Friday, September 30, 2011

Panther Football has that "look"!

        Don’t look now, but there’s something special brewing on the grid iron in Paola, as the Panthers have rolled to four impressive victories to open the season. Unlike the last two seasons, which incidentally saw the Panthers advance to the sub-state championship game, only to lose to eventual state champions, Bishop Miege in 2009 and Louisburg in 2010, the Panthers have not been tripped up in an early season contest, and have come through the first four games not only unscathed, but basically unchallenged.
        Two years ago it was the Eudora Cardinals who came to Paola and stole a victory over a Panther team that was though to be superior. Last year there was a pair of baffling losses to open the season, at home, to Baldwin and DeSoto. Granted, each of those early season losses were erased by play-off wins, and we’ll be the first to admit that, given the Kansas State High School football playoff system, a regular season loss really doesn’t matter.
        No, losing one of those first five games doesn’t hurt you. Unless you hold league championships near and dear to your heart, because, after all, losing a game to a team like Baldwin in the first game of the year, like the Panthers did last year, didn’t stop them from playing a “winner takes all” game against Louisburg in November with a shot at the state championship game on the line.
        Nope, losing a regular season game to Eudora, no matter how disappointing it was two years ago, did not slow the Panthers march to the sub-state championship game against Miege at Panther Stadium.
        Think about it, while undefeated records are nice, losing one of your first six games really doesn’t hurt. Shoot, the Louisburg Wildcats have lost two of their first four, they’re sitting exactly where Paola was last year after four games, and the Panthers rolled all the way to the sub-state championship game against those very Wildcats. Losses early in the year don’t hurt.
        Now, if the Panthers can roll through the next two games unscathed, defeat a Eudora Cardinal team that also owns shut-out victories over Louisburg and DeSoto to match up with Paola’s shut-outs of DeSoto and Ottawa, and then survive the “run and shoot” offense of St. James the next week, then they will be in a good position to have a chance to run the table.
        Getting through those two road games with wins will set Paola up for the Tom-Tom game against Osawatomie in the first game of the district playoffs and they will follow that up with another home game against Spring Hill.
        Then, you know what, that sets up the exact scenario as last year, with the tables turned when Paola travels to Louisburg for the final game of the regular season. If the Wildcats can win out, they will host the Panthers with the district championship on the line with two losses and will be trying to spoil Paola’s unbeaten season at that point.
        But, just like last year, that game won’t knock anyone out of the playoffs, it will just determine who might have the more difficult opponent in the bi-district game three days later.
        For now though, it looks like it could be a special season for the Panthers, I saw a short quote in one of the rankings describing the Panthers as “this years Louisburg”. I would venture to say that the Panthers are on the same track as the Wildcats were last year, but they are not just “this years Louisburg,” they’ve been at this too long, have too good a track record, and have advanced too deep in the playoffs over the past five years or so to be “this year’s anything”.
        The Panthers are on a journey they are accustomed to, they’ve been here before and they know how to handle the situation. But, it’s fun to go along for the ride, there’s something special brewing in P-Town, and we all need to come along for the ride.

Friday, September 23, 2011

It's 4:00 a.m. do you know where you blogger is?

