Webb: Practice makes perfect for Giffin as Bearcats reach state tournament


Burlingame heads to the state tournament with a 20-2 record.

ALMA – For several weeks, the only basketball activity Montana Giffin could participate in was shooting free throws due to an ankle injury that sidelined the junior for 16 games. That came in handy Saturday night with a trip to the state tournament on the line.

Giffin calmly buried four straight free throws down the stretch as Burlingame (20-2) knocked off undefeated and second-ranked Lyndon 52-42 to secure back-to-back berths to state.

“All I could do for six weeks was shoot free throws, so I shot free throws,” Giffin said. “That helped tonight. This is an unbelievable feeling, especially getting back to state with all we’ve had to deal with this season.”

The Bearcats are no strangers to adversity, as they have endured a season without their starting point guard because of an ACL tear and more than two months without Giffin, a starting shooting guard who moved over to the point when Dalton Sporing hurt his knee in football.

Though it took the team several games to adjust to new roles, Burlingame persevered behind a slew of seasoned veterans like forwards Jake Thompson, Tristan Lee and Caiden Musick and guards Colton Noonan, Seth Greenwood and Zach Herrick.


“This means a lot to me and these kids to overcome what we have and get back to state,” said coach Creighton Winters, whose team finished third in Class 1A Division I last season. “This is in an experienced group, and they’ve played in a lot of big games, so I knew the moment wasn’t going to get to them. They really played well tonight.”

Burlingame needed to play well against a Lyndon team that rolled through the regular season without a loss, including a one-point win at home against the Bearcats in the December. Burlingame remembered that game all season.

“That was a big factor tonight because we felt like Jake didn’t play well in that game, and Montana didn’t play much because of his injury,” Winters said. “This is who we wanted to play. We knew it’d be tough, but we wanted another shot at them.”

Burlingame led most of the night, but did weather several Lyndon runs. The first came after the Bearcats bolted to an 11-2 lead on Lee’s put-back midway through the first quarter. The Tigers (22-1) went on a 10-2 run, closing the quarter with a fast-break layup at the buzzer to pull within 13-12.

Burlingame surged ahead again in the second period with five straight points, but Lyndon answered with an 11-4 run and pulled ahead at the half. On the final play of the frame, Shaugn Reed’s 3-pointer from the corner bounced high off the rim and backboard before settling through the net for a 23-22 advantage.

The teams went back and forth early in the second half before Herrick, who hit the winning trey during the second overtime of the Class 1A Division I third-place game in 2017, canned a three from the right wing for a 33-28 lead.

Lyndon got as close as 36-33 at the end of the third frame, but Thompson hit three free throws to start the fourth. The Bearcats led by at least five points the rest of the way, connecting on 12 of 21 shots from the foul line to hang on for the victory.

The Tigers frantically scrambled on defense in an attempt to force turnovers, but Burlingame’s fundamentally sound and quick guards, notably Giffin, repeatedly dribbled out of trouble.

“Giffin was so good tonight,” Winters said. “We really needed him tonight, and he stepped up.”

The Bearcats play Sacred Heart, the defending state champion, in the first round of the Class 2A tournament Thursday in Manhattan.

“We’re just going to go and have fun and see what happens,” Giffin said. “We feel like our experience will help, especially after finishing third last year.”


Burlingame      13        9          14        16        —          52
Lyndon                        12        11        10        9          —          42

BURLINGAME (20-2): Thompson 4-7 5-7 13, Musick 4-7 1-1 10, Noonan 3-7 2-6 9, Giffin 0-2 8-8 8, Lee 1-4 4-7 6, Herrick 1-4 0-0 3, Greenwood 1-3 0-2 3, Hovestadt 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 14-34 20-31 52.
LYNDON (22-1): Swinehart 4-15 3-7 13, J. Reed 4-14 4-5 13, S. Reed 2-4 0-0 6, Kitselman 2-3 0-0 5, Stevicks 2-7 0-0 4, Krause 0-2 1-3 1, Miller 0-1 0-0 0. Totals 14-46 8-15 42.

3-point goals: Burlingame 4-16 (Noonan 1-5, Herrick 1-4, Greenwood 1-3, Musick 1-2, Giffin 0-2), Lyndon 6-22 (Swinehart 2-10, S. Reed 2-4, J. Reed 1-6, Kistelman 1-2). Rebounds: Burlingame 34 (Thompson 6, Lee 6, Musick 6), Lyndon 18 (Stevicks 6).


Webb: Gritty Bearcats keep winning behind Noonan, Musick



ALMA – Part of the charm of sports is the unsung hero willing his team to victory. Burlingame had a couple of those Friday night in a Class 2A sub-state semifinal.

Colton Noonan and Caiden Musick, gifted athletes who rarely receive the headlines in a program loaded with talent, wore the capes during the Bearcats’ 52-46 win against perennial power Olpe.

The duo combined for 29 points and made big play after big play as Burlingame slowly pulled away from the Eagles before hanging on for its life down the stretch.

