The Lawrence High athletic program is back in the limelight.
For the first time since past Lions' football, volleyball and swimming programs received national recognition on a regular basis, LHS again was thrust into the national spotlight this week by Sports Illustrated.
In its May 26 edition, SI named LHS the top high school athletic program in Kansas, throwing the Chesty Lions onto a list of traditional powerhouses that included Mater Dei (Santa Ana, Calif.), Tupelo High (Mississippi) Dematha High (Maryland) and St. Anthony's (New York).
Punahou High, in Honolulu, received the magazine's top honor after winning 16 state titles and sending 12 seniors to Division I colleges.
"To be included on that list, when you think of the other high school in town and all of the great Sunflower League schools we compete against, is great," LHS principal Steve Nilhas said. "I'm really proud that we've been able to maintain excellence in our fine arts and academic programs and still are recognized among the elite in athletics."
In addition to the brief mention in the magazine, LHS was dubbed one of Sports Illustrated's top 25 athletic programs from the 2007-08 school year. LHS ranked No. 22 on the list, and was recognized specifically for the state title won by the girls basketball team and the runner-up trophy won by the boys.
"Bill Self and the Jayhawks weren't the only city residents taking home basketball titles last winter," the online blurb reads. "(The LHS) girls won the Kansas state title and the boys finished second."
"For quite a while there, it was just nothing but good things happening around here," boys coach Chris Davis said. "Between our run at state and the Jayhawks winning the title, it was just a real fun time."
Both Davis and LHS girls coach Kristin Mallory said they assumed that Kansas University's national basketball championship helped put the Lions on the map, but the connection to KU didn't take away from their thrills.
"That's really something," Davis said. "You fight to do your best and to do as good as you can, and when Sports Illustrated recognizes you, that's really something."
Moments after hearing about the honor, Mallory was at a loss for words. But after it all sunk in, she emphasized a desire to maintain the image in the future.
"Being on top is one thing," Mallory said. "But staying there is another. It's a thing where we need to sustain this kind of success if we truly want to be mentioned with the great teams we've had here in the past."
Also mentioned in the feature were two nearby schools: Rockhurst High (Kansas City, Mo.), which won five state titles during the 2007-08 year, and Smith Center, which featured a football program that finished the 2007 season 13-0, ran its winning streak to 54 games and outscored opponents, 844-20.
To see SI's complete top 25 list, log on to: http://sportsillustrated.cnn.com/2008/highschool/05/19/high.school.top.10/index.html?eref=T1.