It was disappointing to see such sparse crowds in support of Heights and Northwest during the Class 6A boys quarterfinals at Koch Arena on Wednesday.
The win-loss numbers say Wichita is a hotbed of high school basketball, especially at 6A level. There's no other city that's even close.
So where are you people when it comes to attending games? Heights, especially, deserves strong support from the locals as its chases a third straight 6A title and an unbeaten season. OK, the Falcons didn't face much of a challenge during their quarterfinal against Blue Valley West. Heights went through the motions during an easy victory. But the stakes rise tonight when the Falcons face Olathe East in an 8:15 semifinal.
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Wichita high schools have won 22 of the past 34 6A tournaments. It all started with the best high school team in the state's history, the 1976-77 Heights Falcons, crushing everyone in their path to win a 5A (then the state's largest classification) championship, beating Kansas City Wyandotte by 40 points in the championship game in Kansas City, Kan.
The Wichita schools haven't slowed down much since. It's been an incredible run and a source of pride for the City League and, I would think, the city's basketball fans.
This dominance is historically pleasing. Since that Heights team, led by Darnell Valentine and Antoine Carr, nine schools outside Wichita have won 12 6A championships: Lawrence (1983, '95), Wyandotte (1984, '85), Topeka (1986), Shawnee Mission South (1990), Olathe South (1997, 2004), Olathe East (1998), Leavenworth (2000), Hutchinson (2001) and Blue Valley West (2007).
All seven City League public high schools have won during that span, including 10 championships for South. The Titans had two of the most impressive streaks in the state's history, winning four in a row from 1978-81 under Bill Himebaugh and Greg Guice, and 6 of 9 from 1988-96 with Steve Eck as coach.
East and Southeast have won three championships each since 1977 while North, Northwest and West have won once. And now Heights is chasing its fourth.
Wichita schools are 188-110 (.703) in 100 years of large-class tournaments.
Wichita is the state's largest city, no doubt an advantage. But all that population hasn't translated to comparable success in other sports. Heights just ended a 26-year Wichita drought in football in the fall, winning the 6A championship.
Basketball has been king.
"It goes way back, there's always been a great heritage in this league,'' said East coach Ron Allen, who played at Southeast in the early 1970s and has led East to three state championships. "This kind of dominance is rare.''
It starts, of course, with good players. Some of the best in the state's history have played high school basketball in Wichita, from Valentine and Carr to Ricky Ross, Steve Woodberry, Val Barnes, Johnny Murdock, Adrian Griffin, Korleone Young, Taj Gray and now Perry Ellis for Heights.
The City League has also been rich with coaches, from Ralph Miller and Cy Sickles at East to Himebaugh and Eck at South to current coaches Allen, Southeast's Carl Taylor and Heights' Joe Auer.
"The talent level has stayed pretty consistent for a long time,'' Allen said. "There have been glimpses of a little better at some times than others, but for the most part it's been pretty good.''
The 2010-11 season hasn't been a particularly good one for the City League. Northwest was blown out of its 6A tournament game Wednesday by Blue Valley Northwest, which lost to Heights in the championship game last season.
And Heights is a prohibitive favorite to win again with Ellis, a 6-foot-8 junior, as its best player. But the Falcons, like a lot of past City League teams, are loaded.
"One of the main things is how we beat up on each other in this league,'' Southeast's Taylor said.
"I wish there was something we could do about that, but we can't.''
It's that beating up on one another, it can be argued, that toughens up the league's teams for the postseason.
"This kind of success is possible,'' Allen said, "when you have a good core group of kids and they stay together and they're unselfish and they play like a team. Another thing that has stayed consistent in our league is a style of play. It's no-nonsense, predicated on fundamentals with kids playing together as a team.''
Whatever it is, it's working. Collectively, the Wichita schools have nailed up a "No Solicitation" sign on the door of the 6A tournament. They own the thing.
Which, again, begs the question: Why the meager crowds for Wednesday night's first-round games?
I thought Wichita was a basketball town.
Do we take all of this high school success for granted? If so, shame on us.