Coming into the season, the Bearcats ranked among a handful of contenders for a state championship. Anchored by all-state forward Jake Thompson and arguably the best point guard in the class, Dalton Sporing, Burlingame figured to build on last year’s run to third place in Class 1A Division I in 2017.

Then, in the span of a few weeks, the Bearcats lost Sporing to his second ACL tear in nine months, followed by Montana Giffin, an all-league off guard who took over at point to start the season, to an ankle injury.

Ultimately, the Bearcats played virtually the entire season without their starting backcourt. After struggling a bit for several games, Burlingame began to take off when Noonan, an aggressive and fast guard, emerged as the leader.

Musick, an athletic 6-foot-7 post player, helped the Bearcats stay afloat as they adjusted to a new style of play and a different mix of players.

Despite what would be debilitating injuries for most teams, Burlingame managed to win the Lyon County League tournament while finishing 17-2 in the regular season. The only losses along the way were a one-point loss in the closing seconds at Lyndon and a loss at Olpe, which they avenged two weeks later at the LCL tourney.

Armed with a plethora of experience, including deep postseason runs in basketball and football, and an enviable array of talent, the Bearcats were battled-tested going into sub-state.

After cruising by Madison/Hamilton in the first round, Burlingame faced another big hurdle against an Eagles team featuring one of the best players in Class 2A in Damon Schmidt and the always-rigid defense of longtime coach Chris Schmidt.

The Bearcats cleared that hurdle largely because Musick played with reckless abandon, attacking the basket with fury while scoring 14 points and grabbing seven rebounds against a great defensive big man in Schmidt.

At one point in the first half, Musick took a pass near the free throw line, drove through the lane and soared to the basket in an attempt to dunk over Schmidt. The ball rattled out for a missed jam, but the message was clear: Musick came to play.

Meanwhile, Noonan was fearless at the point, holding off Olpe’s suffocating guards to set up the offense. He also buried timely threes and came up with a handful of critical steals.


Musick, Tristan Lee and Thompson scored on layups as Burlingame jumped out to a 6-2 lead in the opening moments, but Olpe countered with an 8-2 run to take the lead. Wyatt Schulz took advantage of a Bearcats defense focused on smothering Schmidt, hitting three mid-range jumpers in the quarter.

Burlingame pulled even on Noonan’s runner at the end of the first quarter, and surged ahead on six straights points from the senior point guard and Musick. The Bearcats led 25-21 when Giffin, playing in his second game since returning from the injury, hit a short jumper at the buzzer.

Burlingame had a chance to pull away early in the third quarter, but struggled at the foul line. The Bearcats still grabbed a 28-21 lead when Musick scored on a beautiful fast break that included nifty passes from Noonan and Seth Greenwood.

Trailing 36-29 at the start of the fourth period, the Eagles (17-4) cut the deficit to 37-33 on Schmidt’s 17-footer. But the Bearcats answered with back-to-back buckets from Noonan and Thompson.

Olpe took advantage of Burlingame’s struggles at the foul line, where the Bearcats missed nine free throws in the final quarter, to chip away at the deficit. When Kadon Redeker canned a trey from the left corner, the Eagles trailed 45-44 with 39.4 seconds left.

Olpe pressed on the ensuing inbounds play, but Burlingame broke it and ended up with a layup from Greenwood with 30 seconds left. Greenwood, yet another unsung hero, forced a turnover moments later, and Giffin put the game away with a pair of free throws.

Noonan had 15 points, while Thompson added nine. Schulz led the Eagles with 15 points, while Schmidt had 14 points and eight rebounds. Camden Hoelting had 13 points.

The Bearcats won despite finishing 11 of 25 at the foul line, including 5 of 14 in the fourth quarter.


Olpe    10        11        8          17        —          46
Burlingame      10        15        11        16        —          52

Olpe (17-4) – Schulz 7-11 0-0 15, Schmidt 6-12 2-2 14, Hoelting 5-10 0-0 13, K. Redeker 1-4 1-3 4, Pimple 0-2 0-0 0, C. Redeker 0-2 0-0 0. Totals 19-41 3-5 46.
Burlingame (19-2) – Noonan 5-11 3-13 15, Musick 6-9 2-4 14, Thompson 3-5 3-5 9, Greenwood 2-4 1-2 5, Lee 2-2 0-0 4, Giffin 1-2 2-2 4, Herrick 0-3 0-0 0. Totals 19-36 11-25 52.

3-point goals: Olpe 5-13 (Hoelting 3-7, K. Redeker 1-2, Schulz 1-1, Schmidt 0-2, Pimple 0-1); Burlingame 2-10 (Noonan 2-7, Herrick 0-3). Rebounds: Olpe 19 (Schmidt 8), Burlingame 18 (Musick 7).


The top-seeded and undefeated Tigers held off the 2016 state champions behind a stingy defense that limited the Cobras to 11-of-48 shooting, including 6 of 26 from 3-point range.

