The gravity of what they had accomplished began to sink in when the bus carrying the state champion Bluestem baseball team turned left down Bluestem Road.
They saw the signs in the lawn outside of the high school that read “GO LIONS” and “#STATECHAMPS!” They saw around one hundred people — parents, grandparents, classmates, and residents of Leon and the surrounding communities — waiting for them at midnight in the parking lot. The fire department had sent all of their firetrucks and their lights flashed, and a police escort led them in.
That’s when senior Tritten Beavers realized the championship his team had won was bigger than just the team and the program. Since the high school’s opening in 1973, no team, boys or girls, had won a championship.
This was a community event, the end of a 44-year drought.
“I still get chills thinking about it now,” Beavers said five days later. “It’s crazy to think we were the first team in school history to win a state championship. To see all those people in the community there to welcome us home, that was just so awesome.”
To the coaching staff of Daniel Scribner and Mark Womacks, who have been with the baseball program for close to a decade, the championship was a long time coming. When Scribner joined the team he was an assistant under Womacks. But Womacks, who took over in 2010, stepped down to allow Scribner to become the head coach in 2014.
Together, they were able to turn a moribund program into a champion.
“When I first got to Bluestem, it was a school that had traditionally struggled athletically in their history,” Scribner said. “But when Mark and I joined the baseball staff, for whatever reason our chemistry as coaches just seemed to work really well. We could get players to believe that there’s something bigger out there and once we did that, then things started heading in the right direction.”
“The thing I was most proud of with this team was that every time they stepped on the field they truly believed they could win against whoever was on the other side,” Womacks said. “That mentality wasn’t there in 2009.”
Making Bluestem’s run even more improbable was the competition it faced during the Class 2-1A tournament. The Lions defeated the top three seeds of the tournament — Oxford, Troy, and Ellis had a combined 58-1 record before losing to Bluestem.
Bluestem may not have had the talent of some of those teams, but together the players believed they were capable of winning.
“We had kids on the field that maybe wouldn’t have played for some of those other teams,” Womacks said. “But that’s OK because every one of our kids believed they were a part of a team. It really was a true team effort.”
“We always believed we could win, but I do think we surprised ourselves along the way,” Beavers added. “It was like, ‘Holy cow, we beat Troy,’ then it was ‘Holy cow, we’re in the state championship game.’ Then when we won it was like a feeling I’ve never felt before and I’ve been playing this game my entire life.”
What stood out to Scribner was how all 12 players who played in the three games contributed.
“Everybody made a critical play at some point,” Scribner said. “Even if the ball didn’t go to our best defender or we didn’t have our best hitter in the box at the right time, everybody stepped up and did everything within their capabilities of making a significant play.”
Even when Bluestem lost three of four games during the middle of the season, the team’s pitching and defense remained a constant. When the bats came around in May with Beavers, Blake Bevan and Coy Moran leading the way, Bluestem had found its winning formula.
Beavers said when he was growing up in Leon, he always imagined being part of the class to turn Bluestem sports around.
“We always knew the high school teams weren’t very good back then,” said Beavers, who is signed with Independence Community College. “We always thought we would be the ones to do something different. But this was even better than what I imagined.”
Brett Mohr, Bluestem’s principal, was overwhelmed by the team’s reception.
Since the team won last Friday, he has heard from several people around town about how much the baseball team’s success meant.
“You could tell it just meant the world to some of these people who have been following Bluestem sports for their whole lives,” Mohr said. “I’ve heard so many stories about how many times a team just couldn’t get over the hump and how they’ve never won anything. So for this team to be able to break that was pretty special.”
Mohr said there have already been discussions on ordering a sign to commemorate the state championship to add to the “Welcome to Bluestem” sign off U.S. 400.
For Scribner, it will be a reminder of a magical season that gave hope to a program, a school and a community.
“It’s had such a positive impact not just in the school, but in the community and that’s the thing that’s been really impressive to me,” Scribner said. “This was bigger than just a team. We have several little towns that make up our district and we’ve met people from all those little towns and they’ve all expressed their pride in what we were able to do. I think the community was proud we were able to accomplish something like that, instead of just being a team that existed for a season and then moved on.”