On the Rebound
By Dion Clisso PrepsKC Managing Editor
There is a proud tradition of sports in the Kansas City, Kansas School District. When you drive up to Schlagle High School one of the shining examples of that tradition adorns a sign.
The sign says “Welcome to Kansas City, Kansas, the home of the world’s fastest man Maurice Greene.” Of course Greene isn’t the fastest man in the world but he is still one of the top track athletes of the last 25 years.
Other great athletes have come out of KCK as well. There have been many others like Earl Watson who played basketball at UCLA and in the NBA. There have been a few notable football players as well. Darrell Stuckey who played at KU and is now a member of the San Diego Chargers went to Washington High School.
There have been many quality athletes come out of the KCK school district. While most of the Metro goes crazy for football on a Friday night, KCK is a hot bed of basketball. Some of the best teams in the Metro and the state of Kansas come from KCK.
Since 1993 the district has won seven boys basketball titles including Sumner the last two years in Class 4A. There are plenty of athletes wanting to play hoops and the enthusiasm is high.
While basketball has flourished, football has suffered. But things are starting to change. Sumner has made the playoffs the last four years and Schlagle and Wyandotte has each made an appearance in the last six years. There are new coaches in the last two years at Wyandotte, Washington and Harmon and the tide seems to be turning.
If there was one moment when football in KCK had a breakthrough it was last season. Sumner, coached by Todd Wassman went 8-1 in the regular season and promptly took out an undefeated Basehor-Linwood in the first round of the Class 4A playoffs. This year the Sabres are 0-3 and one of the standouts from last season, Bennie Parker, decided to focus on basketball and not play football.
This season Harmon (2-1) and Schlagle (3-0) are off to good starts and things are looking up. Sumner has a Division I recruit in senior receiver Vernon Vaughn who is headed to Kansas State and more basketball kids are starting to make that transition from one-sport specialists to being a multi-sport athlete.
Even with the high enthusiasm it is tough to recruit some kids to football. First-year Harmon coach Steven Jackson said that some kids just see the tough physical side of football and decide it’s not for them.
“The main problem is that the commitment to basketball is huge around here,” Jackson said. “The contact is a little bit less than basketball. That is our biggest challenge. We have to get them out and have fun with the game and hopefully they are having enough fun that it outweighs the physical contact.”
Jackson also played basketball and ran track when he was in high school at Blue Vallley and said playing football helped him get better at basketball.
“I did every sport I could,” Jackson said. “I tell them that playing football isn’t going to take away from your basketball game if you come out here with the same competitiveness that you have on the basketball court. If you come out here and work hard out here we are going to give you the footwork drills, body control and how to be physical. That is going to translate on the basketball court. Attacking a rebound is the same as attacking the ball on an interception.
“I just try to keep pushing that I don’t want you to be the best football player. I know some don’t have to love the game like I do. I want you to be the best athlete and we can definitely help you do that with all of the things you do in football.”
Some of the changes that are helping these programs win more games are summer 7-on-7 leagues and tournaments. That time spent in the summer has helped those teams get more time on the football field and more time being able to get better at the game.
This summer Washington coach Brandon Corbin had his team out at 7-on-7 this summer as a way to work on their passing game. That type of work builds enthusiasm and teamwork.
“For us as a team it (7-on-7) was really important,” Corbin said. “Despite our record we had a pretty good running game. Certainly not a running game that was going to take you anywhere as far as championships, we averaged over 100 yards a game rushing but far, far less than that on the season passing. We really struggled, had a number of quarterbacks but it was something we had to focus in the summertime to just be able to throw the ball.”
That work in the summer and offseason is starting to pay dividends. Schlagle already has the same amount of wins as last year and Harmon is just one win from matching its win total from last year.
Schlagle coach Tim Dorian knows that winning games is a big part of making his sport attractive to the athletes he has walking his halls.
“It’s good that we have athletes, that’s what you looking for,” Dorian said. “We’ve got the facilities. We just have to get the kids to buy in because that is what is going to put them at the next level. A few of them are and they are the ones that are improving.”
Schlagle has done a pretty good job of getting its basketball players to play football. One of those players who plays both is Laray Young.
“I like the contact and the team work,” Young said. “I love working as a team. It helps my footwork and everything.”
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