A favorite debate is top Wichita-area rivalries. There’s always Andover-Andover Central and Carroll-Kapaun, which encompass the majority of sports played.
But then there’s this three-headed monster of a rivalry in City League boys basketball — Heights, East and Southeast.
The first two installments this season have already been epic — East beat Heights by one, while Heights (7-1) beat Southeast on a buzzer-beating three-point basket.
East (8-0) plays host to Southeast (6-2) on Friday night.
“What makes this rivalry spectacular is it’s neighborhood kids,” Heights coach Joe Auer said. “They grew up together, they go to church together, go to the Y.
“… And it’s been that way really since 1998, and it hasn’t let up since. For a long time it was South and Heights and East, then when Coach (Carl) Taylor got to Southeast, they made drastic improvements. It’s a treat for our community that they can count on that rivalry every year.”
In the past 17 seasons, the City League title has been won or tied by East, Heights or Southeast 16 times.
Southeast has won four outright league titles and tied for it three times, while finishing second twice. East has won three outright league titles and tied for it three times, finishing second five times. Heights has won four outright league titles and tied for it once, finishing second five times.
They also have a combined nine Class 6A titles since 1999. The success of these programs has contributed to a consistent intensity at games.
“This rivalry is between three schools who really get after each other,” East coach Joe Jackson said. “Win, lose or draw, in those games, kids are really stepping their level up. For whatever reason, it’s a little more intense and it seems like the level of play really rises.”
Such an atmosphere is vital preparation for the postseason.
“What it does is it builds the character for the kids and prepares them for down the road,” Southeast coach Melvin Herring said. “You want these matchups. It’s what you play for.”
Thursday morning, his shot was the top play on ESPN’s “SportsCenter,” but even that was topped for him when he heard that comedian Kevin Hart was on ESPN reading the script for top plays, including Bell’s shot.
“That’s pretty crazy,” Bell said with a laugh.
In a the span of just less than a month, Bell has had one of his lowest moments in basketball and, with that game-winning three, one of his highest.
The low moment was Dec. 17 at East, where he had a chance to tie or win the game with two free throws and no time remaining on the clock. He missed both.
“After the East game, I was really devastated,” he said. “I felt I let my team down. I prayed and God answers prayers. He had a vision, I guess. It was really crazy. You would never think you’d miss two free throws and then be able to pay (my team) back.”
While Maize coach Jerrod Handy would prefer a spotless record, those two losses were revealing.
“Definitely it has helped us point out some of our weaknesses, which is a good thing for us,” Handy said. “In the end we’ll be so much better because of the two losses we suffered.
“Obviously we wanted to win, and we’re upset we lost, and I felt like we should have won.”
At issue in both losses were turnovers and defense. Too many turnovers and a failure at times to “recognize who we’re guarding now,” Handy said.
Maize plays at Word of Life on Friday in a game it was glad to get after its series with Olathe Northwest was not renewed in the spring.
“We searched and searched all over (for a game),” Handy said. “They were gracious enough to play us.”
It’s a busy schedule and a lot of travel, but Sunrise is playing some of the top teams in the country. On Jan. 25, Sunrise will play Arlington Country Day (Jacksonville, Fla.) at 2 p.m., a game in Tennessee that will be broadcast on ESPNU.
“We get a TV game, but we’ll have to put our nose to the grindstone and see if we can’t make it ugly and win it,” coach Kyle Lindsted said.
Sunrise, located in Bel Aire, has an academy team that recruits as well as takes players placed there by colleges. It doesn’t compete in the Kansas State High School Activities Association postseason.
Sunrise will play Prime Prep, out of Dallas, in Wichita on March 8 at 2 p.m.
The goal of the schedule is to be one of the eight teams chosen to play at the ESPN tournament at Madison Square Garden in April.
Eight players will be in attendance — Neil Hughes, Phil Coleman, Marion Ogden, Jerry Gray, Howard Moon, Richard Freeman, Earl Hughes, Elbert “El” DeForest — along with coach Jack Kater.
“I saw the banner hanging up there and knew it was 50 years, so I thought it would be a good opportunity to recognize them,” Taylor said.
“… Another reason I wanted to do it is show there’s been successful teams in the past. Even though we’re struggling in wins and losses, there’s been a lot of good teams coming out of Goddard, and this is a good way to represent to the younger guys and the whole community.”