Lyndon (22-0) led 9-2 at the end of the first quarter and 13-10 after a defensive first half, but Jackson Heights (15-6) took the lead briefly in the third period on a three from Levi Olberding and short jumper by Brady Holliday.

The Tigers countered with eight straight points, including six from Jamie Reed, to take a 21-15 lead. Heights pulled even on a trey by Kolby Rethman, but trailed 25-21 going into the fourth.

Lyndon led by six early in the final stanza and held on down the stretch, though the Cobras got as close as two, at 29-27, on Rethman’s 25-footer from the key.

The Tigers made just enough free throws (7 of 12 in the quarter) to hang on.

Olberding led Jackson Heights with 10 points, while Reed and Dexton Swinehart had 11 points each for Lyndon.


Jackson Heights          2          8          11        11        —          32
Lyndon           9          4          12        14        —          39

JACKSON HEIGHTS (15-6) – Olberding 4-14 0-1 10, Rethman 3-11 0-0 8, Thomas 2-11 0-0 6, Dahl 1-4 4-8 6, Childs 0-1 0-0 0. Totals 11-48 4-11 32.
LYNDON (22-0) – Swinehart 4-14 2-4 11, J. Reed 4-10 3-3 11, S. Reed 2-8 3-4 8, Krause 2-4 1-3 5, Miller 1-2 1-2 3, Stevicks 0-4 1-3 1. Hielscher 0-1 0-0 0, Kitselman 0-1 0-0 0. Totals 13-44 11-17 39.

3-point goals: Jackson Heights 6-26 (Rethman 2-9, Thomas 2-8, Olberding 2-6, Holliday 0-2, Dahl 0-1), Lyndon 2-18 (Swinehart 1-6, S. Reed 1-4, J. Reed 0-4, Stevicks 0-2, Hielscher 0-1, Kitselman 0-1). Rebounds: Jackson Heights 34 (Dahl 18), Lyndon 34 (Miller 7).

Webb: Thank you, Oscar, for the lessons and being one of a kind



My wife often jokes about my ego when it comes to writing. The conversation typically goes something like this: “I know his sounds arrogant …” as she smiles and says, “You have to have somewhat of an ego to be a good writer … I think.”

That wasn’t always the case. It took a strong dose of reality to essentially scrap my writing style and start from scratch. I thought about that earlier this week when I heard Oscar Gonzalez Jr., one of my first sports editors, died Wednesday at the far-too-young age for 45.

I met Oscar in 2002 as I blanketed the country with resumes as a young sports writer hoping to catch my first break in the newspaper business. He’d recently been promoted to sports editor of The Monitor in McAllen, Texas.

To be the sports editor at a mid-sized daily at his age (30 at the time) was impressive. He interviewed me about filling his former position as assistant sports editor. Oscar asked a lot of questions that evening as we ate at “El Pato,” one of his favorite restaurants, but he repeatedly asked one: “Can you handle being the guy? I need somebody to come in here and kick ass.”

Being driven – and rather naïve – of course I told Oscar I was the man for the job. I couldn’t have been more wrong.

To say Deep South Texas was a culture shock to a 26-year-old who grew up in Missouri and Kansas would be a gross understatement. Throw in a bad marriage and you have a recipe for a mess.

As that marriage became a divorce, all I really had was work. I eventually was promoted to deputy sports editor, I assume partly because I was willing to spend more time at work than home.

That nearly became the shortest stint as a deputy sports editor in newspaper history when I wrote a column ripping Dennis Franchione, who was hired by Texas A&M in December 2002, for the way he bailed at Alabama without telling his players.

Predictably, the Aggie fans in the Rio Grand Valley were less than pleased. I arrived at work to find dozens of emails calling me a hack, moron and far worse. I responded to each email, as I always have, without venom. That is until one reader began to take shots at my personal life.

Finally, after a series of nasty emails, I referred to the reader as an “assclown.” While it was an accurate statement, it was the dumbest thing I’ve done as a journalist. After berating me for an hour, the assclown finally had what he wanted … and immediately forwarded it to our executive editor.

Little did I know that afternoon that the executive editor and Oscar had a meeting about the email. Several times, the editor told Oscar he was going to fire me. Oscar being Oscar, he told the editor, “Honestly, that’s the funniest thing I’ve ever heard: Assclown.”

I didn’t know until several months later that Oscar saved my job, and possibly career, that day. You don’t want to be the guy who was fired for calling a reader an assclown in an email.

Despite that display of grace, Oscar and I didn’t mesh as co-workers (though I think we would have years later). He was brash, blunt and, at times, abrasive. I was simply not ready to lead a staff, even one as small as The Monitor’s was, and he knew it.

Though we shared thousands of laughs and moments sitting next to each other in the sports department, the tension was thick. We argued often. I remember at one point saying, “I’m tired of your shit” as I briskly walked out of the newsroom.

