Monthly Archives: October 2014

The curtain may come down

Today is probably the last day I will ever cover high school sporting events in Kansas. I feel it.

Smith Center lost its first state tournament volleyball match to Wabaunsee. The prospects of the Lady Red advancing are now very slim, since they still have to play top seed Central Plains, which has already defeated Smith Center this season.

Gone before sunrise

The sun Is still two hours away from rising on this Halloween, but I am just minutes away from leaving the comfortable confines of room 1123 at the Overland Park Marriott and heading to Emporia for the opening of the Class 2A volleyball state tournament.

Smith Center is making its third appearance in the big dance in the last four years, and for the third time in as many trips, we’re starting at a different time.

In 2011, the 2A tournament was the only one held at Emporia, so the Kansas State High School Activities Association started the tournament at 10 a.m., early enough to make sure everyone would be done at a decent hour, but not so early that those who had a long way to travel could not make it if they left early enough Friday.

Last year, when 3A moved from Salina to Emporia due to the split in Class 4A which led to an extra tournament in that classification, the 3A event went in the morning and 2A did not start until 3:30 p.m. That was hellish, because there was no parking to be found around White Auditorium, which sits in downtown Emporia, and unlike the venues in Hays, Salina and Topeka, there is hardly any spaces if you don’t get there early enough.

This year, 2A starts at 8:30 a.m., although Smith Center doesn’t play its first match until 9:30. Everyone still has to be there early in order to introduce the teams to the crowd. I could do without it, but the KSHSAA wants it.

Time to get going. If Smith Center can survive pool play, we’ll do it tomorrow.

Playoffs sans Smith Center

For the first time in a dozen years, the Kansas State High School Activities Association’s football playoffs will be missing a familiar face.

Smith Center’s season ended last night when it was defeated 47-7 at Phillipsburg. The Redmen had to win the game to earn their 12th consecutive postseason bid, but they were never close as they suffered one of their most lopsided defeats to a Mid-Continent League foe since joining the league in 1977. That happened to be one year before Smith Center hired Roger Barta to coach their football program.

The Redmen made the playoffs 24 times in 35 seasons under Barta, winning eight state championships and 66 postseason contests. Those numbers certainly would have been higher if the KSHSAA had not limited the playoffs to only district champions from 1981, the year it began the district system to determine playoff qualifiers, through 2001. In 2002, the KSHSAA doubled the size of the playoff brackets to include second place teams from each district.

Smith Center won 10 consecutive district championships from 2004 through 2013, the last of those under Barta’s successor, Darren Sasse. The third place finish for the Redmen this season is not its worst; in 2002, they were 0-3, losing to Norton, Beloit and Phillipsburg.

From 1969, the first year the KSHSAA sponsored a football tournament, through 1980, all teams with eight victories earned automatic playoff bids. The playoff bracket was then completed with seven-win teams and so on, or if there were more eight-win teams than playoff spots, there would be play-in games.

The Redmen’s 67 playoff victories rank them third all-time, trailing only Silver Lake (87) and PIttsburg Colgan (75). The eight titles for Smith Center, including five in a row between 2004 and 2008, are tied for third, behind only Lawrence’s 10 and Kapaun Mount Carmel’s nine.

Barta went 323-68 in 35 seasons at Smith Center, and was inducted into the Kansas Sports Hall of Fame earlier this month. In retirement, Roger has followed his son, Brooks, who has wonthree state championships and won nearly 200 games at Holton, located 20 miles north of Topeka in Jackson County. Brooks Barta was an All-State standout on the Redmen’s 1986 state championship team before earning All-Big Eight Conference honors as a linebacker at Kansas State, becoming the first of many standouts produced by Bill Snyder.

The Mid-Continent League will not be lacking for playoff representation. Norton went 9-0 and is primed for a deep run in the Class 3A postseason, while Phillipsburg and Oakley will play in the 2-1A bracket. The Panthers lost a tough game last year in the second round of the 3A playoffs to powerhouse Scott City, and even though this year’s squad lost several standouts from the 2013 squad to graduation, this may be Phillipsburg’s best chance to bring home a title.

Phillipsburg didn’t make its first playoff appearance until 2002. It has gone seven more times since (not including 2014), but never past the quarterfinals. This is the Panthers’ first year in 2-1A, the smallest 11-man football classification.

Norton won 4A state championships in 1985 and 1986 and reached the title game in 1983 and 1989, all under Neil Mellilo. The Bluejays have remained strong under Bruce Graber and Lucas Melvin through the past two decades, but they have made it to the semifinals only once since the glory days, losing in 2009 to Wichita Collegiate.

Oakley’s farthest advance was to the semifinals in 2005 and 2009, only to lose each time at Smith Center. The Plainsmen did not join the MCL for football until this year, although the school was officially welcomed to the league for all other sports in July 2013.

