Garden Plain players show singular resolve

11/17/2011 12:00 AM

11/17/2011 10:39 AM

Garden Plain football players have long shown they are some of the toughest, most physical athletes in the area.

But what the Owls have shown in the past month is a different kind of toughness, a toughness that goes beyond running over a linebacker or tackling a running back.

The Owls have shown they can battle through adversity and fight through obstacles. They've shown a mental strength and an unwillingness to give up.

And that's why Garden Plain will play host to Conway Springs in a Class 3A semifinal at 7 Friday, a game they long expected to play in.

A major stumbling block arose with the news that coach Todd Puetz was arrested in what police called a sting operation last month. He was charged on Nov. 7 and the charges include accusations of him of trying to have sex with someone he thought was 15.

The Garden Plain community was shocked.

Puetz, the school's athletic director, track coach and a physical education and health teacher, has been the football coach since 2001.

Despite the news, the football team rallied. An already close team, they focused their attention even more on football.

The ability to battle and press through can be traced directly to what type of players Garden Plain has.

"I think as a community, as a team, we are pretty tough," Garden Plain senior quarterback Lucas Jennings said. "Not only physically, but also mentally. It shows in every sport we play. I don't know what it is, but we always seem to be tough. When you were a little kid, that's what you had to be because everyone else before you was that way."

Such strength helped them get to where they are, playing for a shot at the 3A title game on Nov. 26.

"We're hard-working kids," senior running back Joey Capul said. "We just don't get stuff handed to us. We have to work for things. We're very respectful and very good kids."

The Owls have somehow managed to put Puetz's arrest out of their heads. They have managed to play without Puetz, the team's coach for 11 years but suspended from teaching and coaching duties.

The Owls have been helped by having coaches and administrators ready to stop questions about Puetz. Assistant coaches stand close by during postgame interviews, and interviews for this column were conducted with principal Troy McChristian listening on speakerphone.

The goal is to protect. Or as Tracey Bourne, Renwick school district superintendent, said, "let adults take care of their business, (and let the students) take control of what (they) can control."

Garden Plain has won its four games since Puetz's arrest. A loss in any would've ended the season. The Owls trailed in the second half three times, and two games were decided by six or fewer points.

Jennings credits the Garden Plain coaching staff, which has been led by Greg Gegen, the acting coach.

"We've always been preached to by the coaching staff — never get down. Bounce back," Jennings said. "We have a lot of strong guys, a lot of good leaders, beyond the seniors. We're all just in it to win it."

As the Owls get further from last month's arrest, it's easier to deal with.

"My concern was emotional stress might take its toll, especially in the Halstead victory," Bourne said of Garden Plain's first game after Puetz's arrest.

"The second half, I was concerned they would not have the emotional energy left to gut out that win. Boy, they sure did."

About Joanna Chadwick

Joanna writes about high school sports, which she has covered since 1996, shortly after graduating from the University of Missouri. Chadwick, who interned at the Kansas City Star and Sports Illustrated before coming to The Eagle, has followed sports since she was a child growing up in Minnesota. Sadly, she's still a fan of the Minnesota Vikings and Minnesota Twins.

Contact Joanna at 316-268-6270 or jchadwick@wichitaeagle.com.

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