Since moving to Kansas, the third or fourth Friday of April has invariably found me in Osborne for the Kaser Relays. This was the very first track meet I covered for Main Street Media in 2006, and frankly, I had no idea what to do. I didn’t have nearly the camera equipment i do now, and while I knew what the event were, I had no clue where to position myself and what to look for.
Osborne’s meet is one of four I covered every year during my first nine seasons in Kansas. The others are the Russell Relays, which are in two weeks; the Mid-Continent League meet; and the state championships at Wichita. I did not cover a regional in 2013, and I didn’t begin covering the meets at Smith Center and Plainville until 2007.
Today, I had one eye on the events, but one eye on my iPhone.
The forecast since Sunday had called for severe weather today, and by time I arrived at Osborne at 2:20, it looked the sky was beginning to stir. The sun would poke out from the clouds, but mostly it was overcast.
I could feel the bad weather coming. It was unusually humid for western Kansas in late April. The dewpoint was 60 degrees, about 25 degrees above where it should be for this time of year. It wasn’t a question of if the rain was coming, but when.
Kenny Ubelaker, Osborne’s track coach from 2007 through 2014, joked with me that if it waited until 5 to rain, it would be fine with him, since he would be wrapped up with the boys javelin, the event he was managing. Rex Johnston, the public address announcer for the meet, said it would wait until 10 to rain.
When I checked the radar on my phone at 4, I knew Kenny would be right.
The weather to the southwest of Osborne was beginning to stir, and a line of thunderstorms was between Wakeeney and Hays. Twenty minutes later, it got much worse.
A tornado warning was issued for Ellis County. A tornado had been spotted just north of Interstate 70 and looked like it might scrape the northern portion of Hays. Fortunately, the twister did not touch down anywhere within the Hays city limits, but it slowly made its way east across US 183, just south of K-18.
Of course, Russell County is the next county east from Ellis.
Just after 4, I made the decision to leave the meet following the completion of preliminary heats in the 100-meter dash, 200-meter dash and high hurdles. I was in communication with my supervisor, Frank Mercer, who was in Russell. He was supposed to cover the Broncos’ baseball and softball games vs. Ellis at Russell, but those were postponed to May 14 due to the forecast.
As the 4×800-meter relays were run, the skies began to darken, and I noticed the rain shield inching closer to Osborne on my phone. I figured it was a good time to leave and see if I could get to K-18 before the bad weather arrived.
Good plan, but Mother Nature had her own ideas.
About halfway between Osborne and Luray, where US 281 meets K-18 for an eight mile jog west, a tornado warning was issued for northern Russell County. Any further driving south would put me in harm’s way.
I turned around and headed north, back towards Osborne. Just past the city limits, I turned right onto a county road which I knew would take me east to K-181. I would then get on K-181 and head south towards Sylvan Grove.
I had forgotten just how many twists and turns K-181 has. It was a roller coaster ride up and down the hills, with a couple of very sharp curves, curves I wasn’t totally prepared for. I was going too fast, trying to outrun the storm.
I did outrun the storm. I got to I-70, and finally home, without a drop. Just as I pulled into my garage, it appeared as if it would rain hard in Russell, but it stopped almost right away.
It turns out the meet was suspended only minutes after I departed. It never restarted.
Until today, it had been seven years since I covered a meet which was called off early.
The 2008 Russell Relays were terminated following the completion of the field events due to ridiculously high wind, wind which gusting in excess of 60 miles per hour at times. Only three schools–Beloit, Concordia and Russell–wanted to continue the meet.
In 2012, the Beloit Relays were suspended for three hours by severe thunderstorms. That meet ended up resuming, but not completed until after 10 p.m. I left at 1 and went down to Wichita.
I’m beat. That’s all for now.
After finding out my main camera wasn’t going to work, it was all free and easy. I don’t know how the pictures from the other camera will turn out, but it will have to do.
As for the game itself, Osborne pulled away after a close first half to a 52-28 victory. Thunder Ridge appeared to get right back in the game after recovering a Bulldog fumble at it own 2 and converting it into a touchdown on a 72-yard scamper by Trent Rietzke around right end. The Longhorns missed the 2-point conversion, but trailed by only two with just over three minutes to go before halftime.