The playoff brackets in Class 3A and the two 8-man divisions have been posted by the KSHSAA. The other classes will have theirs done by the end of tonight. And then the fun begins.

Not much to write about

Dear reader,
I apologize for going into Howard Hughes mode for the last three days. It hasn’t been very good for me, and I figured I should not be posting it, per the request of Brittany and Lisa.

The highlight of my week since I last posted Sunday from Garden CIty? A long, long drive north on Kansas HIghway 23. Seriously.

I left Garden City at noon Monday. I drove east on Kansas 156 and decided to go north on K-23, just to do something different. The scenery wasn’t much, just a lot of open fields, but it was something different and more interesting than what would have been if I would have taken K-156 to either US 283 at Jetmore or further east. I could have taken 156 all the way to Great Bend and then turned north on 281, but I figured taking 23 would allow me to see something new and get me to Interstate 70 at Grainfield.

I was home Monday night for the first time since July 21. With the World Series still going on–Monday was a travel day–the hotel rooms in Kansas City, at least those which were available, were outrageously priced. No thank you.

I hate being home on Monday nights. Not only because I miss Buzztime’s The Pulse, but because I also have trouble with my Tuesday workload when I’m at home. I often am later than when I’m in a hotel room, and this was the case again. I could not pull myself out of bed completely until after 9, and that put me behind the 8-ball. Fortunately, junior high stuff was over, and most teams only had sub-state volleyball and regional cross country, so it wasn’t as heavy a load as it would have been last month at this time.

I watched the first part of game six of the World Series, but I turned it off when the Royals scored seven in the bottom of the second. I knew there would be a game seven. And I had the feeling the Royals were going to win because no road team had won the World Series since 1979.

The work on Wednesday wasn’t bad. I needed less than four hours total to get all together once I finally woke from my slumber. The rest of Wednesday was torture. Not only was I stressing over the World Series and what I would encounter in Kansas City if the Royals won, I was totally upset over the upcoming elections. I am scared to death the left-wing candidates will win the big races for governor and U.S. Senate. The two leftists have not offered anything but to oppose everything their opponents stand for. I guess that’s the way progressives operate.

I needed to get out of Russell. I finally did at noon today after packing the car and voting. It’s nice to be back at the Overland Park Marriott. Now I have to get up before sunrise tomorrow and head southwest to Emporia for Smith Center’s latest foray into Class 2A state volleyball. Since it’s an even-numbered year,. I will have tomorrow night to myself. I’ll take that trade.

Sunday in the Garden (City)

Waking up on a Sunday morning in a hotel room. What’s new about that for me?

This time, it isn’t in Kansas City. Instead, it’s a long, long way in the opposite direction.

After the long day in Scott City, there was no way I was going to drive all the way back to Russell. It was 150 miles home, 45 miles to Oakley and I-70, and then another 105 east back to Russell. Instead, I went 35 miles in the other direction to Garden City and took up a room at the brand new TownePlace Suites on the northeast edge of town on Kansas Highway 156.

Beautiful hotel. Everything is modern and energy efficient. Full sized fridge and a microwave. For me, the best thing of all is the full-sized work space, which is often hard to find at hotels. It’s the same sized space I have at the Courtyards in Kansas City where I’ve been staying. I’m taking today as a recovery/work day before going back to Russell tomorrow afternoon.

It got better last night after I got to Garden City. I ordered a pizza from Papa John’s, and just as I got in my car to leave the hotel to pick up my food, LSU finally scored a touchdown to take a 10-7 lead over Ole Miss in Baton Rouge. By time I picked up my pizza, the Rebels looked like they were going to kick a field goal and send the game into overtime. But as I got back to the hotel, the Bayou Bengals intercepted to hold on.

I was very upset LSU’s students stormed the field after the win. That should not happen at LSU. The Bayou Bengals won national championships in 2003 and 2007, and yes, while Ole Miss was ranked #3, LSU should expect to beat Ole Miss in Baton Rouge. This isn’t the early 1960s when the Rebels had all-white powerhouse teams under Hall of Fame coach Johnny Vaught. This isn’t an LSU team coming off six straight losing seasons under Mike Archer and Curley Hallman. Nick Saban said it best a long time ago: LSU fans shouldn’t rush the field because they should expect their teams to win big games.

At least the goalposts did not come down this time. That’s the good news. But LSU now faces a $5,000 fine from the Southeastern Conference for the idiots who stormed the field. If I were LSU, I would go to the student ticket gate at the Alabama game and make everyone put in at least $10 if they want to get past security. If not, too bad, go home and watch the game on TV.

Just found out Smith Center will be playing at o:30 a.m. Friday in their first match at the Class 2A state volleyball tournament in Emporia. The Lady Red will not have to play back-to-back matches on day one. They’ll play Wabaunsee first, then Chase County at 11:30 and Central Plains at 1:30. The key will be the Wabaunsee match. Both teams are 33-6, and the Lady Red won the coin flip to be the fourth seed, which means they avoided back-to-back matches. Smith Center already lost to Central Plains in Hoisington last month, so it will be a significant underdog there.

