Blog Archives

Bluejays flying high in Oakley

Norton is less than two minutes away from sweeping Oakley in the season opening basketball doubleheader for both schools. 

The Bluejays won the first game 36-23, and the boys lead 53-35 with under two minutes to go. Norton will be off until Thursday when it begins competition in the Topside Tipoff tournament at Goodland. Oakley has a quick turnaround, facing Victoria Monday in the Purple and Gold tournament at WaKeeney. 

I’ve got a 110-mile drive ahead, but it’s all on the Interstate. I should be hone before 11. The drive was very easy; even with stops in Hays I was there by 4:10. 

Nice seeing everyone tonight, especially Caitlyn, whom I had not seen since the sub-state volleyball tournament at Lakin October 22. I saw Peggy November 7 in Hays; we did sone shopping at Walmart. 

Playing with my high tech toy

This is the first blog post from my iPad. The iPad arrived at my home on November 15, but I didn’t turn it on for another eight days. I thought about bringing it back to Verizon and waiting until the new ones came out in March, but this is just fine for me. I love the quad speakers on the iPad, which makes sound much better than it is on the iPhone. I’ll get a new iPhone next year. 

I had a very good session with Crista yesterday. The only bugaboo was the voice recorder on my iPad did not pick it up. It’s the first session which failed to record. Next time, I’ll use my regular recorder, and also use the recorder on my iPad to make sure it works. If it doesn’t, then I’ve either got to get another voice recorder–one of them crapped out on me last month–or use the one on the phone. 

Tonight is opening night for most high school basketball teams in Kansas. Norton plays at Oakley. Peggy, Cailtyn and Chelsea have all said I had better come. I thought about not going, but those thoughts came when I wasn’t in the right frame of my mind. I am going. It’s an easier drive, since I don’t have to leave Interstate 70. Norton doesn’t play at home until the 16th. Its next four games are in Goodland, three in the Topside Tipoff tournament, and then a regular season game December 13. 

I need to get out of the house. I’ve spent too much time at home since getting back from Kansas City November 14. Way too much. The only times I’ve left to the house is to go to Hays, two for appointments with Crista, and the others to get things. I’ve watched way too many Hallmark Channel Christmas movies–many more than once–and texting some mystery woman who may not be a woman despite what this person says. Crista told me to stop texting the mystery woman. 

I also have to get back to Kansas City as soon as I can. I am trying to carve some time out, but I want to see Caitlyn play next weekend in Goodland at least once. I had plans to go to KC next Thursday and stay through Tuesday morning, which would mean I would have to leave KC by 8 am to make it to Goodland in time, since it would be 7 hours across the state. I’ll talk to Peggy tonight. 

It finally feels like December. Chllly, but not frigid. No snow and not much wind. Can’t beat it, really. Finally wearing long sleeves. I got sick of wearing shorts in November. Ridiculous. If I wanted to wear shorts this time of year I would never have left Louisiana. 

Night ride to Norton

I didn’t make it to Norton until after 11. Everything in town was closed except the Love’s convenience store on US 36, and there was a long line as I peered in from my car. I’m back in the same room at the Sleep Inn I stayed at last month, which is a good thing.

Smith Center won both basketball games at Oakley last night. The Lady Red struggled at the beginning, but had little trouble in putting away the Lady Plainsmen, 41-10.

Oakley has had some outstanding girls basketball teams through the years, highlighted by winning the Class 2A state championship in 2007, but the Plainsmen were not only hit hard by graduation, they lost their longtime coach Randall Rath, who became the football coach at Cimarron. Randall’s daughter, Marlee, was a three-year starter at Oakley and has transitioned into the lineup at Cimarron, which is coached by a friend of mine, David Ediger.

The boys game was wacky.

There were 20 fouls called in the first quarter. In the second half, both teams had trouble scoring, but with less than five seconds left, Smith Center’s Jesse Stapel rebounded a missed shot by Mason Buckmaster and nailed a 12-foot jumper in the lane to tie the score at 43-43 and send the game into overtime.

Gavin Overmiller gave the Redmen the lead a little more than one minute into the four-minute overtime with a 3-pointer, but he later fouled out and was called for a technical foul because tugged at his uniform, which in the eyes of the officials, constituted misconduct. Oakley’s Keenan Smith hit both free throws for the technical, and later in the period, a putback by Mason Scheetz tied the game at 47-47.

Buckmaster hit one of two at the line with less than 30 seconds left, and as it turned out, that would be it for scoring. Smith Center held to win 48-47.

Exciting game, but it didn’t help me with my 80-mile venture northeast. The good news was I saw only one small animal dart across the road south of Reford. I had never been on Kansas Highway 383 between US 83 and its junction with US 36 just west of Norton, so that was an experience. Especially at night.