Unfortunately for the home team, Osborne came right back and scored a touchdown with six seconds to go before halftime. It might have been worse than 32-22 at the break if not for a penalty.
The Bulldogs recovered a short kickoff following their fourth touchdown, and on what appeared to be the final play of the first half, Osborne quarterback Jake Tiernan threw a pass deep down the right sideline which Cullen Grabast hauled in at the 5. He averted a Longhorn tackler and dove into the end zone.
The score was for naught. There were offsetting penalties–illegal formation against Osborne and an illegal hit against Thunder Ridge. Osborne got another play, but Tiernan just took a knee.
The Bulldogs drove to a touchdown on their first possession of the second half. Rietzke struck back by returning the ensuing kickoff 75 yards for a touchdown, but that would be Thunder Ridge’s last hurrah. Osborne dominated the rest of the game and won by a comfortable margin.
Osborne, which won the 8-man Division I state championship in 2013, hasn’t lost since the 2012 regular season finale. And here’s an interesting fact which may bode well for the Bullldogs: each of the previous two visiting teams to win at Kensington, Hill City in 2010 and Rock Hills in 2012, reached the Division I state championship game, even though they lost.
The drive back was rather easy. I passed Smith Center’s bus at Stockton, and Phillipsburg’s bus just south of Plainville. I passed on stopping at Hays and headed right back to Russell.
I want to go to Kansas City later today to visit everyone at Buffalo Wild Wings. I’m scared some won’t want to see me.
It was raining in Russell when I departed my garage at 3:20. It continued raining through Hays and Plainville, but by time I reached Stockton on US 183, the precipitation subsided. When I got to the junction of 183 and US 36 in Phillipsburg, the sun was trying to break through the clouds.
I pulled into Thunder Ridge High at 5:15. It figures to be a great early September night for football: mild, no rain, not much wind, and no sun glare to affect my pictures.
The only question is my camera. Will it work again, or will it malfunction like it did last night? I’ve taken a backup camera body to be safe. Either way, I’m covered. It’s just the backup doesn’t have the resolution of my main camera.
We’re 70 minutes from kickoff in Kensington. Another high school football season is here.
The new volleyball season began for Russell and Beloit high schools a little under two hours ago. The Trojans defeated the Broncos 25-13, 25-20, spoiling the debut of new Russell coach Don Fenwick.
I’m now waiting for the second varsity match to begin. In the North Central Activities Association, teams play two varsity matches at the same site on the same day, rather than home-and-home, which is common in leagues where the schools do not have far to travel.
The Mid-Continent League, the league I cover in volleyball for the most part, does not have a mandatory round robin schedule. With the membership of the league in flux in recent years, that hasn’t been possible. The MCL determines its champion by a league tournament in mid-October. Smith Center has won the past two tournaments and 14 overall. Phillipsburg won it six straight between 2006 and 2011.
I just checked the weather for my football game Friday. Does not look good. There’s a chance of rain, and if that happens, the field at Kensington will turn muddy.
I agreed with Jack and Frank this afternoon that I should cover Osborne and Thunder Ridge of Kensington this Friday. Kensington is a tiny hamlet located on US 36 in western Smith County, halfway between Phillipsburg and Smith Center. Thunder Ridge was formed in 2008 after the merger of the school districts of Kensington and Agra, another tiny town in eastern Phillips County.
Thunder Ridge won the 8-man Division II state championship in 2011, finished second in 2012, and went 8-2 a year ago, although the Longhorns were bounced from the playoffs in the first round by Sharon Springs.
Osborne won the 8-man Division I state title last year. The Bulldogs played 11-man from 1966 through 2009, winning a state title in 1983, but mostly falling on hard times since, as their enrollment could not keep up with powerhouses like Smith Center, Norton and Plainville, and later Phillipsburg. Schools in Kansas are allowed to play 8-man if their enrollment in grades 9, 10 and 11 is 100 or fewer in years when the Kansas State High School Activities Association draws up new football districts, which are odd-numbered years for the cycle to begin the following year.
I’ve got a lot of stuff between now and Friday. The second match at Beloit, the drive back to Russell, writing and laying out pages for Russell, volleyball Thursday at Smith Center…it will get interesting.