Free State High in the Class 6A state championship football game? Pinch me.
Perry-Lecompton in the Class 4A state championship football game? Slap me.
Back in the muggy days of August, when high school football players first donned pads, the Firebirds and the Kaws were regarded as potential challengers for league titles. Beyond that, well …
Heck, you might have bet the Royals would reach .500 again before the Firebirds and Kaws would ascend to such heights. Free State and Perry-Lecompton? Yeah, and the Chiefs will make the Super Bowl.
OK, I’m exaggerating, but the point is that Free State and Perry-Lecompton didn’t figure to go very far in the playoffs, not with each team entering the postseason with three defeats.
In fact, of the 10 teams that will play for state high school championships on Saturday, Free State and Perry-Lecompton have the most losses. Two of the 10 finalists have two defeats, two have one loss, and four are unbeaten.
Not that anyone is counting. Records are meaningless now.
Pardon the provincialism, but Douglas County folks wouldn’t be human if they weren’t busting their buttons with 11⁄2 of their schools playing for a state championship Saturday.
Lecompton, the historic former territorial capital, is located on the Kansas River bluffs in the northwest corner of the county. Perry is situated across the Kaw on some of the richest farm land in Jefferson County. That’s also where you’ll find the high school.
I’m not sure how many Kansas unified school districts are located in different counties, or how many are separated by the state’s largest river, but the unusual marriage of Perry and Lecompton seems to have worked for 37-plus years.
Meanwhile, the inevitable division of our city into two high schools back in 1997 brought an end to Lawrence High’s dominance of Class 6A football.
During the decade between 1986 and 1995, the Lions captured eight Class 6A state championships, failing only in 1988 and 1994. LHS also won state titles in 1979 and 1984 for a total of 10 — the most in 6A since the playoffs began in 1969.
Since the merger, Lawrence High has had two or three terrific teams that simply weren’t fortunate in the playoffs. And fortune always plays a huge role. For instance, this year’s Free State team can’t match the talent of the 2006 edition that featured the Murphy twins, Christian Ballard, et al., but that team bowed to Shawnee Mission West in the semifinals.
Even if the ’08 Firebirds become state champs, the ’06 club will still own the best record in school history at 11-1.
At the same time, this Perry-Lecompton team is only the second in school history to win 10 games, and its four victories in the playoffs are unprecedented. So even if the Kaws don’t win Saturday’s championship game against perennial power Topeka Hayden, they already have established a singular place in school annals.
Look at Free State and Perry-Lecompton from the widest angle, and you’ll realize they are the quintessence of what the playoffs are all about.