The Jake Durham wrestling tournament gets underway at 9:30. It really isn’t ah hard tournament for me, since the only school I really have to worry about covering is Smith Center. However, I know so many people in Norton that I like to come and say hello to those I know. Of course, now that I’ve been to Los Canteros, I have to go back.

Okay, that’s it for now. Be back later today.

Asphalt aplenty

The first long business trip of 2015 finds me in Oakley, where the Plainsmen are hosting Smith Center n a basketball doubleheader this evening.

At 110 miles, Oakley is the second farthest drive for me among Mid-Continent League schools–only Norton is longer, 118 miles–but the time t takes for me to get from Russell to Oakley is shorter than that to Norton or Phillipsburg. Since Oakley is right off of I-70 at US 40, it takes 90 to 95 minutes to drive, and of course, it’s smooth sailing at 75 MPH once I get on the interstate, barring construction or bad weather.

This is the first half of my working weekend away from home. Tomorrow, I’ll be in Norton for the Jake Durham Invitational wrestling tournament. Durham coached Norton for nearly 40 years and built the Bluejays to six state championships between 1959 and 1973. Norton fell on hard times on the mat until Bill Johnson took over as coach in 1992. Johnson, an All-America wrestler at Fort Hays State University, has guided the Bluejays to seven state championships, including four in the last five seasons.

I originally planned to drive from Russell to Norton, check in at the Sleep Inn, and then make the round trip between Norton and Oakley. However, I couldn’t pull myself together in time, which meant I drove from Russell to Oakley for basketball. Now I’ll drive northeast to Norton after the games, arriving between 10:30 and 11. I don’t like to check in to a hotel that late because it inconveniences the front desk employees, but in this case, I couldn’t help it. Besides, it saves gas.

I covered Russell’s wrestling dual vs. Beloit last night at RHS. The Broncos came out ahead 45-36. Russell’s basketball teams are hosting Beloit tonight, and their wrestlers go to Ellsworth Saturday\\\\

Panthers pull through

Phillipsburg didn’t look pretty last night, but the Panthers got the job done vs. Sacred Heart, prevailing 22-15 in double overtime in the first round of the Kansas State High School Activities Association Class 2-1A football state playoffs.

The Panthers came in 8-1, and some media sources had them ranked first in Class 2-1A. Sacred Heart was 4-4, and got in because it finished second in a district which included three teams with losing records. Nobody gave the Knights much of a chance, even though Sacred Heart and Phillipsburg played a close game in the 3A playoffs a year ago, with the Panthers prevailing 27-20 on a rainy night in Salina.

Nobody should have taken Sacred Heart lightly. It played a difficult schedule which included 3A playoff teams Beloit, Minneapolis and Southeast of Saline, and the Knights are coached by Bruce Graber, who enjoyed tremendous success during his 12-year tenure at Norton from 1994 through 2005. Most importantly, his Bluejay teams lost only once to Phillipsburg, and that was Graber’s last season.

Phillipsburg scored on the game’s first play from scrimmage when Stuart Lennemann swept right end and raced 60 yards to paydirt.

At least, appeared to score.

The touchdown was wiped out when a Panther was detected holding near the line of scrimmage. It would not be the last time Lennemann would have touchdown called back.

Neither team did much until late in the first half, when Phillipsburg drove to the game’s first touchdown, a 7-yard run by Lennemann with 1:18 to go before halftime.

Sacred Heart tied the game in the third quarter on a 3-yard touchdown by Cedric Salas.

In the fourth quarter, Phillipsburg appeared to regain the upper hand when Lennemann caught a pass from Sam Sage in the left flat and romped 13 yards to the end zone, but again, the score was wiped out by an illegal block in the back. The Panthers were stopped at the 4-yard line following the score, and neither side threatened for the remainder of regulation.

In 1971, Kansas was the first state to implement overtime for high school football. It consists of each team receiving a series from the 10-yard line. It continues back and forth in this manner until one team is ahead after each team has had an equal number of possessions. The defense can NOT score on a turnover.

I do not like the format, period. I especially do not like the idea of starting from the 10-yard line. It’s too tilted towards the offense. I’m not a fan of the NCAA format, either, which is basically the same as high school, with a few differences: the possessions start at the 25, the defense can score on a turnover, and starting with the third overtime, a team must attempt a 2-point conversion after scoring a touchdown. Some states, including Louisiana and Oregon, have adopted the 2-point conversion rule for overtime in their states.

Massachusetts and Texas use the college overtime format since those states largely play by NCAA rules, with a few modifications.

Prior to the implementation of overtime, ties were broken in all sorts of zany ways. That’s another post for another time.

Sacred Heart got the ball first in the first overtime, and it scored on second down on a 7-yard run by Salas. The Knights lined up as if they would kick the extra point, but instead,, the holder threw to Salas for the 2-point conversion.

