Heights safety Evan Wessel stood at his team's 15-yard line, scanning the field. His team was on the verge of a comeback that would lead to a 42-38 win over Dodge City in a Class 6A semifinal game.
"Number 12, Evan Wessel back to return the punt," echoed over Heights stadium sound system.
The announcer put the microphone down, paced for a couple of seconds in the press box and said with a smile, "Why is my starting point guard back there returning punts?"
Heights basketball coach Joe Auer isn't the hardest man to read. He's usually the first person in a room to crack a joke, and a tad candid by nature. But this time it was difficult to tell what he was really thinking. Auer has won two 6A basketball championships with Wessel playing the point. Wessel suffered a broken hand last fall playing football. It was evident that Auer wanted Wessel and the Falcons football team to succeed, but he was also concerned for his player.
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Auer's focus shifted to the game, and as Wessel waived for a fair catch Auer breathed a sigh of relief.
Auer later watched as Wessel pulled in the game-winning catch in the back of the end zone to help his team advance to the Class 6A championship game. Wessel's teammate — and Auer's starting small forward — Dreamius Smith contributed a 115-yard rushing performance.
If Heights can win today against Olathe North in the Class 6A championship game, Smith and Wessel will be the first City League athletes to start for teams that win basketball and football championships in the same calendar year since Kapaun Mount Karmel tight end and power forward Chris Wettig did it in 1981.
Smith and Wessel are leaders on their respective units. Smith leads an explosive ground attack and has 1,551 yards and 33 touchdowns. Wessel leads the team with eight interceptions and 91 tackles.
"They've both been willing to make a lot of sacrifices statistically so that their teams can win," Auer said." Dreamius doesn't complain as a running back when there are four other backs getting carries during the game. Evan is one of the best athletes on football, but he doesn't complain that we have a platoon system that only puts him on the defensive side of the ball in most games. In basketball, neither one of them worries about their scoring averages. They are both successful on the court and on the field and the teams that they play for are a reflections on that unselfishness."
Auer attributes the surge of success in Heights sports to communication between Wheeler and the rest of the coaches. There are no turf wars. Wheeler has put a lot of work into building a winning mentality in all of the sports programs at Heights in his six years as the athletic director.
"In our building there's a commitment to support one another in our programs," Wheeler said. "It takes a lot of commitment to be part of a program that is highly competitive at a state level. For guys to be able to be on two different programs at the same school and compete at the level that our basketball teams and football teams compete at is hard to do."
Smith, who has committed to play football for Kansas, wants nothing more than to win a 6A title in football.
"Since football is my favorite sport it would mean a lot," Smith said. "I've got teammates both ways, so it would mean a lot. I love playing with Evan (in both sports). He' like a little role model to me."
Wettig, who won Class 5A titles for the 1981 football and basketball teams, remembers how important teamwork and solid coaching staffs are to accomplishing such a feat, and offered a little advice.
"Don't leave anything in the tank at the end of the game," said Wettig who still lives in Wichita. "Work through any personal adversities that you might have with any of your teammates, because those relationships will transcend the championship."