Friday, February 8, 2013

COMMENTARY: Departing sports writer gets two more memories in Signing Day week


Giving up your first love can be tough, even when it's career-related.

For me, my first love when it came to journalism was writing about high school sports, particularly in Wyandotte County and later on, Basehor, Kan., and the rest of the communities in the Kaw Valley League.

Going back to my time as a freelancer, I covered high school sports in KCK for seven years. I enjoyed every single year of it.

Unfortunately in life, we rarely end up with our first love.

That was the case for me last month when I announced the end of KCK Preps, a Website I launched a couple of summers ago that covered the Kansas City, Kansas - Atchison League and the Kaw Valley League.

During my time at KCK Preps, I was lucky to encounter two other individuals with the passion for KCK athletics and KCK families - David Brox and Vernon Birmingham. Both will continue to do this work at a new Website - Because of their broadcasting capabilities, they'll capture KCK sports more than I could ever dream of. They will do special things, so give them a follow if you love KCK athletics.

I wish those two the greatest luck - but they won't need luck. They are very capable and respected in our community. Please give them your warmth and respect.

Because of those two individuals and Stephen Montemayor at The Lawrence Journal-World, who covers the Kaw Valley League very well, I felt I could step aside and pursue a dream opportunity that recently arrived on my doorstep.

First of all, I will not be leaving KCK or stop doing The Kansas City Kansan. The Kansan is a very large part of this dream opportunity, which I'll touch on a little bit down the road. Leaving KCK Preps will help me improve The Kansan long term.

I'm excited about the future, but I was able to get two more special memories this week on signing day - seeing Mill Valley Jaguars running back Kendall Short and Basehor-Linwood Bobcats tight-end Ben Johnson sign with their colleges.

Short will be playing football at Missouri Western, one of the best Division 2 football programs nationally. He's a traditional power-back who will help his new team in the rushing game, but he's also someone who could lineup at wide-receiver occasionally and bring a dynamic impact to Mo. West's offense.

Johnson, meanwhile, will be playing tight-end at the University of Kansas under Charlie Weis. Johnson was a tremendous player and some thought highly enough of him to call him the best prospect in the State of Kansas. He will be a big part of KU's offense down the road and if KU is able to turn its program around, Johnson will be one of the biggest reasons why.

As good as they are on the field, both of them are better off the field. Kendall is one of the most mature individuals - let alone a student-athlete - I've ever met and been lucky to know the past few years. He's a good student who many of the younger players on the Mill Valley team look up to. It's easy to see why. The same could be said of Johnson, who had to "wait his turn" for a little bit because of Basehor featuring Colin and Ryan Murphy, who are widely known as The Murphy Twins.

Both were also good teammates. Having interviewed them a few times, they refused to take credit for their own accomplishments and instead, thanked their coaches, family and teammates for their success. They had reason to thank their families, as both have terrific families. Ben and Kendall would not have been there without their families and if all high school families were like Kendall's mom and dad and Ben's father - ending KCK Preps would have been virtually impossible for me.

I was lucky enough to see four teams win state basketball titles - two a piece for Sumner Academy and Basehor-Linwood. I saw Bishop Ward win a few baseball state titles. I saw Washington basketball and Piper football make school-history and having their best seasons ever.

But I could not have ended my high school sports journalism career on a higher note than seeing Kendall and Ben sign this week. I thank those two individuals for providing me some of the best memories of my life.

As a Missouri Tigers fan, it's tough for me to root for KU. As someone who went to school at Washburn University, it's hard for me to root for Mo. West. I'll do both in these cases, though.

While my work is done, I want to offer some departing words:

1. Parents need to be supportive of their student-athletes, even if they don't want them to play sports. Sports provide a great character-building opportunity for young men and young women, especially in larger cities like KCK. It's not a coincidence that 90-95 percent of the top players in this region in recent years had quality families who were always there for them.

2. More KCK schools need to take pride in athletics. It's improved in recent years, but school districts need to continue to support their athletes. Athletes, as many studies have displayed, are more than likely to have a better GPA than if they didn't go out at all for athletics. Sports makes student-athletes better in the classroom, too.

3. The KCK community needs to embrace athletics. It was special seeing large crowds at Gardner-Edgerton High School, Basehor-Linwood High School and Mill Valley when I covered road games. I want that to happen in KCK. More residents in this community need to endorse athletics. Piper fans did a great job during that team's historic football run in 2012. But that needs to happen even if the teams aren't so great. These are young men and women who need community support. My biggest failure with KCK Preps was being unable to inspire the community to show-up in the big games. I pray that David and Vernon can make this happen.

I want to thank David, Vernon, Stephen and the other media members for a great time. I'll miss talking sports with all of you.

I want to thank the coaches, athletes and especially the parents for their full support over the years.

Farewell, my friends.