Free State, Lawrence High look for new football opponents after Johnson County schools suspend fall sports

photo by: Mike Yoder

Free State running back Tyler Bowden (31) rushes through Lawrence High defenders in a game at LHS Friday night on Oct. 25, 2019.

The Lawrence High and Free State High varsity football teams are looking for new Week 1 opponents following Friday’s decision by the Olathe and Shawnee Mission school districts to suspend fall sports because of the spread of COVID-19 in Johnson County.

LHS football’s season opener with Olathe East, scheduled for Sept. 4, will no longer be played, and Free State’s opener with Shawnee Mission Northwest on the same date also is off.

What becomes of the fall sports schedules beyond that remains unclear, but Friday could serve as a sign of things to come.

“This whole thing is a very, very complicated web in which something changes literally every single day,” Free State Athletic Director Amanda Faunce said Friday evening.

Officials from both the Shawnee Mission and Olathe districts have indicated that they will continue to monitor their county’s status and reevaluate the fall seasons in the weeks to come.

But both also have turned their eyes toward alternate plans for the future.

According to a news release, Shawnee Mission School District officials have reached out to the Kansas State High School Activities Association to explore the options for moving all fall sports and activities to next spring, “should it not be possible to resume the fall season.”

The Olathe and Shawnee Mission districts on Friday became the latest in the state to make the move to delay or cancel fall sports, joining Kansas City, Kan., Blue Valley, Wichita, Gardner-Edgerton and several others. But the Lawrence schools, at least for now, have not made any changes to their fall plans.

“Obviously, this is a very fluid situation,” Lawrence High AD Nick Wood said Friday. “But until we are told otherwise, we will continue to follow the guidance that has been given.”

Per KSHSAA guidelines, both high schools began practices on Aug. 17 and have been preparing for the start of their seasons as originally scheduled.

The first prep event of the fall season at both LHS and Free State is a junior varsity girls golf match slated for Tuesday. The Lions also are scheduled to host Manhattan in varsity boys soccer on Friday.

The Shawnee Mission and Olathe schools make up 10 of the 14 members of the Sunflower League, which also includes LHS, Free State, Mill Valley and Gardner-Edgerton. The absence this fall of those 10 programs would have a significant impact on all of the LHS and Free State fall sports schedules, with the varsity football programs bearing the brunt of the impact.

Five of the seven games listed on both varsity football schedules are supposed to come against Sunflower League opponents from those districts. That leaves LHS and Free State along with Mill Valley, of the De Soto School District, as the only teams on the two schedules still planning to play football this fall at this point.

The Lawrence School Board is scheduled meet Monday to further discuss plans for the fall semester.

“As athletic directors, we are all about planning,” Faunce said. “And I have been exploring contingency plans just to see what’s there. Nothing has been confirmed or finalized, though, and we are just waiting to see what they tell us Monday night.”

Earlier this week, the Education Unified Command released its guidance to Douglas County school districts on how to conduct classes and activities during the pandemic. As the Journal-World has reported, the guidance includes four color-coded tiers — green, yellow, orange and red — with green providing the safest conditions for students to return to in-person classrooms and allowing activities and athletics to continue as long as standard health precautions are taken, such as wearing masks and social distancing.

As of Friday morning, the Lawrence-Douglas County Health Department’s guidance was in the green phase. The health department’s up-to-date recommendation can be found on its education guidance website,

— Education reporter Dylan Lysen contributed to this story.


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