To add to an already-hellish day, I got pulled over on the way home and got a ticket. I’ll never forget calling my brother that afternoon and talking about quitting so I could move back to Kansas.

After some soul searching, I called Oscar in the office and apologized, breaking down in tears as I told him how much of a struggle life was as I slogged through a divorce 1,400 miles from home. Oscar, who had a gentle, caring side that some didn’t see, calmly said, “Dude, it’s OK. Come back in and we’ll work it out.”

We got along, for the most part, for the rest of my time in McAllen, which turned out to be another three months. There was one moment, however, that I’ll always remember.

We had a considerable amount of content for a small section on a Tuesday, and Oscar decided to bump my column inside. My ego couldn’t handle that, of course, so I questioned him repeatedly. Finally, he’d had enough: “Honestly, dude, you’re not that good of a writer. Not nearly as good as you think you are. Yeah, you never have a typo, but it reads like AP copy. It’s dull and doesn’t do anything for the reader.”

I wanted to scream at him. Honestly, I wanted to punch him. But I knew he had a point. It hurt, but he was right.

Years later, while I was working at the Topeka Capital-Journal, I thought about his jarring words as I copy edited some of the best writers in the Midwest. I told myself thousands of times while working the desk that I was going to take those words and become a better writer.

When I did start writing a column in 2006, a close friend said, “Your writing has really improved. There’s so much more life in it.” Much of that was a product of reading hundreds of wonderful stories by our sports writing staff, but much of it was thinking about Oscar’s biting words.

I share that story not to paint Oscar as some sort of ogre. He really wasn’t. What he wanted was the best for the reader and the best out of his deputy sports editor. It took me a long time to come to terms with that, and for years I resented Oscar for “being mean.”

Years later, with the advent of social media, we reconnected on Facebook and Twitter. Perhaps because we had both matured, we got along quite well. I loved his quirky sense of humor and willingness to speak his mind. I admired that he took a shot, moving to California at age 40 because it’d always been his dream to live there.

When I heard of his death this week, my heart dropped. I exchanged a message with one of Oscar’s closest friends, Victoria Hirschberg, telling her Oscar and I really didn’t get along when I worked in McAllen. She responded by telling me that her husband Wade Baker, perhaps Oscar’s closest friend, was sitting next to her and said, “Oscar loved your ass.”

I teared up a little. Oscar might have been brutally blunt, but he was a loyal, kind soul. I’ll miss logging onto Facebook to find that he had responded to one of my posts calling me an assclown. I suspect he never imagined how many people shared a similar connection with him.

Webb: Hosmer, Moose, Cain, Esky, et al, will always be Forever Royal

royals world series

The 2015 Kansas City Royals wiped out decades of frustration by defeating the New York Mets in five games for the title.

June 26, 2014. That day is one of a handful that stand out when I think about the Kansas City Royals of Eric Hosmer, Mike Moustakas, Lorenzo Cain and Alcides Escobar.

Two days earlier, I watched from the press box as the Royals struggled, as everybody does, against Clayton Kershaw. I was there to interview Davey Lopes, the first-base coach for the Los Angeles Dodgers and a Washburn University alumnus, for The Ichabod magazine.

Though my interview was done an hour before the game began, I stayed for the experience and as a reminder of how fortunate I was to cover sports at newspapers for more than a decade. I remember being impressed that nearly 30,000 people attended a game at Kauffman Stadium in late June.

A couple of days later, I went straight from work to Dick’s Sporting Goods in Leawood to buy a basketball for my daughter, who mentioned earlier in the week that she wanted to learn how to play basketball.

Rushing to the checkout line, I did a double-take as a looked to my right. Is that? Wait … Dayton Moore? What in the world is he doing at a Dick’s Sporting Goods?


A decade after inheriting a mess, Dayton Moore has built one of the classiest organizations in baseball.

After hesitating, I approached Moore as he neared the checkout line. “Excuse me, are you Dayton Moore?” Obviously, I knew the answer. He hesitated, almost as if he was afraid to be approached by somebody during a recent Royals slump. “Yes, yes I am.”

Those of you who follow me on Twitter will be surprised by what I said next. “I just wanted to tell you thanks for bringing winning baseball back to Kansas City. I know you’re a busy man, so I’m going to get out of your way.”

Moore reached out his hand to shake mine, looked me directly in the eyes, and said, “Thank you. I really appreciate that.” It was as if he needed to hear it.

After interviewing a number of athletes, coaches and sports executives during my career in newspapers, I knew the vast majority of them typically don’t want to hang around and chat. But as I started to walk away, Moore held firm his handshake and asked me what my name was.

We spoke for about five minutes. He stopped short of apologizing for the recent slump, though I could tell it bothered him. I wondered how many times in the past several years he had a conversation with fans that was far less complimentary.

The other thing I remember about that conversation is that after learning I was there to buy a basketball for my daughter, he brought his son over and introduced him. Same firm handshake and steady eye contact.

