When the Kansas State High School Activities Association released its football district assignments for the next two seasons on Wednesday, the concerned parties at Lawrence High and Free State couldn’t help but think the selections looked a little peculiar.
The Firebirds knew this might be coming, but now it is official: beginning next season, they won’t play in the same district as their rival Lions for the first time in program history.
Because just one eastern team from Class 6A (Leavenworth) dropped to 5A and two new eastern 6A teams (Kansas City, Kan., JC Harmon and Blue Valley) moved up for the 2014-15 district cycle, KSHSAA had to re-shuffle the east-west split amongst its 32 6A schools.
With FSHS located farther west than any of the other eastern programs, it got bumped to the opposite side of the state for the purposes of the playoff bracket. Instead of playing in the same district as Lawrence and other Kansas City-area programs, the Firebirds were grouped with Manhattan, Topeka and Topeka Washburn Rural in District 5.
Free State coach Bob Lisher said he is at least familiar with Topeka and WRHS, because his team has played in the same district with them in the past, but Manhattan and the majority of the western field will be new to the Firebirds. The 17th-year FSHS coach said that doesn’t mean advancing through the playoffs will be any more difficult.
“Every week is different,” Lisher said. “It’s just a different name that we’re not used to playing.”
With the Firebirds and Lions on opposite sides of the bracket, it creates the possibility that the two rivals could play each other in the 6A championship game. A more concrete consequence of the split for the rival programs, which have played in the same district since 1997, is that the City Showdown won’t be played in the final weeks of the season. Instead, the Firebirds and Lions will be placed in the same Sunflower League division for the two-year window, and play in Week 3 of 2014.
Lisher didn’t seem too concerned with the alteration.
“I don’t even think about next year until it happens,” he said. “Right now I’m trying to figure out how to beat (Shawnee Mission) East (Free State’s opponent this Friday).”
LHS coach Dirk Wedd didn’t mind the variation to the annual clash, either.
“It’ll be something to look forward to,” Wedd said. “It’ll break up the schedule a little bit. As always, it’ll be something for the city to get excited about.”
KSHSAA placed the Lions in District 4 for the next two years, with three Olathe programs: East, North and Northwest.
“It’s probably the toughest district in the state,” Wedd predicted, noting both O-North and O-East are expected to be top-five teams in 2014.
Not that he was complaining: “I learned a long time ago you play who they tell you to play and you move on.”
Now that district assignments are all sorted out, both Lawrence and Free State were able to schedule their first-week opponents for next season.
While the Sunflower League voted last month to implement a division format in order to create an opportunity for each team to schedule a non-league opponent, only LHS had luck doing so.
The Lions will open next fall against Blue Valley West, and the Firebirds, who had other non-league matchups fall through, will face Shawnee Mission West, a Sunflower League team from outside its division.
Said Lisher: “I think Shawnee Mission West and us would have preferred to play somebody we haven’t played, but it just didn’t work out. We’ll just play each other. That’s fine.”
Wedd said the Lions are looking forward to playing BVW, out of the Eastern Kansas League.
“They’re a real good football team that’ll go deep in the playoffs this year,” the LHS coach said. “It’ll be a tough opener.”