Being small-minded in a small town

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Burlingame’s football team was big-time last season and could be big-time again in 2016, but one bad decision could make the town small-time. The Bearcats were 11-1 last season and reached the state semifinals.

“To develop good citizenship.”

It’s the fourth goal outlined in the Burlingame Unified School District policy index. Some of the folks in town might want to refer to that before they make a mistake and run a good coach off.

It’s not every day a school district asks a coach to resign after leading a team to its best season in a decade, but that appears to be the case in Burlingame, where longtime coach Creighton Winters could be out of a job soon.

Never mind that the Bearcats went 16-5 this season and won their first Lyon County League tournament title since 2011 and their first regular-season championship in 20 years. Never mind that Winters has coached in Burlingame for 11 years (for perspective, Burlingame had eight coaches in the previous 13 seasons). Never mind that his family has settled into the community, including his stepson, the starting point guard and an all-state quarterback.

One can only hope there’s a good reason for this decision. Let’s hope it isn’t the reason I’ve heard from several sources in the community, including former players and parents: Winters is too negative.

I know Winters fairly well, have since the Frankfort team he played on competed in the same state tournament as Burlingame in 1994. He has never struck me as a negative coach. Willing to chew on his kids when they need it? Absolutely. Any good coach does.

I’ve also been told that a few parents in town have an agenda. In other words, their kids didn’t get enough playing time. This, unfortunately, is not a surprise. It’s also ridiculous.

Parents are parents. Heck, I’m a parent. You want the best for your children. You want them to have opportunity. I get it. But here’s the deal: Competition is a good thing. It makes us stronger. If you want more playing time, you fight for it. You earn it. I guarantee you most kids do not want their parents whining to coaches and administrators about playing time.

This reminds me of the way the school board and administrators treated John Lujano, the basketball coach and an assistant football coach, in the early 1990s. Coach Lujano wasn’t perfect. He was young. He had never coached basketball. He was learning. He was blunt. He yelled. He cussed. He got mad. He made mistakes.

But, you know what, he was a great teacher and a good leader. He was like a big brother to me when I needed one badly in high school. Unfortunately, he was not liked by the powers that be, namely a couple of key board members. As a result, he did not receive tenure.

Many of the students, including myself, were devastated – and furious. So much so that we organized a walkout. More than 100 students walked from the high school to the district office the day of a special board meeting about Coach Lujano. It garnered enough attention that we ended up on the 6 p.m. TV news that night.

It didn’t matter. The board didn’t change its mind, and Lujano left for McPherson High the next year, where he still teaches and coaches. He’s been on the coaching staff for multiple state championships.

The sad thing about this is Burlingame is on the cusp of greatness. The football team reached the state semifinals for the first time in 43 years last season. The basketball team could make a similar run the next two seasons. Almost all of the kids on those teams are back for at least one more year.

To be in Burlingame during the 2015-16 school year was special. The town was ablaze with excitement. The community rallied around a great group of boys who came so close to fulfilling their dreams. Do you really want that to stop?

Before you make this decision, think about a few things: 1. Do you want lose a coach and family over playing time, err, negativity, and risk losing your all-state quarterback? 2. Do you really think anybody is going to want to coach in Burlingame if you treat coaches this way? 3. Do you want the kids in Burlingame to think this is the way you treat people? 4. Do you want to ignore the fourth goal in our own policy?

Make the right decision, the big-time decision. Otherwise, you’re always going to be small-time and small-minded, and deservedly so.

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The Springfield Three, Part II: Things like this do happen here

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Clutter family

“Things like that just don’t happen here.” That sentence is the definition of innocence. It’s been a mantra in small towns and communities in the Heartland for decades. It’s also extremely naïve.

Capote_cold_bloodOur fascination with true crime began to grow after a gruesome crime in the last place and during an era you’d least expect it. In 1959, four members of the Clutter family – father Herbert, mother Bonnie, son Kenyon and daughter Nancy – were murdered in the rural western Kansas town of Holcomb.

Truman Capote chronicled that murder, by Dick Hickock and Perry Smith, in “In Cold Blood,” a novel that launched the true crime genre.

Though thousands of similar murders have occurred in the years since, that naivety still exists. Shocking murders are common, including in communities where “things like this just don’t happen.”

As I wrote in my first blog about The Springfield Three, the disappearance of three women shook Springfield, Missouri, a city in southwest Missouri not far from the Bible Belt. Many of the people interviewed about this crime were surprised because they believed this rarely happens in such communities.

Unfortunately, that wasn’t the case in this region of Missouri from the mid-1980s to early-1990s. The Springfield Three is one of several bizarre and troubling cases in west central and southwest Missouri.

jackiejohnsJackie Johns, 1985: A former beauty queen, Johns was murdered in June 1985. Law enforcement officials found her car abandoned on a highway on June 18, 1985. Police officers discovered that the backseat was covered in blood, along with Johns’ clothing. Officers pulled her remains from Lake Springfield on June 22, 1985.

For more than 20 years, businessman Gerald Carnahan, who has extensive ties to Springfield, was the prime suspect in Johns’ rape and murder. A DNA test in 2007 tied him to the murder, and he was convicted and sentenced to two consecutive life sentences in 2010.

Carnahan is considered a suspect in several missing person cases in Missouri, including The Springfield Three.

Trudy Darby, 1991: Darby was abducted from the convenience store where she worked in Macks Creek, Missouri, on Jan. 19, 1991, and discovered dead two days later. She was robbed, raped and shot twice in the head.

This case, covered on “Unsolved Mysteries” in 1992, was solved years later when half-brothers Jessie Rush and Marvin Chaney were convicted and sentenced to prison terms. The brothers are suspects in two other cases in the area during the same time period: the disappearance of Angela Hammond and Cheryl Kenney in 1991.

Cheryl Kenney, 1991: Like Darby, Kenney was last seen while working at a convenience store. She disappeared from Nevada, Missouri, on February 27, 1991, and remains missing.

Angela Hammond, 1991: Hammond was abducted while speaking on a payphone at 11:45 p.m. April 4, 1991, in Clinton, Missouri. She was speaking to her boyfriend on the phone when a suspicious man driving a pickup parked next to her, then kidnapped her before he fled Clinton.

Hammond’s boyfriend chased Hammond and her abductor before his car broke down. Hammond has not been seen since.

It’s possible that none of these cases are connected, but I would be surprised if at least three – Darby, Kenney and Hammond – were not. It’s also possible that somebody like Carnahan, Rush, Chaney or the individual(s) responsible for The Springfield Three are involved.

Unfortunately, things like this do happen in small towns. Far too often.