Since that point, I’ve been a huge Dayton Moore fan.


Three months later, as I walked the sideline at a high school football game in northeast Kansas, I tried to check the score of the Royals-White Sox game on my phone. The reception in Waverly wasn’t cooperating, but the public address announcer provided updates throughout the evening.

With each update, in the midst of a competitive game between two good teams, the crowd erupted. The loudest applause came at 9:51 p.m.: “Final score: Royals 3, White Sox 1.” For the first time in 29 years, Kansas City was in the playoffs.

The following Monday, I spent an hour at work trying to get into the portal for playoff tickets. When I finally did, I had two choices: Purchase tickets for the Wild-Card game or Game 3 of the American League Division Series.

Knowing my work schedule was hectic that week, I opted for the ALDS, even though there was no guarantee the Royals would be there. Three years later, I still kick myself for not picking the Wild-Card game.

As my wife and I settled in at home on Sept. 30 for the Wild-Card game against Oakland, I was as nervous as I’ve been in years. Nerves became anger when manager Ned Yost replaced James Shields with Yordano Ventura in the sixth inning of a game the Royals led 3-2.

By the end of the inning, my blood pressure was through the roof and face bright red as I screamed at the TV that Yost had to be fired as soon as the game ended.

My wife opted for bed not long after that, kissing my forehead and whispering, “I’m sorry, honey” in the seventh inning. I decided to stay up, though I changed the channel and followed the rest of the game on Twitter.

What unfolded in the eighth, ninth and 12th innings also rank among my favorite memories of The Core. I’ll never forget hitting the refresh button to see fellow Royals fans post updates full of exclamation points as Billy Butler ripped a single into right field to cut the lead to two and Hosmer scored on a wild pitch.


Salvador Perez’s 12th-inning single during the 2014 Wild-Card game ignited the Royals run in 2014-15.

I didn’t see Jarrod Dyson’s stolen base in the ninth inning, not live anyway. I switched it back to that channel after reading what happened on Twitter. I didn’t see Hosmer’s triple live. I did catch Christian Colon’s single and stolen base, but missed Salvador Perez’s game-winner. What I did see was the entire dugout pouring on the field in a sea of blue when I switched channels for the 100th time that night.

In the meantime, I woke up my wife twice, first when Nori Aoki tied the game, and again on Salvy’s hit.

A couple of days later, I woke her up again with a loud scream on Hosmer’s blast in the 11th inning of Game 2 of the ALDS. I had a 5K the next morning, got about three hours of sleep and ran my personal best, partly because the adrenaline from the previous night served as fuel.


The rest of that postseason is a blur. My wife and I attended Game 3 of the ALDS. I’m always going to remember jumping for joy on Alex Gordon’s two-out, three-run double in the first inning. “I’ve never seen you like this!” she said. “You’re just like a kid again!”

This team often made me feel like a kid again, when I’d hit rocks in the driveway, complete with personal play-by-play of walk-off homers in the World Series.

Other memories of the 2014 postseason:

  • Calling Gordon’s go-ahead home run in Game 1 of the American League Championship Series on Twitter (1 out of 100 ain’t bad).
  • Cain’s circus catches in the ALDS and ALCS.
  • Moose’s homers and incredible catch in ALCS Game 3, which I attended thanks to a friend.
  • Escobar’s double in the ninth inning of ALCS Game 2.
  • Following ALCS Game 4 on my phone during a grad school class and tearing up when the Royals won.
  • Ventura carving up the Giants in Game 1 and Game 6 of the World Series.

Above all, I’m going to remember the enormous pride I felt in this team, even as they lost Game 7 to the San Francisco Giants.


The Royals were so good during the regular season in 2015 that I don’t count any regular season games among favorite memories, though Johnny Cueto’s first start at the K, a shutout, was electric.

The lasting memory of the ALDS against Houston will always be the eighth inning of Game 4. I’d just returned to my desk from a workout during lunch with the Royals trailing 6-2. As had become superstition, I wasn’t watching or listening to the game. I resorted to refreshing mlb.com and Twitter for updates.

I didn’t get too excited until Hosmer’s single made it 6-4 and had to contain myself when I saw the 6-6 on mlb.com after refreshing the page. Two days later, the iconic moment was Kendrys Morales’ three-run blast in the eighth to put the Astros away.

My wife and I went to Game 1 of the ALCS, a night we’ll remember because of Edinson Volquez’s gutty performance. The next day, I spent most of my afternoon yelling at the TV as the Royals rallied for five runs in the seventh inning.

Game 6 on Oct. 23 brought a range of emotions, from being absolutely furious at Yost for allowing Ryan Madson to pitch to Jose Bautista to pure joy on Cain’s mad dash from first to home on Hosmer’s clutch single and Wade Davis’s ice-cold comeback from second and third and nobody out in the ninth.

Four days later, I woke my wife up again when Gordon homered off Jeurys Familia in the ninth inning to tie the game, and once again when Hosmer won it with a sacrifice fly in the 14th.

