This has been a halcyon autumn at Free State High with the Firebirds boasting state-caliber teams in football, boys soccer and girls gymnastics.
Last weekend, the gymnasts tied for first place in the Kansas prep championships while the soccer team reached the Class 6A title game for the first time in school history. And, of course, the football team is in the playoffs.
Clearly, these achievements are rooted in the school’s senior class. In fact, some day the Class of 2010 may be remembered chiefly for its large contingent of quality athletes, particularly males.
Coach Jason Pendleton’s soccer team, for example, was composed of 11 seniors and seven underclassmen. At the same time, 21 seniors form the core of Bob Lisher’s football roster.
I’ll take that another step by mentioning that 11 of the 16 members of last spring’s Free State baseball team that shared the Sunflower League title with eventual state champion Lawrence High were juniors. Thus, regardless of whether all 11 return next spring, coach Mike Hill’s squad should be top-heavy with seniors.
More fuel was pumped into the school’s pride tank several weeks ago when the KSHSAA announced updated enrollment figures. Those numbers showed Free State was the smallest school in Class 6A.
How about that? Despite having the fewest students in the state’s largest classification, Free State has been competing, for the most part, on the highest level.
These are button-busting days, indeed, out on Overland Drive. But, of course, the glory days can’t go on forever. And probably won’t.
Have you stopped to wonder why Free State has the smallest enrollment in Class 6A? Well, it isn’t because of the senior class and it isn’t because of the Class of 2011, either.
It’s the sophomores. Free State has the fewest number of sophs walking the halls since the school opened in 1997 and — get this — two-thirds are female.
Now you know why Free State sophomore football scores haven’t appeared in the paper. The Firebirds didn’t have a sophomore team. Only 14 sophs went out for football.
Same thing in boys soccer. Usually, Free State fields varsity, junior varsity and C-teams in soccer. Not this year. There weren’t enough bodies for a C-team.
Given the current competitive gulf between football teams at Lawrence High and Free State, Lions’ fans should be glad to hear that coach Dirk Wedd had more than 40 sophomores report for football this fall and, with only 10 seniors on the Lions’ roster, many of those sophs played on the varsity.
I’m not saying that in the fall of 2011 Lawrence High will be the city football power and that Free State will be struggling, but it’s certainly possible based on the current numbers.
The Lions should have a solid core of seniors in ‘11 while the Firebirds’ senior football class will almost certainly be in single-digits. And it won’t be the first time, either.
Back in 2005 — just four years ago — Lawrence High had more than 20 seniors playing football and Free State had just nine. The Lions went 10-2 that fall. And the Firebirds? They were 4-6.