Bob Lutz: Trinity Academy hopes to play football as good as its stadium looks

10/05/2013 12:33 AM

10/06/2013 10:18 PM

Amid the wind, rain and thunder, Trinity Academy opened a new football stadium Friday night for the Knights’ game against Conway Springs.

A stadium that’s almost ready. But it was becoming impossible to wait any longer for the new, artificial-turf field with a still-to-be-finished track and stone seating that can accomodate lawn chairs.

It’s a nearly $3 million project spearheaded by Pete Ochs, one of the school’s founders 20 years ago. And best of all, Trinity has a really good team to put on the field. The Knights blew out an always-strong Garden Plain 47-26 last week and were 4-0 before Friday’s game against also-unbeaten Conway Springs.

The Knights didn’t start a football program until 2008. Now Trinity is threatening the power structure of the Central Plains League.

“You’ve got that upper third in this league with Garden Plain and Conway Springs being really good every year,” Trinity coach Jared McDaniel said. “I have so much respect for those programs and those coaches. But one of the primary goals for us when I took this position was to get into that upper third and stay there and to be in that first or second spot from time to time.”

Trinity might have the best football player in the area this season in running back/defensive back/returner Tyler Burns. He rushed for 379 yards and six touchdowns against Garden Plain and was averaging nearly 12 yards per carry going into Friday night’s game.

Burns, whose brother, Morgan, plays at Kansas State, elicits all kinds of superlatives from his coach.

“Game changer,” McDaniel said. “But we’re very fortunate to have some other weapons offensively and our defense has come around quite a bit.”

The Knights are prime-time ready and were eager to get under the brand-new lights on the brand-new field for Conway Springs.

Ochs, a Wichita businessman and entrepreneuer, was one of the three founders of Trinity 20 years ago. He thought there was a void for Christian education in Wichita and went about to change that.

Trinity has consistently grown over those two decades and is currently a Class 4A school with an enrollment of 325 students.

Ochs was busy helping construction workers Thursday, too busy to admire the facility.

“Pretty involved,” he said. “But for me, life is the journey. When this stadium is done, there’s something else. I’ll be done and ready to move on to the next thing. But this is going to be a great stadium.”

Ochs said the surface for the track around the football field will be laid soon. Eventually, there will be restrooms, concession areas and locker-room facilities at the south end of the stadium, which sits in a bowl and is surrounded by attractive landscaping.

Trinity went all out.

“Obviously, our players are excited about this new stadium and new field,” McDaniel said Thursday. “They just want to get out there and roll around or do something.”

The lights were tested, the scoreboard worked, the new pre-game ritual was rehearsed.

Without a football facility, Trinity had to practice on a makeshift field across the street from the school. And home games were initially played at Cessna Stadium, then moved to Circle High in Towanda. When that facilty wasn’t available for one game this season, the Knights played a home game at Augusta.

“We’re ready to have a home that’s on our campus,” McDaniel said. “And a place to practice that’s so much more convenient. It’ll be nice to be home and to have everything right there for you.”

Trinity has had athletic success, but most of it in what McDaniel describes as the country club sports. The Knights have won four girls state swim titles and a couple of boys soccer state championships. Trinity’s 2007-08 boys basketball team won the Class 3A title.

The football team, though, has finished 3-6, 5-4, 5-4, 4-5 and 4-5 since 2008. Traction has been difficult to come by. The Knights haven’t been bad, but they haven’t been good, either.

That appears to be changing.

There might now be a threat to the supreme domination of the Central Plains League by Garden Plain and Conway Springs, who are a combined 114-18 since 2008.

“It was tough for us last year,” McDaniel said of the Knights. “There were games that when we got down, we just kind of folded up and accepted it. I want these players to know there’s nothing wrong with playing hard, playing mean, playing aggressive. Nobody’s going to give us anything so we have to go out and work for it.”

Well, that’s not entirely true. The Trinity football team has been given a beautiful new stadium. It’s another sign of the Knights’ arrival.

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