What I’m always going to remember about this team is the way they ALWAYS came back. In Game 4, they jumped all over Daniel Murphy’s error, scored three runs and took a 3-1 lead in the series.


No play exemplified the 2015 Royals more than Eric Hosmer’s dash to the play to tie Game 5 in the ninth.

The next night, after being dominated by Matt Harvey, they did what they do, obliterating another deficit with enviable resolve and Hosmer’s brazen sprint home. Three innings later, Colon, who barely played, broke New York’s heart with the go-ahead single. Escobar and Cain put the Mets away with a run-scoring double and three-run double.

And, of course, perhaps the best memory: Davis striking out Wilmer Flores to win it all as my wife and I hugged and celebrated. I’m always going to remember my dad calling me after every out in the bottom of the 12th inning. We shared the World Series when I was 9 in 1985 and again when I was 39 in 2015.


Perhaps the most telling moment with this group didn’t involve The Core. I’m never going to forget waking up on a cold January morning, grabbing my phone and seeing that Ventura died in a car accident.


RIP, Ace.

As I gathered my thoughts and tried to make sense of it, I tried to keep it together. I walked down the stairs to tell my wife, and as I started to speak, began to sob. I cried for hours that day, as if I’d lost a member of the family.

And that’s what I’m going to remember most about these guys. They’re family. They grew up with us. They’ve had some lows. But, my goodness, have they had some highs.

There will be never be another team like this. They Royals will win another World Series in my lifetime, maybe several, but none will be as special as the one in 2015. This group made Kansas City a baseball town again. Forever Royal. Thank you, fellas.

Webb: A story about ‘Tommy’ would have packed a punch

tommy morrison

Tommy Morrison, right, won the world heavyweight title at age 24 in 1993 by winning a decision against George Foreman. Three years later, he was diagnosed with HIV. He died in 2013 at age 44.

Every now and again, I’ll see a game on TV or read a story in a newspaper that reminds me how fortunate I was to work in sports journalism for more than a decade. That was the case Wednesday night as my wife and I watched ESPN’s 30 for 30 on Tommy Morrison, “Tommy.”

In the middle of my career in newspapers, I worked at the Topeka Capital-Journal, the paper I grew up reading and dreamed of writing a column for someday. After three years of working on the sports copy desk, that dream came true when Mark Nusbaum, the publisher, gave several of us a great opportunity.

Nusbaum, now the president of Times-Union Media, took a bit of risk, developing a team to work on a project those of us at the paper referred to as Page 2. It entailed edgy copy every day on the second page of the news and sports sections. We rarely used canned content, often scrambling on the day of breaking news to develop alternative story forms.

I was in charge of the sports page, working with longtime sports writer Rick Dean, who supplied a column five days a week. I was lucky enough to have a column on Saturdays, checking an item off the bucket list.

In hindsight, there are many things I’d do differently. Namely, I wouldn’t hesitate, fully embracing the directive the publisher gave us. A few times, I held off running a story that I’d have no problem writing now. It’s easy to overcome fear after seven years away from newspapers.

Watching the inspiring, yet sad tale of Morrison, who rose to world champion in his early 20s and died at age 44, was another reminder of a story I should have written.

One of the wonderful things about the Page 2 project was that Nusbaum and longtime editor Pete Goering gave the staff the freedom to cover just about anything we wanted to, as long as it had local ties. One week, I’d travel with Kansas State beat reporter Tim Bisel, now the sports editor, to Columbia, Missouri, for a football game, the next I’d climb in a van with a group of high school football officials for a behind-the-scenes story.

Perhaps the most interesting thing I covered during my 14 months on the Page 2 project was local boxing. Though none of the pugilists I covered were considered world class, a couple of them had moments in the spotlight.

Most of the boxers had nicknames you might find on a video game like Mike Tyson’s Punch-Out!!, including Donny “The Savage” McCrary, whose 15 minutes was a short run on ESPN’s “The Contender,” hosted by Sylvester Stallone and Sugar Ray Leonard.

damon reed

Damon Reed

The most “famous” of the pugilists was Damon Reed, a Topekan who understood and mastered the hype game while making a career out of hammering nobodies into submission before home crowds. Reed has done well enough that he’s squared off against the likes of Hasim Rahman, James Toney and current heavyweight champion Deontay Wilder.

Note that I said “has done.” Now 45, Reed fought as recently as June 2016.

Reed became the go-to for boxing news as I dove into covering the sport. Partly because he was always good for a quote, and partly because he had the wild dream of fighting Morrison, despite the fact that Morrison was diagnosed with HIV more than a decade earlier.

“Hell yes, I’d fight him,” Reed said, adding that the payday would be worth the risk. “But if he started bleeding, I’d have to kick him in the balls and get disqualified.”

Reed always had a way with words.