        It’s 4:00 a.m. do you know where your blog writer is?
        If you answered at home, in bed, dreaming of state championship game coverage, you’d be very, very, wrong!
        I know that I’ve promised to do a better job of posting to “The Cheap Seats”, but I’ve failed miserably . . . well I think I’ll do better, and here’s why.
        A couple of years ago, my wonderful wife, Lisa decided to take a part time job at Price Chopper stocking shelves on Saturday night -- I’m talking Saturday NIGHT -- like 10:00 p.m. to 6:00 a.m. It really didn’t get in the way, and it was a few extra bucks coming into the family coffers, and as time went on, that really started to come in handy.
        Well, as time went on, she started working a few other nights, filling in when there was a lot of merchandise, or when one of the regular crew was sick or on vacation. Again, it was a few more bucks and it didn’t interfere with anything, after all it was over night.
        I continued to do all the things I do, work Hauldren Productions, and cover games for the website, life went on. About a year or so ago, the guy that Lisa was working with on Saturday nights (he has a real “job” too) had a shift change and could not work every other Saturday night.
        So, Lisa was there, locked in Price Chopper, by herself, all night long. Now, when you work the night shift, you’re never REALLY there by yourself, there’s people coming and going all night long, cleaning people, other workers, you’re constantly going back and opening the door for at times, Lord knows who.
        Now it wasn’t an ideal situation, but we made it work, and even with my misgivings about Lisa on the shift by herself, we went six months or so under those conditions. Finally, my logical mind got the better of me, and I thought “what the heck, I can do that every other Saturday, how hard can that be?”
        So I mentioned something in passing one day to Barry Queen, and he agreed that Lisa probably shouldn’t be there overnight, and a couple of weeks later, I was hired! That was right before Christmas last year.
        We went through the Christmas rush, then the New Year’s rush, and then those God awful snow storms of last January, when a couple of the crew members, who lived out of town couldn’t make it out of their driveways for several days at a time. It was CRAZY!
        So, my every other Saturday, turned into one to two nights a week, sometimes as many as 30 hours! Then in the middle of the summer, what should happen? One of the guys on the crew up and quit one night . . . it was a Tuesday night, Lisa and I had filled in for him for about a week, because he had pulled a muscle or something like that.
        Well, to make a long story short, by Thursday, I was working FULL TIME! I though, heck, I can do this, I’ll be working Sunday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday and Friday nights. I’ll be starting at 10:00 p.m. -- all the games will be over by then, I can make it work, make some money that I don’t have to try and drum up in business, and still do everything that I have been doing.
        I can tell you this, it is working, but it’s been hard -- you just HAVE to SLEEP sometime!!! And now, the last piece of the puzzle has fallen into place. The other day I was complaining AGAIN that I was having a hard time getting the website caught up, when Lisa -- ever brilliant as she is said “why don’t you take your laptop in and do some of your writing over break?”
        Well duh! Why didn’t I think of that!
        So I did, and I have for the last couple of nights, and I’ve been able to bang out a story or two over each break, and tonight, well, I wrote this little dissertation on what my life’s been like for the last nine months.
        So, it’s now 4:30 a.m., and do you know where your blog writer is? That’s right, he’s sitting in the break room at Price Chopper, pounding at the keyboard, giving you some insight into the life of a guy who at times seems crazy, event to himself.
        Well fans, break time is over, I have to finish up and get home to fix Lisa’s food for the day, then it’s off to sleep for 4-5 hours and up to post my writings from tonight, and since it’s Thursday there’s soccer, volleyball and cross country to cover.
        Then, if I’m lucky, an hour nap, and back to “work” at 9:30 -- it’s a truck night, and Progresso Soup is on sale -- fun, fun, fun!!
        It’s just another day in the life -- but my busy schedule is a good thing for you, check back, my next installment will be something sports related. There’s a lot of good things going on in Paola, Louisburg and Osawatomie, and I’ve got some good things to say about them.
        Until tomorrow -- or the next day -- get some sleep for me, and if you see me at a game, mention you read this, it will make me feel good to know that somebody out there is listening!!!

Monday, November 15, 2010

1973 was a pretty good year too!