The pressure was now on Phillipsburg. Not only did the Panthers have to score a touchdown, they had to add the 2-point conversion–a kick would do no good–and that would only get the game to a second overtime.

Lennemann was stuffed for a loss on first down. On second, Sage rolled right and found Nate Prewitt at the 4. Prewitt broke two tackles and powered his way into the end zone to set up the crucial conversion.

Sage kept right on the conversion and dove over a defender at the pylon. Conversion good. Second overtime ahead.

It took Phillipsburg one play to score. Lennemann took an option pitch around right end to paydirt. Jaron Kellerman kicked the extra point.

Sacred Heart’s Justin McCartney threw incomplete on first down of the Knights’ possessoin. The next play turned out to be their last of 2014.

Sage stepped in front of McCartney’s intended receiver to not only end the game, but post his third interception of the night. Phillipsburg 22, Sacred Heart 15.

The Panthers travel to Oakley Friday for the quarterfinals.

I’m out of here. Gotta get ready for the long trip to Minneola for Victoria’s game in Clark County.

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.

Statistics lie again

Oakley gained 445 yards vs. Smith Center tonight, 335 of those on the ground. The Plainsmen held the ball for 27 minutes, 16 seconds, racked up 19 first downs, and averaged 8.1 yards per play.

Meanwhile, the Redmen had only 10 first downs and a pedestrian 257 yards.

Yet the final score read Smith Center 35, Oakley 8.

Seven turnovers, three inside the red zone, will do that to you. Oakley learned that the hard way.

The Plainsmen fumbled three times inside the Smith Center 20-yard line in the second half. The first of those came at the Redmen 2 as it looked like Oakley was going to score its first touchdown and make a game of it. Instead, two plays later, Nick Lehmkuhl galloped 91 yards the other way for a Smith Center touchdown, and it was 28-0. Cue the fat lady.

Time for me to go back to Russell. I’ll get back on the blog then. So long for now.

Friday morning ramblings

No, I was not up at 2:01 a.m. when Verizon began taking orders for the new Apple iPhone models. I was so tired when I got back from Buffalo Wild Wings I was out about 15 minutes later. Good decision, because when I finally got up at 5:30, I was quickly in the shower and dressed.

The traffic heading south from Platte County to Overland Park was easy. I figured an easier way by getting off US 69 at 95th Street, so I did not have to U-turn across Metcalf. I was in line at 7 a.m., and now my car is getting its new tires. By getting here so early, I don’t have to sweat it. If I’m out of here by 11 a.m., I’ll be to Smith Center in plenty of time, no matter if I take US 36 all the way across or I take I-70 to Salina, cut north at Belleville, and then across. Going back to Russell is not an option, at least not right now.

I don’t think Smith Center and Oakley have played a regular season football game, which stands to reason, since the Plainsmen were in the Northwest Kansas League forever until coming to the Mid-Continent League this season for football, last season for everything else. Oakley has played Norton quite a bit, since the Bluejays were in the NWKL before coming to the MCL with Smith Center in 1977. I have also recalled the Plainsmen playing Phillipsburg and Plainville in regular season games in recent years, and they have been in districts with Ellis and Trego.

Oakley was put in a bad position when the NWKL schools began to rapidly depopulate. Oakley was the largest member of the NWKL beginning in the fall of 2010, when Colby and Goodland left to form the Great West Activities Conference with Holcomb, Hugoton, Scott City and Ulysses. Quinter went 8-man in 2008, Hoxie went in 2010, and it was only a matter of time before the same happened at Atwood and Saint Francis. It figured there would come a day when only Oakley and Oberlin were left among the 11-man ranks.

The NWKL used to be a powerhouse league. Scott City was in the league until 1996, and they had a dynasty in the late 1980s and early 1990s. Atwood used to be one of the best in 2-1A year in and year out. Goodland had some fine teams in 4A. Oakley was a consistent winner in 3A, and then 2-1A. And once Tim Lambert, the starting quarterback on Smith Center’s 1986 state championship team, took over at St. Francis, the Indians soon zoomed to the top of the league. In fact, Sainty lost four consecutive seasons (2004 through 2007) to Smith Center in the playoffs, highlighted by a neanderthal 6-2 battle in 2006.

When it became apparent Colby and Goodland were twice as big as any other school in the league, the other members politely asked those two to move on. They did, and the result is a league which stretches almost from Nebraska to Oklahoma north to south, and all of the travel is along two-lane highways.

In 2012, after Atwood went 8-man, the NWKL added 8-man schools Sharon Springs, Dighton and Greeley County (Tribune), plus 11-man school Leoti.