He mentioned several times that he’d spoke with Morrison’s handlers about the fight. Naturally, I saw a great story, both in Reed’s involvement and in Morrison’s potential return to boxing despite having HIV.

Thus began several months of research, calling sources such as Pete Susens with Bob Arum’s Top Rank boxing and a former attorney disowned by Morrison and his fiancée. Talking with Susens was like what I always imagined talking to a Joe Pesci character would be. Talking to the attorney was intriguing because he claimed to have Morrison’s HIV test results. The latter was relevant because Morrison denied he had HIV right up to his death in 2013.

After weeks of attempting to track down Morrison, I finally got an interview in the summer of 2007. It might have been the most enjoyable 60 minutes of my life as an interviewer. Conducted over the phone, Morrison defiantly denied that he ever had HIV, that he was completely healthy and planned on winning the world title game.

His fiancée echoed much of what Morrison said, and added that they were having unprotected sex. By the time I hung up the phone, I thought with a little more work, I might have a feature series. A few days later, I got a package from Morrison’s former attorney. It contained what he claimed were Morrison’s latest HIV test results.

Now I knew I had a good story. Unfortunately, I also had a job offer to move to Virginia a few days later. Instead of taking all that research and information to my next gig, I left it in Topeka. Those notes are long gone. Ten years later, Morrison, sadly, also is gone.

All those memories came back as we watched “Tommy.” Those memories also brought sadness. I remember that phone call with Morrison for its energy and passion. Though clearly in denial, he was funny and bright. Above all, he was hopeful.

There are plenty of personalities in boxing, but there won’t be another Tommy. I wish I’d told his story when I had the chance. It had knockout potential.

Webb: Saying goodbye to my second mom


My last exchange with Sharon Moon was classic Sharon: A little bit a wicked humor, and a little bit of kindness.

Responding to a Facebook post about the original version of the movie “It” and how the collection of clown figurines she kept in her home scared the hell out of me as a 13-year-old, Sharon jokingly questioned my toughness, then apologized for the display strategically positioned where friends of her son Steve crashed during a sleep-over.

I had no idea that was going to be the last time I interacted with the mother of my best friend. Though I knew she had stage four lung cancer, we all thought she would live several more months. Sadly, she passed about a week after that exchange at age 61.


Sharon passed away at the age of 61 on Sunday. Survivors include her son Steve and daughters Stacie and Stephanie.

Sharon was like a second mother from the eighth grade on. Steve and I connected almost immediately after my family moved from Lebanon, Missouri, to Burlingame in 1989, and we essentially have been brothers for nearly 30 years now.

As we were growing up, people often called us by each other’s names. Many of our friends in high school referred to our daily comedy routine as the “Steve and Ernie Show.” We found after years of friendship that our lives often mirrored one another (they still do in many ways).

As seniors in high school, we both had car accidents after falling asleep at the wheel. Several years later, we met our first wives in the same month. A few years later, we got married a month apart.

Sharon, of course, was there for all of that. I remember that I never went to her for advice … but she always offered it. Typically, it was in the form of, “Why don’t you think about what you’re doing before you jump into something and you don’t know what the hell you’re doing?”

I’m always going to remember that emphasized hell in her deep Texas twang. It always came with a distinguished cackle. Sharon had a great laugh.

I didn’t know much about Sharon beyond the Mom. She was born in Fort Worth in 1955, married Jimmy Peterson (the father of children Steve, Stephanie and Stacie) and divorced in the early 1980s.

Sharon went to Odessa Permian, which always fascinated me because I’d read “Friday Night Lights” several times. She married Thomas Moon in 1984, and the family moved to Burlingame a few years later.

As fortune would have it, the Webb family moved in 1989 to Burlingame. At the time, that was a miserable experience for a 13-year-old who was comfortable in southwest Missouri. Today, I thank God for that move largely because I ended up meeting Sharon’s son.

Most folks didn’t know a lot about Sharon. Like most, she worked, came home and took care of her family. Before long, that family included me. I probably spent more time at her home than mine. Partly because they had air conditioning, partly because Steve and I were inseparable and partly because Sharon and Jimmy almost always made sure their son had the latest in video games.


Steve and I at my wedding in 2013. Of course, he was one of my groomsmen.

About a year after my family moved from the back roads into town, Steve and his family moved literally across the street. Like I said, our lives often mirror one another.

One of my lasting memories of Sharon came in 1990 when I made the mistake of ridiculing her son over a baby photo that hung on the wall. Sharon, who barely topped 5-foot, strolled up to me with a menacing smile and telling laugh: “Ernie, that’s my son.”

Needless to say, I never made fun of that photo again.

Into our mid-20s, Steve and I hung out often. Even when I worked in Independence, Kansas, at my first job in newspapers, I drove up every other weekend. Steve and I would meet at the duplex he shared with his mother and drive to Aldersgate, where his mom worked as a medication aide. I insisted on stopping by to see her because she always made me laugh.

