Another City League football season is about to begin and, as usual, you have to dig deep for mystery.
Bishop Carroll is the favorite. Heights could upend the apple cart. Kapaun Mount Carmel and Northwest are there to add some quality depth and West is improving.
But what about Southeast, East, North and South? Any chance any of those teams could surprise us and get into contention?
Sadly, no. Probably not. And, really, outside of Carroll and Heights – teams that have combined to go 186-41 over the past 10 seasons – the City League is void of high-quality teams.
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In those same 10 seasons, Carroll has produced 77 All-City players. Heights is next with 64. Then it’s Northwest (41), Kapaun (30), Southeast (21), East (18), North (7), West (4) and South (2).
There’s an uncomfortable imbalance in the City League and no indication that it’s on the verge of changing.
The 10-year records for City League teams looks like this: Carroll (100-16), Heights (86-25), Northwest (68-35), Kapaun (62-40), East (39-54), Southeast (39-56), South (23-69), West (21-70) and North (13-80). The dropoff after Kapaun is profound.
There are many reasons for the discrepancies. All have been hashed and re-hashed over the years, but nothing changes.
Transfer rules have been questioned. So have the abilities of youth football coaches, who are responsible for the development of players who mostly enter Wichita’s public high schools. There is something to the cyclical nature of high school sports, too. But too many of these schools have been in a down cycle for years, with no sign of improvement.
North has won five games in the past five seasons. Southeast, the state’s predominant football power in the 1970s, has had four winning seasons since 2003. South hasn’t had a winning season since 1996. East averaged three wins in the past five seasons. And even with the Brown brothers – Arthur and Bryce – the Blue Aces were not able to do better than 6-3.
There’s still plenty of talent in the City League, but it’s congregating at just a few of the schools.
At West, though, there is positive movement.
The Pioneers were just 18-73 from 2002 – when Weston Schartz left to coach at Northwest – through 2011, when he returned. The Pioneers were 3-6 in Schartz’s first season back and improved to 6-4 in 2013. West could challenge Kapaun and Northwest for that spot behind Carroll and Heights this season, which too often has been the only spot up for grabs.
It’s good to see some coaching stability in places where football programs have been slow to develop. It should be obvious that there are no overnight changes at some of these places. Coaches have to be given time.
So it’s good that Kevin Steiner is back for a third year at South despite 1-8 and 2-7 records. South has had seven coaches since 1996. Stability is important.
The same is true at North, where Joe Belden is starting the second season in his second stint. Belden led North to an 8-3 record back in 2003, but couldn’t sustain that success. He is one of seven coaches since 1995 at North.
Southeast’s Chris Asmussen is back for a fourth year despite a 10-17 record. The Buffaloes have a great football tradition to lean on and there’s always a considerable amount of talent.
East’s Brian Byers is starting his eighth season as East’s coach and the Aces are 15-29 since 2009.
Coaching, obviously, is the biggest factor. Even though Carroll and Heights are clearly the two best programs in the City League now, things haven’t always been rosy.
After a 27-7 run from 1977-79 under Chuck Porter, Carroll was 46-92 during the next 15 seasons before Alan Schuckman arrived in 1995. The rest, as they say, is history. Under Schuckman, the Eagles are 162-41 and Schuckman is two wins behind Schartz as the City League’s winningest coach behind former Kapaun legend Ed Kriwiel.
Heights was a miserable program from its inception in 1961 through 1998, with only two winning seasons. Then Rick Wheeler became coach and the team’s record from 1999 through 2012, when Wheeler stepped down, was 103-34.
Neither Schuckman nor Wheeler stepped into a great situation. Wheeler inherited a program that had never experienced success and Schuckman took over an Eagles program that had gone through five coaches in 15 seasons.
They built something special. So did Schartz during his first run at West from 1987 through 2001. Now he’s trying to do it there again. and showing signs of success.
There is always hope, in the bleakest of situations. Here’s hoping the City League’s perennial bottom feeders can start to feast on something more palatable.