It’s state championship football Saturday in Kansas.
What has been a long and intense build-up to get to this place now gets a strong dose of anti-climax. Five games will be played today. Five classes. Five sites. Five champions.
That’s too many on all accounts, but let’s focus on the five sites: Emporia, Topeka, Salina, Hutchinson and Hays. What are we doing here?
The Kansas State High School Activities Association doesn’t need me to diminish its football state championships. It does a grand job of doing that itself.
All five games will kick off today at 1 p.m. in neutral cities. You couldn’t make this more sterile with a mop and elbow grease.
By 4 p.m. today there will be five newly-crowned state football champions. By 6:30, we’ll have forgotten who they are.
It’s a shame, too, because high school football has never been bigger in Kansas, thanks to intense media coverage from dozens of outlets that never used to pay much attention.
But when Meade and Centralia battle today in Hays, will anyone who doesn’t live in Meade or Centralia be at Lewis Stadium?
Instead of embracing the growing popularity of high school football, and the way the sport often defines a town, KSHSAA sticks out a cold shoulder. At least, that’s the perception.
This should be the biggest day of the year for high school football. Instead, it feels like the biggest day was last Friday, when semifinal games were played on one of the participant’s home fields.
Can the Hutchinson-Shawnee Mission West game in Emporia today for the 6A championship top Hutchinson at Derby last week?
It won’t be anything close to the same atmosphere.
Ditto for Carroll-Miege in 5A; Eudora-Holton in 4A; and Scott City-Silver Lake in 3A.
All 10 teams in action today deserve center stage. Instead, KSHSAA has stuck them off-Broadway.
It’s an organization operated by high school administrators, many of whom are deathly afraid to give too much importance to athletics for fear that their constituents will chastise them for not paying enough attention to academics.
Who are these constituents, anyway? And by now, aren’t we far enough along to understand and accept the role of athletics in a high school curriculum? They’re a big deal and just because they’re a big deal doesn’t mean that English or history or algebra isn’t.
Instead of diminishing the importance of what should be the biggest football games of the year, why not find a way to shine the spotlight on them?
How about a State Championship Weekend, in which all five games are played at one site? And yes, I would love for that site to be Wichita.
The KSHSAA could kick things off with a Friday night championship game at Cessna Stadium, preceding four Saturday games starting at 11 a.m. Who wouldn’t get behind that?
I think high school football fans would gather from all over for such a weekend, provided there were enough other activities planned as part of the festivities. Sure, Cessna would need some work. But the old place has been kept up reasonably well since Wichita State dropped its football program in 1986. In fact, a recent touch-up has the stadium looking better than it has in years. And it has been the site of the state high school track and field meet for decades.
State Championship Weekend would excite the masses in the state’s most-populated city. I promise. You folks who make up the masses would be excited, right?
I see big crowds converging on Cessna Stadium for these games and the other activities that are held in conjunction. A carnival could set up in the Wichita State parking lot to the south of Cessna Stadium, for instance. The Friday night opening game would be followed by a concert by a band people have heard of.
Let’s get this party started.
The Saturday games, to be played at 11, 2, 5 and 8, would provide the biggest day of the year for high school football, followed by a closing ceremony that depicted just how big of a day it was.
Sure, I’m reaching some here. These are grandiose notions, especially considering how lackluster the state championship games have become. There’s nothing buttoned-down about some of these ideas. They would require KSHSAA to loosen its tie, and I’m not sure that organization is capable of abandoning its stoic image.
I’m not suggesting a free-for-all of wildness and craziness during State Championship Weekend. We will have licensed security inside the stadium and on the premises.
What I am suggesting is to make these state title games a bigger deal. Give them an identity. Allow the coaches, players, fans and supporters of these teams and schools to experience something special at the end of a great season.
Today, five games in five towns will not feel special. They will begin at 1, be over by 4 and that will be it. It’ll be over. And we will all get back to our lives.