     You know, there's been some pretty big games played at Panther Stadium over the years, but this one coming up on Friday has the potential to be one of the biggest of all time. I've said several times that this game has lost a bit of its luster because of the Panthers 0-2 start on the season. Unfortunately, people just don't look at a team that's sporting a 9-3 record in the same light as one that's 12-0, or 11-1.
     The fact that the Panthers stand at 9-3 make them no less of an elite team than if they had suffered just the single loss to the Wildcats three weeks ago and stood at a lofty 11-1 when meeting the still unbeaten Wildcats at 12-0.
     But still, there's something about a battle of "unbeaten" teams. There's something about two teams playing, late in the season, for all the marbles, with a perfect record on the line. That doesn't happen very often, and it would have been fun three weeks ago to have the opportunity to hype up that game between the Panthers and Wildcats with the same enthusiasm as a game the I had the opportunity to play in many years ago against the Osawatomie Trojans.
     That was a game of epic proportions, at least to the guys that strapped it up that Halloween Night in Paola back in 1973. That was a battle of unbeaten teams, the second and fourth ranked teams in Kansas Class 3A at the time, and bitter, bitter rivals in a day when both teams were good, and when there was really something on the line. At that time there were no district playoffs, and the Paola vs Osawatomie contest that year was a "win and you're in" game. No district runner-up status to bail you out, that night, we had to win to play on. Lose and it was get ready for basketball season.
     If you will indulge me a bit, I'd like to take you all on a trip down "memory lane" so to speak and re-live that magical 1973 season as we prepare to watch the Panthers and their new rival Louisburg meet in another do or die game on Friday night.
     In 1973, we here in Paola High, knew were were good. Unfortunately, the guys that went to Osawatomie High were good too, it was much the same as Paola and Louisburg this year, there were no secrets, we were well aware of their talents, and they of ours, and it was almost like a weekly contest to see who could beat up on their opponent more, to send a message the eight or so miles between the two towns, that "we see what you're doing, now here, top this!" We did a pretty good job of putting some numbers on the board that were difficult to top.
     The season opened at home against Garnett (not Anderson County, they were still Garnett High School). They had a pretty good rushing attack, and we were a bit concerned that they might be able to get outside on us. We had a pretty strong up the gut running attack, and a nice late summer rain storm turned the Panther Stadium turf into a slippery track, much like last Friday and the vaunted outside speed running of Garnett was negated. We pitched a shut-out that night, and brought home a 22-0 victory, we stood at 1-0, and down the road the Trojans also won to make them 1-0 too.
     Week two brought our first road trip to play at St. Joseph of Shawnee. (If you're wondering who is St. Joseph of Shawnee, well that little Catholic school moved south a few years later and became Aquinas High School!) St. Joe jumped to a 10-0 lead on us in the first half, we knew they were going to be tough to beat, but we came back and held them scoreless in the second half (that fact will be important a bit down the line) and scored two touchdowns of our own to squeak by for a 12-10 win, we were at 2-0, and Oz destroyed somebody that night too, they were 2-0.
     It was back to Panther Stadium in week three against another team no one probably remembers, Immaculata. I don't remember much about this game, other than we pitched another shut-out. That was two shut-outs in three games, and gave us an streak of six straight quarters without allowing a point. Immaculata fell by a 16-0 score, were were 3-0 and Osawatomie rolled on with a victory to keep pace at 3-0.
     Week four produced a more familiar foe, the Lansing Lions. Not the 5A Lansing Lions of today, it was the same town, but a much smaller school, 3A Lansing, we always found it interesting going up to Lansing to play an looking at the Kansas State Prison on the hill overlooking the football field. This cat fight went to the Panthers that night, as we won that game 30-0. This was another game that I don't recall a lot of details from, but I do remember that I kicked off. Now most teams use their kicker as a safety on coverage, but when you're 6'6" and weight 235 pounds and aren't the fastest boat in the water, that's not a good idea. So I went downfield on coverage, and one of my more fleet footed team mates play the safety valve role. The Lions assigned some little guy the role of cutting me off at the knees about ten yards downfield. Now I'm not the quickest learner sometimes, and it took about three times for this runt to cut me off for me to figure out what to do. So the next time I kicked off, I decided that if he was going to go low, so was I, which was no small feat, but I did, and I hit him HARD. Needless to say, he didn't cut me at the knees again! Anyway, week four came and went, we remained unbeaten, ran our shut out streak to 10 quarters, and kept pace with the Trojans at 4-0.
    The next week saw us return to Panther Stadium to host the DeSoto Wildcats. I don't have any great memories of this game, but it was another victory and another shut out. Our defense had allowed just 10 points in five games, and had not been scored on for 14 consecutive quarters, as the Wildcats fell 44-0.
