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Archive for Saturday, August 11, 2007

Woodling: School names bewilder

August 11, 2007

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At times the other night, I felt like I was attending the annual convention of the Azimuth Plotters Society of America.

Actually, the occasion was the Sunflower League football kickoff bash on the campus of MidAmerica Nazarene University in Olathe.

Coaches of all 12 of the league's schools did what they usually do at this function - talk about what great kids they have, poor-mouth their own teams' chances and thump the tub for the league itself.

Mark Littrell, coach of preseason favorite Olathe South, called the Sunflower League the best in the state, "bar none." I won't argue with that, nor will I debate anyone who says the Sunflower League is confusing.

Knowing who's who in this league takes some real study, and that's largely because nine of the 12 league schools are defined by compass points - two Easts, two Norths, two Souths, two Northwests and one West.

Why there are repetitions of four compass points and no Southeast, Southwest or Northeast is likely related to the inevitable forces of geographic expansion, population shifts, Mercator projections and possibly even the Turner Thesis.

The other three - and the only non-K.C. Metro league schools - are Lawrence, Free State and Leavenworth.

You could also say Lawrence is the only district with multiple schools in the Sunflower League that doesn't use compass points, and for that I think we owe a round of applause for the Lawrence school board of the mid-1990s that rejected the weather vane method of naming schools.

With attendance at the two Lawrence high schools determined by the east-west corridor of 15th Street (now Bob Billings Parkway west of Iowa Street), it would have been politically expedient to name the new school Lawrence North and then tack Lawrence South on Lawrence High.

After all, the Shawnee Mission district has a North and a South, and so does the Olathe district.

But the members of that mid-'90s USD 497 school board - bless their hearts - left Lawrence High as it was and then came up with Free State as the name for the new school.

What a great choice. It's distinctive, it's meaningful and, most important, it doesn't offend anyone.

Now the question is, will some future school board have the wherewithal to come up with another galvanizing name without resorting to a compass point or something bland like Lawrence Heights or Clinton Valley?

That third high school would probably be out by Clinton Lake somewhere, or perhaps south down U.S. 59, an area of potential growth when the new highway is finished in a couple of years.

Yet a third high school isn't something anybody has to worry about very soon. I asked Free State High football coach Bob Lisher, who grew up in Lawrence, when he thought the city would require a third high school.

"Boy, I don't know. Twenty years, maybe," he replied. "We've had basically the same (high school) enrollment for 11 years now."

Echoed Lawrence High coach Dirk Wedd: "It'll be quite awhile. Shoot, 10 years ago, they thought our enrollment would be 3,000, and now we're losing kids."

Still, it seems inevitable Lawrence will have another growth spurt. When is the unknown factor.

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