Once we were done visiting, Steve and I hit the town for a night of drinking at Bullfrogs, returned home mostly drunk and woke up around noon. Before I left for home, of course, I’d chat with Sharon for a while.

There are plenty of ways to measure a person’s life, but none more telling than somebody’s children. Steve, as he always has been, is one of the finest people I’ve ever met. Her daughters have done quite well and have a combined eight kids. All told, Sharon had 11 grandchildren. She also is survived by her husband Thomas.

Sharon lived a life that most people didn’t know much about. If they knew about the children she raised, though, they’d envy it.

Note: A funeral service is scheduled for 11 a.m. Friday at the Burlingame Federate Church. Visitation is from 4 to 8 p.m. Thursday at Carey Funeral Home, where the family will greet friends and relatives from 6 to 8 p.m.

Webb: Bearcats continue to wipe out decades of misery


Burlingame’s defense held Southern Coffey County to 32 yards, including none through the air, in Friday’s 57-0 win.

Walking up to Southern Coffey County’s football field Friday night brought back memories of the last time I watched a game in LeRoy. That was 13 years ago, and the Titans were the LeRoy Bluejays. They also were a perennial playoff team.

Burlingame was not. In fact, that chilly November night was the first playoff game the Bearcats had played in 13 years. To get there, Burlingame needed a miracle a week after being destroyed at Goessel. That miracle came in the form of Hartford, which upset Goessel to nudge Burlingame into the playoffs.

Back in those days, Burlingame, which finished the season 5-5 after a 48-34 loss to LeRoy, was just thrilled to be there. Fast-forward another 13 years, and the Bearcats have not only dug out of a two-decade hole, but also emerged as a consistent state championship contender.

Despite playing without all-state quarterback Dalton Sporing, who plans to return later this month from a torn ACL suffered in basketball, Burlingame looked like something they hadn’t for years: a bully.

In this case, there’s nothing wrong with that. For years, the Bearcats were on the receiving end of beating after beating, routinely losing to the likes of Madison, Lebo, Waverly and just about everybody else by 50 points.

This year’s senior class was starting kindergarten at the time of many of those beat-downs. They started playing football and basketball together not long after, and it became apparent that the blowout losses would be a distant memory by the time they arrived in high school.

Friday’s game resembled many of the losses Burlingame endured throughout the 1990s and 2000s. Clearly the bigger, faster and more experienced group, the Bearcats smothered and battered Southern Coffey County in a 57-0 rout that ended at halftime.

Filling in for Sporing, junior Montana Giffin answered any questions about the quarterback position immediately, connecting with Jake Thompson on a beautiful over-the-shoulder throw for a 46-yard touchdown two minutes into the game.

Anchored by all-state defensive lineman Tristan Lee, the defense stuffed the Titans on their first play from scrimmage and buried SCC for a 5-yard loss on second down before forcing a punt, which Colton Noonan returned 44 yards for a 14-0 lead.

Five Bearcats scored in the first quarter as Burlingame rolled to a 38-0 lead. It was 51-0 midway through the second quarter after the school’s first successful PAT kick in at least a decade. Noonan’s 1-yard touchdown in the closing seconds wrapped up a first half marred only by Burlingame’s struggles on two-point conversions (1 of 8).

The Bearcats moved up to No. 1 Sunday in the Topeka Capital-Journal’s Eight-Man I rankings. They looked every bit the part in their opening game, the first of what they hope is many Friday Night Lights as they pursue the school’s first state title since 1972.

Burlingame                              38        19        X         X         —          57
Southern Coffey County        0          0          X         X         —          0

BUR – Thompson 46 pass from Giffin (Greenwood run)
BUR – Noonan 44 punt return (Pass failed)
BUR – Noonan 13 run (Pass failed)
BUR – Hovestadt 18 interception return (Run failed)
BUR – Musick 34 pass from Giffin (Run failed)
BUR – Greenwood 17 run (Run failed)
BUR – Greenwood 9 pass from Giffin (Pass failed)
BUR – Noonan 19 pass from Giffin (Caldas kick)
BUR – Noonan 1 run (Kick failed)


First downs                 3          11
Rushes-yards               24-32   14-128
Passing yards              0          128
Passes                          0-3-1    7-9-0
Fumbles-lost                4-1       1-0
Punts-Avg.                  3-46.0  0-0
Penalties-yards            4-30     2-10


RUSHING – SCC: Gillis 14-52, Leimkuhler 2-(-3), Harvey 1-(-3), Crooks 2-(-4), Edwards 5-(-10). BUR: Greenwood 6-57, Noonan 5-25, Giffin 2-22, Musick 1-18.
PASSING – SCC: Harvey 0-2-1 0, Gillis 0-1-0 0. BUR: Giffin 7-9-0 128.
RECEIVING – SCC: None. BUR: Musick 3-49, Thompson 1-46, Noonan 2-24, Greenwood 1-9.
PUNTING – SCC: Leimkuhler 3-46.0. BUR: None.