One Team, One Town
By Dion Clisso PrepsKC Managing Editor
When you are from a smaller town you automatically have a nickname. When you go somewhere else you’re a Tiger, a Wildcat, a Cyclone, a Rooster or a Bulldog.
You go off to college and you are identified by the hometown you came from. If you are from a town with one high school you seem to earn that school’s nickname. Thus you become that Bulldog or Tiger. You hear it over and over. Hey, where are you from?
I’m from Kearney.
Oh you’re a Bulldog.
If you ‘re from a bigger suburb or the city it doesn’t happen like that. If you’re from Olathe, you’re not just a Hawk, you could be a Raven, and Eagle or a Falcon. At Blue Springs you’re either a Wildcat or a Jaguar. Heck, if you’re from Kansas City you could be about 10 different things.
Those one high school smaller towns all seem to have an identity that bigger towns with multiple high schools don’t. Kearney may be on of the best examples of that phenomenon in the Metro. The Bulldogs are a one-high school town that takes their identity as Bulldogs very seriously.
“We talked to the kids about it last week,” Kearney coach Greg Jones said. “You go out and have breakfast on the day of the game and the older guys in town don’t ask hey who are you playing tonight, not who do the Bulldogs have tonight, it’s who do we have tonight.
“That’s kind of the mindset. They’re all Bulldogs at heart and they live through these kids and this team. They like to see when you are doing well. It makes them feel good.”
Kearney is passionate about all of their sports and football is right at the top of the list. The Bulldogs have been one of the best Class 4 programs for nearly a decade. In the first 10 years of the century Kearney won back-to-back titles in 2002 and 2003 and then closed out the decade with a state title last season.
That tradition has kids growing up wanting to play for a Kearney team that has a chance to win a state championship. This current group of players was in elementary school when the Bulldogs won back-to-back titles and that goal is something they think about.
Growing up in Kearney means Kearney football.
“It’s neat because the Pop Warner teams all run our stuff,” Jones said. “It’s Kearney football. In the fall it’s Kearney football from top to bottom. It helps the kids succeed when they get to the high school level. The thing it does too is the kids come to the games and they watch the game because we run the same stuff. It helps that those young teams the coaches support us enough by running our stuff and they believe in what we’re doing.”
This year Kearney is off to a 3-0 start and looks as dominant as ever. In their first three games (the Ozark game in week No. 3 was canceled due to inclement weather) the Bulldogs have outscored their opponents 150-14.
The three wins to start the season extends Kearney’s winning streak to 13 games dating back to last season. The last team to beat the Bulldogs was Staley in the fifth week of 2009. The Falcons earned a 21-7 win over Kearney and looked like they would be the favorite to win the Class 4 title. When the playoffs rolled around the Bulldogs were the best team earning an impressive 28-0 dominating victory over Staley.
This year both teams are again undefeated but this game won’t be a playoff preview. Staley has moved up to Class 5 but that hasn’t changed the heat in the brand new rivalry. This year the Falcons face a Kearney team that has one of the best home-field advantages in the Metro. Under Jones the Bulldogs are 23-3 at home.
In case any of the players forget the importance of winning home games there is a banner just outside the locker room that says “Protect this House” with the updated 23-3 record.
“We are unable to lose here, it’s the end of the world if we lose here,” senior lineman Greg Harris said. “This is our house we have got to protect it.”
Harris said the loss to Staley was a turning point for the team last year.
“When we played Staley last year we didn’t think they were as good as they were,” Harris said. “As soon as that game was over we wanted to play them again. We set goals every year and beating Staley is one of those goals.”
Harris has grown up in Kearney and knows what the tradition is all about. Some of the Bulldogs have only experienced the atmosphere in the last few years. Michael Pfeffer moved to Kearney from O’Fallon Missouri where there are several high schools and said it is much different in a one school town.
“They are really welcoming and they took pride in their athletics and their football team,” Pfeffer said. “They have a great weight program, they really develop athletes.”
Having seen other places Kearney and the people mean a lot to Pfeffer said.
“I haven’t been here as long as others, but it is special to me,” Pfeffer said. “I guess you can say I appreciate more because I know the difference.”
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