Today has been a near record day for page views on Foots Prints. Most of it I’m sure has come from a community of 3,300 about 115 miles northwest of Russell.
My first visit to Norton was for a 2005 football game vs. Ellis. I was asked to cover Ellis by Jack Krier because he felt they were getting shortchanged in our coverage at Main Street Media. I spent my first two weeks covering Osborne, then I covered Phillipsburg for the next two weeks, which included a game at Osborne. I agreed to go to Ellis’ game in week six of that season, which happened to be all the way at Norton.
The trip came three days after I totaled my Oldsmobile 88 on US 183 north of Hays after running into a deer. My grandfather and I went to buy a Pontiac Grand Prix the day before I was scheduled to go to Norton. Jack told me to take his Buick LeSabre on the trip.
I had been to Hill City three weeks before the trip to Norton, so I knew that part of the ride up US 283. However, I had not been on 283 north of US 24, and it was quite an experience. The part of the drive on 283 north of Kansas Highway 9 was quite fascinating….I had never seen so many irrigation machines before in my life in one location.
When I pulled into town, I noticed the football stadium on my right. Interesting place. It was like Osborne and Phillipsburg in the fact that it was not on the campus of the high school. I parked my car in the east end zone and brought my computer and camera to the press box.
I was allowed to keep my computer set up in one of the booths while I went to the field to take pictures. I noticed the stands on the visiting side were much closer to the sideline than the home side, something I had not seen before. In every other stadium I had been, both in Louisiana and Kansas, the stands on both sides were behind the track, if there was a track. At Norton, the visiting stands were in front of the track. I would find the same configuration at Ellis when I went there the next Friday.
The game itself was all Norton. The Bluejays scored first on a fumble return, and they would recover five en route to a 34-7 victory. By time I finished getting my gear together, the lights had just been turned off. Both schools had gotten on the bus to go to shower, Norton at the high school and Ellis at the east campus fronting 283.
The first person from Norton I met that night was DIck Boyd, the longtime writer for the Norton Telegram. Little did I know Dick and I would become good friends through the years.
The drive home was a little hairy. A fawn came across the road on K-9. Oh boy, is it going to be this way every time?
I didn’t return to Norton until the first Friday of January to cover a basketball doubleheader vs. Osborne. I was attempting to take pictures under the basket when I was asked to move by athletic director Larry Mills. I explained myself and Larry and I immediately got along, as I did with girls basketball coach Kevin Jilka.
I drove all the way back to Russell that night and then all the way back to Norton the next morning for the J.R. Durham wrestling tournament. I encountered Larry and Dick that day, as well as wrestling coach Bill Johnson.
I found out just how much I was liked by the people in Norton at the MCL basketball tournament later that month. Several people from Norton came up to me on press row to say hello, and one took a picture of me with her camera phone.
Strangely enough, after the 2005 game vs. Ellis, I didn’t get back to Travis Field for football until the Bluejays’ Class 3A semifinal vs. Wichita Collegiate. I’ve now covered the last two meetings with Smith Center in Norton, both won by the Bluejays.
Save for one incident in 2009, I’ve had nothing but great relations with everyone from Norton. Although Larry Mills has moved on, I have gotten along famously with Larry’s daughter Hannah Broeckelman, her husband Nathan, Boyd, Johnson, Peggy Cox, Fig Millan, Rick Green, superintendent Greg Mann and his daughter Klaire, principal Rudy Perez, Kevin and Janet Jilka, Doug Ray and his lovely daughter Amanda, Hayli Bozarth and her parents Marla and Curt, Laura Lee Baird and her parents Jim and Leslie, Jason Jones, Lucas Melvin, Dale Engelbert, George and Sue Rossi and their children Taylor, Kaylen and Treven, Logan, Kaenon and Landon Keiswetter, Whitney (Newell) Criqui, Karlie (Jones) Stroup and many, many others.
I’ve been accepted by good people in every town I’ve visited, but as far as the number of people, Norton is far and away the winner.
The only negative: reaching WaKeeney and realizing I still have half the drive to go. The northbound drive is usually easier because I’m making it in daylight. With the southbound drive, I get the two-lane out of the way and can relaz once I get on I-70. I’ve seen more than my fair share of deer on 283, but I’m experienced enough to slow down and let them cross. Nothing last night coming back, thankfully.