And your name is?

Nick Smith/PrepsKC

By Jim Bradford PrepsKC Senior Writer
Posted: August 20, 2015 - 3:29 PM



One thing high school football coaches, players and fans can count on is change.

Change is constant, whether you like it or not.

There are new players every year. There is new growth every year. No year is ever the same. The results may be the same – or close to it – but it’s never, ever the same.

Heck, even the way the bigger classes in Kansas qualify for the playoffs will be different next year. More change.

But over the years, one thing has remained relatively the same, with a few exceptions here and there.

The men who patrol the sidelines in the Sunflower League have usually looked pretty familiar. Oh, there are always some changes, but normally, the deans of the Sunflower League had been the same.

But even things that seemingly never change sometimes change.

When Kansas kicks off its season on Sept. 4, there will be four new head coaches in the Sunflower League, one staring his second season and three more entering their third.

Just four Sunflower League head coaches remain with more than two years of coaching under their belts at their respective schools.

“We lost some hall of fame coaches, for sure,” said Lawrence head coach Dirk Wedd. “But the coaches that were hired have great resumes and have won big or been part of some great programs. After watching and or competing against most of them this summer those schools hit home runs with those hires.”

A couple of departures in particular shifted the normal status quo in the Sunflower League when Olathe North’s Gene Wier left for the University of Kansas and the only coach Olathe East had ever known, Jeff Meyers, was not retained after the 2014 season.

Taking over for Wier, who led North for 25 years over two stints, is longtime assistant Chris McCartney.

Taking over for Meyers is longtime North assistant Jessie Owen, a member of the 1996 state championship team at North.

Both expect the league to pick up where it left off, having sent a team to the Class 6A state championship game every year for the better part of three decades.

“I expect our league to be extremely competitive and more balanced from top to bottom than in recent years,” McCartney said.

Owen echoed his thoughts and knows it’s going to be tough no matter who is coaching where.

“The Sunflower League is the best in the state of Kansas,” he said.

“We know that it’s going to be a grind every week.”

Other new faces in the league this year include Brett Oberzan at Shawnee Mission South and Bo Black at Shawnee Mission Northwest.

Ben Bartlett is entering his second year as the head coach at Shawnee Mission North and the trio of Dustin Delaney (Shawnee Mission East), Mark Littrell (Leavenworth) and Chip Sherman (Olathe Northwest) are entering their third years at their respective schools.

“I see the Sunflower League shaping up to be as tough and competitive now as it has ever been,” Littrell said.

Bartlett agrees and thinks the fans will be the biggest benefactors.

“I think in regards to fans of the Sunflower League, it adds to the intrigue and anticipation of this coming season, to see how these changes might affect the landscape of the league,” said Bartlett.

It’s not a whole batch of fresh faces. A trio of long-tenured coaches remains. Bob Lisher is the only coach Lawrence-Free State has ever known, and Wedd is coming up on his 20th season with Lawrence. And Tim Callaghan just passed the decade mark Shawnee Mission West. And let’s not forget Jeff Gourley, who is set to begin his ninth season at Olathe South.

“The quality coaches and staffs in this league make no game a pushover for sure,” Callaghan said. “The league is as strong as it has been for a long time.”

Lisher thinks the new faces will only make things better for the league.

“I think the infusion of fresh faces will only make the league stronger,” he said. “New faces (equals) new ideas. I’m looking forward to facing the challenges these bright and talented coaches bring to our league.”

The future certainly is bright, and if the recent successes have any barometer on future trends, the league is in for another great ride.

When Shawnee Mission East won the state title last year, it became the fourth different Sunflower League team to win a state title in the past six years. That’s a far cry from the 1990s when Lawrence had a stranglehold on league bragging rights before Olathe North wrestled that away in the mid-90s through the early 2000s.

Parity reigns supreme.

But don’t worry, more change is coming. Just when you get used to some of the new faces and changes in the Sunflower League, more changes are on the horizon. When play begins in 2016, Kansas Class 5A and 6A are waving bye-bye to district play. Teams will play eight regular season games and then be placed into a postseason bracket starting with the ninth week of the season.

The exact seeding for Kansas has not been decided, but the two 32-team classes will be split in half by geography and then seeded 1 through 16.

Yep, change is constant.

But change is good.