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Man plans American Indian Center in Kansas City

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — If John Learned’s vision comes true, a mostly empty building in Kansas City will soon house several American Indian organizations working to promote their history and activities, with an emphasis on sports.

Learned, whose mother was the first woman to lead the Cheyenne-Arapaho Tribes of Oklahoma, said he has private donors committed to help him raise $10 million to buy the Loretto building in central Kansas City. He plans to have a grand opening for the American Indian Center of the Great Plains later this year, The Kansas City Star reported.

Sports will be a main priority, including attracting as many Native American sporting events to Kansas City as possible, said Learned, a former collegiate volleyball and football coach who played football at the University for Kansas.

“Something like this doesn’t exist, and there is a need,” he said.

The North American Indian Tennis Association already has moved its headquarters to the building and held its 38th annual national championship in Kansas City during the Memorial Day weekend.

“We’d played it in different cities and reservations with the idea of bringing tennis to people who may not have been exposed to it,” said NAITA President Yawna Allen. “Now, we want to grow the event, and Kansas City is the best place to do that.”

The American Indian Athletic Hall of Fame, which showcases accomplishments of Native American athletes — including Olympic gold medalist and football star Jim Thorpe and track star Billy Mills — also has signed on, at least temporarily. It will bring plaques and other awards that currently fill the lobby of the basketball gymnasium at Haskell Indian Nations University in Lawrence.

Carol Green, president of the board of the North American Indian Athletic Association, which oversees the Hall of Fame, said Learned offered office space and room for the artifacts, some of which are in storage because of Haskell’s limited space. Learned coached volleyball at Haskell and the University of Kansas before becoming the first women’s volleyball coach at the University of Missouri-Kansas City in 1987. He also was on Haskell’s football staff.

“Our board met recently, and we talked about it being time to move into the next century with our Hall of Fame,” Green said.

Mills, the former University of Kansas runner, gold medalist in the 10,000 meters at the 1964 Olympics and a member of the Oglala Lakota (Sioux) Tribe, helped establish the Hall of Fame in 1972 and was inducted in 1978. He supports Learned’s effort.

He said in a statement that Learned’s plans inspired him and he is convinced the center has a “strong social consciousness, helping to empower the community around them.”

The Loretto, which offers nearly 100 rooms and 110,000 square feet, opened in 1903. It housed a Catholic academy for girls until the mid-1980s. John Bregin Jr. then bought the building in 1995, and spent about $8 million in improvements. It has a chapel that is a popular site for weddings and receptions that will remain available for those occasions.

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