of Andy Griffith, who played the sheriff of Mayberry.
Denny Stoecklein, general manager of the Kansas State Fair, said he "got a lot of good feedback on (Barney), very positive."
Besides looking like Barney physically -- "Barney weighed 138, Iweigh 140," Epperson said -- he also knew his stuff.
Epperson would pull out his single bullet out of his pocket, for which Barney was known, blow his whistle and "scold" people for jaywalking and take lots of photos with people.
"People would ask questions that you could tell they knew the show," Stoecklein said. "I think everyone really enjoyed it."