Bob Lutz: It’s tough to reach high school football’s elite

You want to know something that is as reliable as the sun coming up in the east and politicians running negative advertising on television?

Hutchinson winning high school football games, that’s what..

Or Garden Plain, Conway Springs, Rose Hill, Andover Central, Derby or a number of other high school football teams in the area.

They are the “haves” of the sport, schools that year in and year out produce winning football teams. They have a few things in common: a successful coach, a supportive community and, most of all, a culture that nourishes winning.

“There’s nothing special that I’m doing,’’ said Andale coach Gary O’Hair, who is of course being modest.

Andale won 71 football games and lost only four from 2005 through 2010. Last season, the Indians started 0-5 but recovered to make the Class 4A playoffs before losing in the first round to Rose Hill.

Five-game losing streaks are as rare as a four-door sedan in Andale, a tough community with gritty kids who grow up dreaming of four-wheel drive vehicles and football. Andale is definitely one of the “haves” when it comes to high school football.

“We have a lot of kids out for football, probably 85 to 90,’’ O’Hair said. “That’s a lot for a 4A school, but it’s actually down a little bit for us. Usually we’re right at 100, but we have a smaller freshman class this year.’’

Oh, what some coaches wouldn’t give for 85 to 90 football players. But there are places where the flame for high school football just can’t be lit. Places where no matter who coaches, the losses strongly outnumber the wins.

They’re the “have nots” and, mathematically speaking, there are as many of them as there are “haves” in the high school football ranks.

While it’s easy to predict the best of the best from year to year, it’s also easy to pick out the worst of the worst. It’s just not as much fun.

Campus coach Mike Schartz joined the Colts with high hopes four years ago after assisting Rick Wheeler build the City League’s best football program at Heights. Schartz is regarded highly by his peers, but Campus has never been much of a football hotbed and the going has been slower than Schartz thought it would be.

Campus has been 1-8, 3-7 and 1-8 during his three seasons after going 2-16 in the previous two. Some would call the Campus football situation hopeless, but Schartz trudges on, encouraged by administrative support and a Haysville community he believes yearns for winning football.

“You have to change a culture, it can’t be just one guy,’’ said Schartz, who was a player at St. Mary of the Plains in Dodge City when it pulled a huge KCAC upset over heavily-favored Bethany in 1989, beating the Swedes 2-0 in a game he still refers to as “infamous.’’

Schartz was involved in rebuilding jobs at Dodge City and Cimarron, too. He knows what it takes and, unfortunately, patience is at the top of the list.

“One thing I know is that unless you have the support of the superintendent, the school board, the principal and the athletic director, there’s no hope,’’ Schartz said. “That’s what Wheeler has at Heights and it’s what Randy Dreiling has at Hutchinson. One of the reasons why I’m encouraged here is because I have that support.’’

In some places, losing becomes so redundant that it ultimately becomes accepted. It’s not easy to build a winning high school football program and sometimes it’s just easier to give up.

Schartz isn’t joining that club.

“It hasn’t shown up on the scoreboard for us yet, but we’re in ballgames,’’ he said. “Obviously, you have to have kids and we’re going to be young this year. But I really do see it starting to come together.’’

It doesn’t help that Campus plays in Division I of the Ark Valley-Chisholm Trail League, which also includes Hutchinson, Derby, Salina South, Salina Central, Newton and Maize. Wins are difficult to come by against competition like that.

“The Derby game is very important to our community,’’ Schartz said. “But we haven’t made it a game. Last year, I feel like I made a mistake. We talked about winning but we weren’t doing the right things to win. Now we’re not even talking about winning. We’re just trying to take the right steps.’’

Tom Audley, the only coach in Andover Central’s 10-year history, has endured only one losing season. The Jaguars are 75-29 under Audley, who hesitates to classify Andover Central as one of the “haves.”

“We’re not quite in that elite group, but we have been consistent,’’ Audley said. “Our kids think we ought to have a good football team every year and when we opened up this school, our administration was very supportive. We had an ex-football coach (Mark Templin) as our principal and that helped.’’

Andover Central is one of those football programs with high expectations. And the Jaguars seldom disappoint.

But not every school can be a consistent winner. And try as they might, turning bad into good is a sometimes-impossible chore.

“I was the head coach at Southwestern Heights for 11 years and I found out what the other side was looking at,’’ Andale’s O’Hair said. “We did have some success, but I could never get the numbers to where we could be good every year. We worked our tails off and we might get 35 to 40 kids out every year.’’

At Andale, O’Hair just has to open the doors and players come flooding in.

“I’ve never been in a situation where it’s just hopeless, but I know there are those jobs,’’ O’Hair said. “The best advice I ever got before I got into coaching was to never overestimate your own coaching abilities. You’ve got to have the kids and the support of the community to be successful.’’