By Travis Mounts
One Goddard area man had the best seat in the house for all six NCAA Tournament games last week at INTRUST Bank Arena in Wichita. And he didn’t have to pay top dollar for the view.
Dale Stelz was at the games as a credentialed photographer, snapping photos for several of the teams participating in last week’s games.
Stelz was asked to shoot at the games in part because of the great sports photographs he takes and in part because he is a regular presence at many Wichita State Shockers sports events. WSU acted as the host school for last week’s tournament.
It may sound like a lot of fun, but it also was a lot of work. Stelz worked about 12 hours on each game day. He also was at the arena on Tuesday getting set up for the tournament. Last week’s Times-Sentinel included a couple of Stelz’ photos. He was back on Wednesday for the public practices for all eight teams.
It was an intense experience.
“They wanted pictures by halftime, after the games. They have news conferences between games,” Stelz said. “It was literally non-stop. It was hard to find five minutes to eat.”
He was on hand for Michigan’s last-second basket on Saturday that sent the Wolverines to the Sweet Sixteen. Stelz was under the Houston basket, and it looked like the Cougars were in position to win, leading by 2 points with fewer than 4 seconds to play.
“I’m ready to shoot a celebration shot (of Houston). All of a sudden, the place erupts,” Stelz said about the buzzer-beating basket. Because he was at the far end of the court, Stelz was able to capture a great reaction photograph of the Michigan players as they turned and ran back toward their bench.
Anybody who knows Stelz, knows he is a big KU fan. But when you’re at an event like that, he said, the focus is on the job at hand. He estimates he shot between 5,000 and 6,000 pictures.
“All the games were fun. You’re concentrating on the game. You may be a fan, but your assignment comes first,” he said.
Stelz is a chemist by trade, but began shooting sports for the old West Sedgwick County News-Sentinel in Goddard. He said the owner of the paper wanted his daughter, Lorrie, to take pictures of Goddard High School sports. She wasn’t too keen on the idea.
“I said, ‘I’ll give it a try.’ Then Paul (Rhodes) bought the paper and I stayed on,” Stelz said.
And for 25 years, Stelz has shot pictures for The Times-Sentinel. When he started, nearly everything in the paper was shot on black-and-white film.
“I started showing up to a lot of events, and they said, ‘If you’re going to show up for every event, we’ll get you on the payroll one way or another,’” he said. “The biggest attraction was they gave me the film and I got to watch games for free.”
In the early days, Stelz shot on film and delivered the rolls to the paper. Rhodes would develop the film and select which photos to print and put in the paper.
“If I took two rolls of 36 pictures, that was a lot. Now I shoot 1,000 pictures a game,” he said.
Now, Stelz edits his pictures and picks the best ones for publication.
Over time, Stelz began taking pictures for other publications and organizations. He took a retirement offer from his former employer before it closed, rather than moving away from Wichita.
He’s become the primary photographer for Wichita State athletics and regularly shoots for Vype Magazine. For many years, Stelz only shot games for the schools covered by The Times-Sentinel. That meant only games in the Ark Valley Chisholm Trail League and the Central Plains League.
“Before Vype, I had never even shot a (Wichita) City League game,” Stelz said. Now he regularly shoots ranked Division I basketball teams.
He still contributes to Times-Sentinel Newspapers, especially when the papers have a homecoming to cover or when it’s time to shoot team photos for sports guides. Sometimes Stelz chooses to stay close to home, taking pictures at a Goddard Lions or Eisenhower Tigers games. Other times, he chooses an assignment farther away, including games for the Argonia Raiders, a Class 1A school covered by The Times-Sentinel’s sister paper, the Conway Springs Star.
“It doesn’t matter the size of the school. It’s fun,” Stelz said.
Editor’s note: This story first appeared in the March 22 print edition of The Times-Sentinel. Subscribe to see stories like this first and to get all your community news. Call 316-540-0500 today to get the paper at home next week.