I enjoyed reading the article in The Wichita Eagle several years ago about the Bluestem High School magical and successful baseball season that resulted in the schools first team state championship. Valley Center followed in this vein last year with their very first team state championship by winning the 5A State Tennis title. This year, Eureka High School finally brought home their first state team title with the 2019 wrestling championship.
Parade goers, watching the buses returning to town from these victories led by the flashing lights of police cars, say it was awe inspiring. In each of these towns, the downtown windows were swiftly and colorfully painted and the victory parties and assemblies were full and raucous. They had a party on their hands! It just doesn’t get any better than that. These jubilant hometown celebrations brought back memories from the movie Hoosiers and the story of Milan, Indiana winning that infamous State Basketball Championship way back in 1954.
I was lucky enough to be a friend of Forrest Pontious. He was a long time teacher, coach and administrator in Argonia, Kan. He once told me the story of the Argonia Raider basketball team that won the state championship in 1969. As the finals approached, they realized they had a problem. Everyone, and I mean everyone, in Argonia was going to the game in Dodge City. The police, the volunteer fire department and most of the medical staff of the town were going to the game. Everyone in town knew someone involved with the team. That night the town was going to be vacant. The city and the school system had to prepare for security and emergency accommodations with the help from the county and nearby towns. What a great story! They won by 35 points in the championship game, which was a record at that time.
Not too many schools in the state that have been in existence for over 40 or 50 years have not experienced a team championship. I do know a few right now but I am not going to mention any names. They know who they are.
But ... can you win too much?
The Arkansas City Bulldog Wrestling team was created in 1961, almost 58 years ago. In that time the Bulldogs have won 21 state titles. They have had 13 runner-up trophies and six third-place finishes. The Bulldogs have won 36 percent of the state championships since 1961 and have placed in the top three 69 percent of the time. They won their first title in1964 in their third year of competition. They won 11 consecutive titles from 1988 through 1998. You might expect this kind of success with some sport in a private school located in a large city, but like all small towns, the athletes that participate in that school live within the district borders..
Can a team be too successful?
This year Ark City’s wresting team placed second in 2019 behind a really great Goddard High School team that has won the last five 5A state championships. Ark City sent 12 to the state tournament and had two state champions. They won the 4A state championship in 2018. Arkansas City is a wrestling town! Ark City has had 107 individual state wrestling champions ... what a number! They have also had four four-time state champions. The outstanding youth wrestling programs are a major factor in their success as well as their supportive and extremely knowledgeable coaches. The Ark City fans understand the sport and support it. The stands are filled at home matches. Good ‘ole boys talk wrestling at the morning coffee shops. They also have the largest and loudest crowds at the state tournament.
But winning has become routine. After a state title the bus rolls back into town, the boys take a shower and go home. No police escort, no crowds waiting at the school, no parade and no windows painted downtown. There is a nice big article in the local paper, the city makes a proclamation, and there is a nice well-attended, and loud, assembly at the high school.
I know schools that would die for a third place state trophy in any sport. Ark City’s second and third place trophies are casually stuck into the overfilled wrestling trophy case. Deep down we just expect to win it all every year.
Maybe a school can lose a little something by winning too much.