Too often, youth is taken at face value, and looked upon as a marker of inexperience or uncertainty.
Under a more optimistic microscope, though, it represents the promise of good things to come.
A quick glance up and down the winter sports rosters at Free State High says that while nothing quite trumps veteran leadership, young athletes will play large roles this season — and their coaches seem to be opting for the positive outlook.
Take wrestling coach Mike Gillman, for example.
Gillman, entering his first season as head coach, faces the task of rebuilding a program that finished last in the Sunflower League a year ago. It’s his job to do so with mostly young pieces.
“You always want to tell the kids they’re going to be state champions, but that’s not our goal this year,” Gillman said. “Our goal is to get better each week.”
With only a handful of returning seniors, like Jake Brown and Chase Fraser, Gillman’s freshmen, like heavyweight Sterling Ozark, will be asked to make an immediate impact on the varsity level.
Other youngsters, like sophomore Spencer Wilson and freshman brothers Maurice and Marcus Jacobs, will be key parts of the Firebird program for years to come.
“A lot of these freshmen are going to have to step up,” Gillman said. “I set the expectations really high.”
The girls basketball team also returns several key contributors, namely juniors Jackie Garcia and Lynn Robinson and senior Paige Rothwell.
But after losing four seniors to graduation, there’s a void that underclassmen will need to step in and fill.
Coach Bryan Duncan is optimistic that a talented crop of sophomores — Kennedy Kirkpatrick, Alexa Gaumer, Chelsea and Abbey Casady and A’liyah Rogers — can do just that.
“A lot of people will talk about us being a young team,” Duncan said. “But it matters a lot more if you’re good or not, and we have some really good players.”
Similarly, the main core of the boys basketball team is firmly in place, as seniors Eric Watson, Alec Heline and Evan Manning and junior Brett Frantz will shoulder most of the load.
“We’ve had some guys grow a great deal,” coach Chuck Law said. “The leadership that our four seniors have displayed to this point has been outstanding.”
Behind them, though, there are lots of question marks, as players who were on the junior varsity team last year will need to play big minutes for the varsity squad.
Though few of those youngsters have yet to separate themselves from the pack in tryouts, Law is optimistic.
“Competition is always a good thing,” he said.
“We have a pretty deep team (one-through-17 ) on the varsity and junior varsity levels, so our practices have been very competitive,” he added.
Swimming coach Annette McDonald will have to rely a bit less on young athletes, though not by much.
McDonald’s group of upperclassmen — Will and Tony Libeer, Nolan Frank, Ethan Fisher, Logan Sloan — are proven performers who will lead the way for the Firebirds in a number of events.
But McDonald’s divers don’t have much experience, so kids like Austin Nideau will need to grow up quickly, even if they have to learn on the fly.
“We’re 27 strong,” McDonald said. “So there are lots of people that will contribute to our success.”