In the fall, Free State High soccer players McKenzie Dever and Hillary Yoder split duties picking up the children of Jason and Jodi Pendleton from school at Quail Run Elementary and baby-sitting them until one of the Pendletons returned home from work.
Yet, Jason Pendleton has spent time in recent days trying to figure out how to pin a loss on his former baby-sitters. Ingrate? No. It just comes with the job.
Pendleton, former boys and girls soccer coach at Free State, left after teaching there 10 years to become teacher and soccer coach at Blue Valley Southwest, which is in its first year.
The Timberwolves (12-3) will visit Free State (9-6), now coached by Kelly Barah, at 6:30 p.m. today for a non-league game.
“I have an especially close connection to those two because they spent so much time with our families, in particular in the fall, and they did an awesome job for us,” Pendleton said of Dever and Yoder. “Regan Keasling spent a couple of weeks watching our kids on multiple occasions, and her older sister played for us. There are a number of kids at Free State who helped us out and established positive relationships with us.”
Pendleton scheduled the game after taking his new job. It originally was supposed to open the season, but a conflict forced a rescheduling to what just happens to fall on Senior Day.
“Not only is it a big, important game for us, but I’ll get to see some of these kids I’ve known since they were 8, 9, 10 years old, and now they’re on the verge of going to college,” Pendleton said.
Pendleton said he watched Free State play for “about 30 minutes” last week.
“I was impressed with what Kelly is doing with them,” he said. “They’re over .500 for the first time since 2001. Kelly has done a great job with them.”
Pendleton can take pride in knowing the Kansas Soccer Academy he and Kansas University coach Mark Francis established has increased the skill of the players and has increased participation numbers in the sport.
Pendleton, who always has had some old-fashioned drill sergeant to him, and Barah have different styles, but no difference of opinion as to whether to allow freshman Alexa Harmon-Thomas to split her time between soccer and track and field.
“Not that it’s my team or my decision, so nobody cares what my opinion is, but I absolutely would have found a way to let her play,” Pendleton said. “I was looking forward for many years to her being a part of the soccer program. I had conversations with Alexa’s mom and with coach (Steve) Heffernan about how to sort out all that. Why not let her have the overall high school experience? And she makes both programs better.”
Pendleton called Harmon-Thomas, “as good an athlete as I’ve seen in my entire high school career. She has big-time, potential Div. I talent in both sports.”
Pendleton said he knows and has instructed every Firebirds player except Margaux Gill. That should give him an edge in scouting, provided he doesn’t overdo it.
“It can end up being paralysis by analysis,” he said.
If the schools make this an annual game, it can become quite an event, given both squads’ youth and talent.