Monday, April 14, 2014.
That’s the day I returned to a place I call home, AM 580 WIBW. Back in March 2011, I was wrapping up my sophomore year at the University of Kansas. I’d just received contact information for Greg Akagi. After an email to him, I contacted Bruce Steinbrock, now at Washburn University, through email. I didn’t hear back so I sent another one. Then one day at lunch, I received a phone call from the “Bruiser.” I was caught off guard, but for some reason, he gave me an opportunity to be at Emporia for 580’s state basketball tournament coverage.
Interning followed that. Then came a part-time board operator shift from Saturday nights at 10 to Sunday mornings at 6. I had to stop once I graduated from college and, boy, was that painful. I wished one day that I would return. Jake Lebahn, Larry Riggins and Keith Montgomery made that happen.
A kid that once had to take speech courses because he sucked at pronouncing many words, especially those with the letter “r”, was finally back home. Sure, I was extremely nervous. Heck, I started to feel that way when I thought about writing this blog. But, one thing that makes this a magical job (which I really don’t view it as that) is everyone in this community.
First, it starts with the kids. The student-athletes that perform at such a high level on and off the field/turf/court/diamond/pool (you get the idea). All the athlete of the week segments, talking with the students before and after games, even chatting outside of the sports world and sometimes playing pickup basketball games, gives me so many special memories and connections.
Those same athletes develop largely because of parents. Gosh, so many parents are so dang caring. Every parent gushes about their kids and that’s the way it should be. I’m proud of many kids and I’m glad the parents are the same way when they come up and chat with me. Sometimes (maybe rarely is the right way to put it), some parents muster up the courage and give compliments on 580 or myself. A lot of times, I take it with a grain a salt (I mean, really, who actually enjoys this guy’s play-by-play and analysis?), but all those comments help me strive to be better.
Last, but not least, I need to thank those that have to hear from me ALL the time: the coaches. Asking for seven football coaches and 14 basketball coaches to appear for a coaches show is so much. Many have to change schedules just for me and that’s just the start. But, after all that pestering, I’m glad to call many friends and not just coaches.
Oh, and how could I forget about the games I and many others witnessed this year? The football season was so incredible. Shawnee Heights went deep into the playoffs and fell one game short of the Class 5A state championship for its best finish EVER in program history. Hayden didn’t let Bishop Miege intimidate the Wildcats and almost won the Class 4A-DI crown in Topeka. Topeka High welcomed a shootout with Hutchinson in the Class 6A playoffs. Seaman worked its way into the Class 5A playoffs as well. All those were magical, but I don’t think those stack up to the perfect season by the Rossville Dawgs. One of the greatest games I’ve ever seen, largely decided by two offside penalties on fourth downs. As a play-by-play man, you wish for those close games and I saw many of those and some unreal plays.
Basketball, however, wasn’t as exciting. Now, before you grab pitchforks, let me explain. Before 580, I covered high school athletics in Atchison. I had three buzzer beaters (nearly four, two in same game) and two were back-to-back. One shot was this sensational moment.
So, I didn’t have that. But, what I DID have were competitive races for the Centennial League crowns. Going into the final night, there was a FOUR-WAY TIE for the girls Centennial League title. There would be a three-way, two-way or one true champion (Big 12 jab). Washburn Rural and Manhattan ended up being the champions. Not sure if the race could have been any closer. The hunt for the boys crown seemed in control throughout the season, but Shawnee Heights and Hayden both had chances to at least tie for the crown. Although no city team ended up being a champion, two teams saw success in the postseason.
After a bumpy start, the Washburn Rural Lady Junior Blues avenged an earlier loss to claim third at the Class 6A state tournament. Hayden almost pulled off a heck of an upset at its respective state tournament, but settled for third. Seaman ended up at the Expocentre for the Class 5A tournament after a wild finish with Shawnee Heights. The Shawnee Heights boys were the only city team to go to a state tournament, but dropped a tough decision to Blue Valley West. Still, the T-Birds had 20 wins and other boys basketball teams saw success, just fell a little short.
Okay, I’m approaching my word limit (I really don’t have one, but if you reached this far, you deserve a cookie). I’m so incredibly lucky and blessed to be here at Topeka to see many exceptional people. I’ve always said this, but I don’t do these things for me. I do them because of the people I meet and those that support. That’s what gets me up in the morning and staying up late at night. Thanks, everyone, for embracing this tall man who wears ties. And unlike most college athletes, I’m not going to be a “one-and-done” and I thank everyone for the opportunity.