     Tonganoxie was our next opponent and our next destination to play. I remember, they had a pretty good team that year, and going on the road was a concern to the coaches and players alike. Tongie had this field (maybe it's the same, I don't know) that sat down in a hallow and you could see it as you drove on the street around the school. I always remember that traveling to Tongie, DeSoto and Lansing for games those years seemed to take forever! I hated those trips, but it wasn't bad when we came home winners. My best memory of this game was that I absolutely killed two kick offs, sending one to the goal line and another sailing completely out of the end zone. The other highlight -- another shut-out victory. The defense was really playing well, we had not allowed a point in 18 quarters, and our offense was rolling. This night the score was 26-0, and for those of you keeping score at home, that moved our record to 6-0, and we had outscored our opponents by an impressive 150-10. Oh yea, that other team to the south won too, they were 6-0 also.
     Week seven brought Gardner to town. Again, this was not the big, bad, Bubba Starling led Trailblazers of the current day. No, they were a little more friendly, although no less competitive bunch, without the gleaming new mega school on the west side of town. Gardner as a sleepy little bedroom community at the time out on the edge of the Olathe Naval Air Station. They had some good athletes, but by this time, there was no one in the Pioneer (yes the Pioneer) League that could compete with either Paola or Osawatomie. It was homecoming, and the only outcome that was even in doubt that night was who would be crowned homecoming queen (no kings at that time, just queens). We rolled to a 43-0 lead by the middle of the second quarter, and the starters had long since turned the game over to the JV. Halftime came, junior Patty Conrow (see I told you we did things differently) was crowned queen, and our defense had run its shut out streak to 20 quarters with no end in sight. But then, late in the third quarter, Gardner did the unthinkable, they broke a run which was stopped at our 10 yard line. The first team defense was called on to come off the bench, after quite a bit of inactivity and try and preserve the shut out streak. Three straight draw plays had netted a couple of yards for the Blazers, but on fourth down, we allowed them to score, and lost our shut-out streak at four games, but preserved the victory by a 43-8 score. And yes, Osawatomie won too we both stood at 7-0.
    Week eight was another long trip, at least in those days, up to Piper, which, like all those other schools north and west of Overland Park were just little rural high schools at the 3A level. Piper was relatively new to the league, and the Pirates were no match for us, as we jumped out to a substantial half time lead. Much like the Gardner game, we were way ahead and shutting out the Pirates in the third quarter, when another miscue by the JV gave them a first and goal around our 10 yard line. Again the first team defense went into the game, and again they scored on us on fourth down. Other than allowing another seven points, the thing I remember most is the fog. There was a big communication tower outside the field at one end, I can remember that you could see it well at the beginning of the game, but it had all but disappeared by the conclusion. The good news in this game was we were not challenged, putting up 64 points, but the bad news was we gave up seven. That moved our season record to 8-0, we had outscored our opponents 257-25, put up five shut-outs. We had allowed three touchdowns and a field goal all season long, in 32 quarters, we had held our opponents scoreless in 28 of them. Oh yes, Osawatomie had put up as good, or better numbers, we were both undefeated and on a collision course for a Halloween night street fight at Panther Stadium.
     Needless to say, week nine did not go well for us as Panthers. The Trojans were everything they were billed as and a bit more. But, even though we lost by a 36-8 score, and then watched as the Trojans went on to win the Kansas Class 3A State Championship a couple of weeks later, I know we put up one heck of a fight. The game atmosphere was electric. I know I've told the story a thousand times about coming to the stadium two hours early to dress and seeing the stands on both sides of the field filled to capacity. The field was lined with fans five, six, seven deep all the way around, there had to be 5,000 to 6,000 people there. It was great. We were in the game at the half, trailing just 14-8, but an early Trojan score made the situation more difficult and two late turnovers by our offense gave Osawatomie two short field scores to make the final margin greater than it probably should have been. Don't get me wrong, the best team won that night, but I truly believe that if we would have won, we would have hoisted the state championship trophy later that November.
     Well, there you have it, that was my moment in the sun, at least on the football field. I was named an all league second team player in football, went on to a unanimous choice all league basketball season, including all-state honorable mention. We missed going to state in football, and fell three points short in basketball as we tied to play in our second straight state tournament. I finally got a taste of state competition in the spring as Paul Watson and I qualified for the state golf tournament in Wellington in the spring of 1974.
     It was a fun year, I would have liked to of won one more football game and one more basketball game and then seen how the rest of the games would have played out, but that was not in the cards, but it was a season that gave me memories to last a lifetime. Let's hope that the Paola and Louisburg players who will meet on the Panther Stadium field will have as many memories nearly 40 years from now as I do of that season.