The NFL got started at 8:30 a.m. with the Lions-Falcons game in London. Now the noon kickoffs, and we’re stuck with the Chiefs and Rams or a game which is just as unappetizing, Ravens-Bengals. Blah.

Get out of dodge

My day at Scott City is going to end a little earlier, but way too late still.

Phillipsburg could not complete the deal after taking the first set from Hoisington. The Cardinals rallied to win the final two sets and the match 19-25, 26-24,

It will be Lakin and Hoisington for the championship. The Panthers’ season ends at 19-18.

The Mid-Continent League will be represented by two teams at state tournaments, league champion TMP-Marian in Class 4A-Division II at Salina and Smith Center in Class 2A at Emporia.

I’m heading for Garden City. Maybe I’ll be in a better mood. Probably not. Especially if the Royals take the lead.

Five hours in

The quarterfinals are in the books at Scott City. Phillipsburg ousted Cimarron 25-16, 25-17 to clinch the final spot in the semifinals vs. Hoisington. The first semi between Lakin and Norton is going on right now.

If I get out of here early, it will only be because Phillipsburg loses to Hoisington. I’m not counting on that happening, so I’m here until the end. If I’m going to be here until the end, Phillipsburg had better win.

That wasn’t the case the last time I was in Scott City for sub-state volleyball. In 2006, the Panthers made it to the final, but ran into an Oberlin buzzsaw which featured Miki Dorshorst, who went on to play at Wyoming. I remember not checking into the hotel at Garden City until after 10, which may be the case again tonight.

It looks like I’m going to have an early Friday morning at Emporia on the docket. Smith Center won the first set over Ness City 25-20. If the Lady Red wins one of the next two, they’re back in the state tournament.

Last first round match up

The first three-set match of the Scott City sub-state was just contested. Russell won the first set over Hoisington, but the Cardinals came back to win 25-27, 25-11, 25-16. Hoisington will now play the winner of the final first round match between Phillipsburg and Cimarron.

The World Series is now a little more than two hours away. I’m sure Kansas City is about to burst at the seams.

Norton moves on

Norton defeated Southwestern Heights 25-17, 25-21 in the second match, so the Bluejays will now match up with Lakin in the first semifinal. Before that takes place, there are still two more quarterfinal matches, Hoisington vs. Russell and Phillipsburg vs. Cimarron.

Jay Blair, who announces many of Phillipsburg’s matches on KQMA radio, sat down next to me in the press box. Jay had an even shorter turnaround than me, since he went to Ell-Saline for the Panthers’ football game last night at Brookville, back to P-burg, and then all the way down. Jay’s daughter, Melissa, was an All-State player for Phillipsburg from 2007-10 and is now wrapping up a solid college career at Kansas Wesleyan University in Salina.

Tad Felts, the legendary KQMA broadcaster who covered high school sports from 1968 through 2011, is also here. I would thin so, because he spent time in Scott City and other places in southwest Kansas.

Russell and Hoisington are about to start. It stinks to high heaven these schools are located only 28 miles apart, are of similar size, yet aren’t in the same league. And they haven’t been in the same league since 1996, when Russell left the old Mid-State Activities Association for their current (crappy) league, the North Central Activities Association. Hoisington bounced around and finally landed in the Central Kansas League this year.

Here we go again. Back in a little while.

One down

Lakin made quick work of host Scott City 25-8, 25-14 in the first match of the volleyball sub-state tournament. With the host out, crowds might be sparse, although I would expect more from Lakin to stream east and north as the tournament wears on.

The gym at Scott City is beautiful. There are individual seats on one side behind the scorer’s table, and there is a large scorer’s table for officials and media. There is also a nice media area above the opposite side, which is where I’m perched right now with the computer and camera.

Norton plays Southwestern Heights next. We don’t print the paper in Norton, but since I know a lot of people there, I’m going to take pictures for this match, and also it will be a backup in case Mr. Norton Bluejay himself, Norton Telegram sportswriter Dick Boyd, doesn’t show up.

Dick bleeds blue and yellow. He’s been at the Telegram since 1970, first as the co-owner with his wife, Mary Beth, from 1970 through 2002, and then in a reduced role as the beat writer for the Bluejays. Dick does not adhere to journalistic objectivity, and while I’m not in favor of cheering for any school I cover, I can’t fault Dick, because he’s certainly earned the right to do so. I just wish he would have won the Oscar Stauffer Award, the Kansas State High School Activities Association’s annual award for the top sportswriter and sports broadcaster, before I did. Dick had to wait two years after I did to finally earn the honor, even though he began at the Telegram six years before I was born and was covering high school sports in Kansas when my dad was still in the Navy and my mom in college.

We’re about ready to start. Back to work.