It was too late for Oakley, which in January 2012 was voted into the MCL by a 7-2 count, with Osborne and Trego dissenting. Not long thereafter, the Bulldogs and Golden Eagles both left the MCL, but Trego would soon return. The Plainsmen would play in the 2013-14 MCL volleyball and basketball tournaments, and would participate in the league golf and track and field meets, but could not play a full football schedule, or a round robin basketball schedule, until this school year.

TMP-Marian was placed in the MCL by the Kansas State High School Activities Association in June 2012, effective July 1, 2014. Trego’s return brought the MCL back to 10 for the first time since Victoria departed at the end of the 2004-05 school year.

The MCL was the first, and to date only, league to win three state football championships in the same sesason. It was 1985, when Norton won 4A, Plainville claimed 3A, and Victoria triumphed in 2-1A. The next year, Norton repeated in 4A, and Smith Center won 3A. From 1983 through 1987, six different MCL schools won state championships.

I have written about the Mid-Continent League since coming to Kansas in September 2005. I have worried about the league breaking up, which would really be hard for the three schools along US 36–Norton, Phillipsburg and Smith Center–since all are in a sort of no-man’s land, and all are very good in most sports. Norton and Phillipsburg are too big for some of the other area leagues. They were invited to the GWAC, but Norton superintendent Greg Mann had it right when he said no thank you. He wasn’t about to make his students travel three to four hours on a Tuesday night for a basketball game.

I have suggested Russell should be in the MCL. The Broncos are not a fit for the North Central Activities Association, as much as RHS principal Larry Bernard tries to tell me otherwise. Russell’s closest league foe is 45 miles away, and for the most part, most Bronco teams have struggled against Beloit, Sacred Heart and Southeast of Saline. A lot of people at Russell, led by Bernard, think the MCL is beneath them, but why?

As far as I’m concerned, there shouldn’t be league play for football. Form eight-team districts, and that way seven of nine games are taken care of. It would be easy to schedule the other two. If this were the case, Russell would be in a district with Norton, TMP-Marian, Hoisington, Scott City, Cimarron, Lakin and Southwestern Heights. Two more games would be a cinch.

I don’t make the rules,, I just cover the rules enforced by the KSHSAA. Too bad Gary Musselman doesn’t have more power to affect change. I believe he would make a positive difference if he could.

Still here

My stomach is feeling much better right now. That McDonald’s breakfast has finally gotten out of my system. I swear never again. No way.

I’m still at Buffalo Wild Wings, playing trivia, watching the Royals (they’re losing to the Red Sox 4-2 in the sixth) and the Steelers-Ravens NFL game (Baltimore up 17-6 in the third). It’s quiet here, but that won’t be the case a week from tonight, since Kansas State is hosting Auburn and there will be an NFL game on at the same time.

I figure I’m going to have to leave the hotel by 6:30 if I want to get to Morse-McCarthy Chevrolet at a good hour. They open at 7, and it will take 30-35 minutes for me to get from the Courtyard on Tiffany Springs to 9201 Metcalf. I’m probably not going to take US 36 straight across from St. Joseph to Smith Center, but I could if I had the time.

The drive on US 36 west from the Missouri River to either Smith Center or Phillipsburg can be grueling. Not much scenery, although there’s a McDonald’s in Hiawatha, a Hardee’s in Marysville, and a good Dairy Queen in Belleville which is owned by Alan Sheets, the principal at Republic County High School. Once you get west of US 81, however, you’d better be able to survive until Smith Center, because there is next to nothing in between, even Mankato, the seat of Jewell County.

Smith Center and Oakley should be a pretty good game. The Plainsmen will be playing their first official Mid-Continent League game against a school which defeated them four times in the playoffs between 2003 and 2009. The Redmen are nowhere near the juggernaut they were during those postseason meetings, but they aren’t chopped liver, either.

Speaking of Republic County and Belleville, that’s where Russell High plays tomorrow night. Frank Mercer is going to cover it. It’s a very long drive–137 miles-from Russell, but at least it’s all four-lane highway. On some days, I can make it from Russell to Belleville faster than I can from Russell to Smith Center. The speed limit on US 281 from Russell to Osborne is 60 miles per hour for the most part, save for the seven-mile concurrency with K-18 from Waldo to Luray where it’s 65. The road is also very narrow for the most part, and I cannot count the number of deer and coyotes which have skittered across the pavement through the years. Of course, there’s the one which sheared off part of the front end of the driver’s side of my car this past March 3.

I still am very apprehensive about driving 281 at night. I will detour to Phillipsburg and go down US 183 before I try my hand at 281 at night, at least right now. I realize I hit a deer on 183 many years ago, but it’s far safer than 281 or 283, which runs from Norton to WaKeeney. There was one night where I saw three different deer on 283, all between the Norton-Graham County line and I-70.

I don’t know how much longer I’m staying at Buffalo Wild Wings. I’m going to finish my sandwich and this round of trivia at least.