Firebirds are flocking to Free State High.
During the first day of fall practices Monday, six Free State squads boasted a boost in attendance compared to last year. The lone exception was boys soccer, which had one fewer player show.
Free State's football team, perhaps bolstered by last season's 6-3 mark, had 84 players on hand Monday -- 50 seniors and juniors, and 34 sophomores -- which tops the 71 of last year and 52 from the year before.
At 34 players, this year's sophomore class is the team's biggest ever.
"Yeah, I think it's attributable to the success that we had," coach Bob Lisher said of the turnout. "The football programs at both schools (Free State and Lawrence High) are back on the rise."
Lisher also was pleased by the record number of players who achieved qualifying times in the half-mile run Monday. All told, 22 seniors and juniors and nine sophomores finished the run in 2 minutes, 40 seconds for linemen or 2:25 for everyone else.
"Not bad," Lisher said of the first day of two-a-day practices. "After you get through all the paperwork and checking out people that didn't get here for equipment checkout it throws your schedule off a little bit first thing in the morning. But we got some things accomplished.
"This afternoon, as you might expect, was a little sluggish, but we'll get that straightened out."
The Firebirds also have filled their coaching staff, hiring Justin Wrecke (who replaces David Petry, now at LHS) and Brett Romme (assistant coach Brad Romme's younger brother) to help coach the sophomore squad.
Free State's fall sports jamboree will be at 6:40 p.m. a week from Thursday at Haskell Stadium. Free State will open its season at three-time defending state champion Olathe North on Sept. 3.
Girls tennis: The Firebirds had 30 players trying out, up nine from last season and 14 from their inaugural campaign.
"I'd like to think a lot of them see it as a wonderful opportunity to play a sport they're going to be able to enjoy for a lifetime," coach Jon Renberger said. "I'm proud of the fact that it's growing each year. I'm not happy that we're going to have to cut. I wish that we had more courts so that we could keep up our numbers.
"But it's a nice problem to have -- so many people coming out."
Renberger said he probably would have to trim the team to 24 after Wednesday's practice. The Firebirds return two state qualifiers from last year in senior Kim Heck and junior Laura Gravino, a transfer from Lawrence High.
Boys soccer: Free State dipped to 60 players from 61 last year, the difference being the loss of junior Todd Trahan. The Firebirds' leading scorer last season tore the lateral meniscus in his left knee last June and isn't expected to return to the team until mid-October.
Otherwise, first-year coach Jason Pendleton liked what he has seen so far.
"I like our work ethic and we've got positive attitudes," said Pendleton, who came to Free State from Kansas City Wyandotte. "I like that aspect. The hardest thing we're going to have to do here at Free State is to somehow create an attitude of winning because we haven't had much success the previous two years in soccer.
"I think we have some talent. I don't know that we have enough talent to win state or even get to state, but I do believe we have enough talent to win more than three games."
The Firebirds have gone 3-31 overall during their first two seasons.
Girls golf: The Firebirds had twice as many girls show up Monday as they had a year ago, first-year coach Steve Grant said.
"(Today) my first order of business is to hunt up some JV matches," said Grant, also the school's athletics director. "Now we can field a full varsity team and a full JV team. I'm real pleased with the turnout. That's great. It really is.
"There's a range of ability, but they can all get the ball moving down the fairway. It's not that we have people who haven't played golf before."
Volleyball: Free State, which finished fourth in the Class 6A state tournament last season, attracted 38 girls for tryouts, up five from last year. FSHS coach Nancy Hopkins said she plans on cutting to 28-30 players Wednesday and having nine or 10 on each team.
"It went very well," Hopkins said. "They are very excited. I would say they came in with the attitude that they are ready for the season to get going. A lot of them worked over the summer at camps and Red Dog's. Now they're ready to get going."
Practices today and Wednesday will be from 8-11 a.m.
Cross country: Steve Heffernan started his first full season as coach of the boys and girls cross country teams Monday. Heffernan, who also coaches track and field, replaced Ward Brethour in the middle of the season last year.
The Firebirds had 53 runners practice Monday, up from 42 last year at this time.
"It went real well," Heffernan said. "We're really enthusiastic about the kids we had come out. We had a much better practice this year for the first day than a lot of the kids had last year."
-- Robert Sinclair's phone message number is 832-7185. His e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.