Bearcats partying like it’s 1995

Standard
17098369_10211860173601233_5910769855565708194_n

Burlingame finished the regular season with a 20-2 record, reaching a state tournament for the first time since 1995. The Bearcats hadn’t won 20 games in a season since 1995-96.

The last time Burlingame’s boys basketball team played in a state tournament, Montell Jordan’s “This Is How We Do It” was a top-10 hit, “Seinfeld” was No. 2 in the TV ratings (behind “E.R.”) and “Seven” was a revelation on the big screen.

Twenty-two years. It’s been a long drought for the Bearcats, whose last appearance at state was in 1995. The players on the current team were several years away from being born, virtually nobody had any clue what the Internet was, and Hootie and the Blowfish was the most popular band on the planet.

Burlingame hadn’t been to a state tournament since 1950 before that season, so advancing to the Class 2A tournament in Manhattan was special. I remember it well because I was a freshman at Kansas State.

While most of the town drove the 70 miles from Burlingame to the Little Apple, my roommate Steve, also a BHS alumnus, and father walked from Marlatt Hall to Bramlage Coliseum. We arrived early enough to catch most of the opening game that day, which pitted No. 1 seed Frankfort against No. 8 seed Inman, both traditional state powers.

That game was memorable for several reasons. For starters, Inman pulled off a stunning upset, rolling past the Wildcats 78-65. The most memorable thing about that game was an athletic guard named Greg Friesen, who willed his team to the win with 37 points. Time and time again, Friesen slashed through Frankfort’s defense for short jumpers and layups.

Frankfort had a great player of its own, an all-state guard who scored 28 points on an array of floaters, long jumpers and drives to the basket. I remember watching that senior walk off the court with his head down, his high school career over much sooner than he expected.

Little did I know that I’d meet that Frankfort player in, of all places, Centre, at the end of the 2007 season. An assistant coach introduced him to me after Burlingame’s 70-65 loss to White City in a regional semifinal game. I remember talking to him about that 1995 game. All these years later, he still hasn’t watched tape of that loss to Inman.

You’ve probably figured out by now that I’m talking about Creighton Winters, the longtime coach who took over the program in 2005, battled through the occasional lean year and has put together perhaps the best team in school history in 2016-17.

For the longest time in Burlingame, the biggest problem was that a coach wouldn’t stick around. It’s impossible to build a program when you don’t have consistency.

About the time Winters started at BHS, the youth programs in Burlingame finally had traction. A few years later, a group of boys began playing basketball together. By the time they got to junior high, they simply didn’t lose. By the time they got to high school, Burlingame was ready to build a program. A few years later, those boys were ranked among the top five teams in Class 1A-Division I.

Going into the final weeks of the season, Burlingame appeared to be the favorite to win a tough sub-state in Olpe. The Bearcats were hot after losing in the Lyon County League tournament, using a close loss to Lebo to fuel a dominant second half of the season.

Then, of course, came a devastating injury when their starting point guard suffered a torn ACL in the final game of the regular season. I’d seen the look on Winters’ face after the game before, back in 1995 in Manhattan.

Many, including myself, felt the injury was going to cost Burlingame its first state tournament bid in decades. Fortunately, we were wrong. The Bearcats, a tough, gritty group, put on an impressive display of teamwork in sub-state, crushing a dangerous Southern Coffey County team and smothering a Lebo team with 10 seniors to end the long drought.

The community finally got a taste of success during the past two football seasons with trips to the Eight-Man I semifinals. Now, it gets another bite in the form of a three-hour drive to Hays for a state tournament.

Burlingame has ended a number of droughts in the last few years, including trips to the state semifinals in football, league titles in football and basketball, and a trip to a state basketball tournament. It’s about time another one comes to an end: winning a game at state, something the Bearcats have never done.

The last time Burlingame played in a state tournament, it played a Berean Academy team that had virtually no tradition. In the 22 years since, the Warriors have been to several state tournaments and won a championship in 2010. Let’s hope this year kick-starts a similar run for the Bearcats.

Webb: Because they’re winners, Bearcats will learn from loss

Standard
15073513_10211238168413988_5457834454231013767_n

Burlingame finished the 2016 season at 11-1 and in the state semifinals for the second straight year. The Bearcats should be a state title contender next season.

There are few redeeming qualities about a loss. It stings. It makes you angry. It makes you sad. It can be devastating, especially when it ends your season and you have a four-hour bus ride home to think about it.

I can only imagine how Burlingame’s football team felt Friday night in Osborne as virtually nothing went right in the final game of a season in which virtually everything went right.

It reminded me of arguably Burlingame’s best team in the two decades leading up to this current group’s wildly successful run that has included back-to-back Lyon County League and district championships and trips to the Eight-Man I semifinals.

In 1991, the Bearcats had a team that many believed could make a deep run in the playoffs. Six games into the season, much of that hope had faded during a 2-4 start (keep in mind that the LCL was brutal in the early 1990s, featuring traditional powers Olpe, Waverly and Lebo).

By the time October rolled around, few had Burlingame getting through a district that included a good Alma-Wabaunsee team. The Bearcats rolled past Marais des Cygnes Valley and Lyndon to reach the .500 mark and set up a showdown in Alma for a trip to the playoffs.

That game, in late October, is one of the most memorable at Burlingame, partly because it was played during a snowstorm. My memories of that game include giant space heaters on the sideline, one of our assistant coaches (I’m talking about you, John Lujano) pacing the sideline in a short-sleeve shirt in sub-zero temperatures and a field on which only the yard lines were cleared.

Time and time again, a player broke into the clear, only to slip and fall on several inches of ice inside the yard lines. On one of the few times a player didn’t slip, Brandon Masters found just enough traction to burst up the middle and into the end zone in double overtime to clinch a playoff bid.

The weather was so awful that week that our opening-round game was postponed until a week later on a Saturday night. Awaiting Burlingame in the first round: Big, bad Waverly, a team that hammered the Bearcats during the regular season.

Memories of that game also are vivid. The coaching staff made a great decision, moving a bullish, powerful lineman to fullback to counter Waverly’s physical defense. Time and time again, said fullback barreled into linebackers, who bounced off him like pinballs.

Burlingame dominated the game, marching up and down the field with ease. Unfortunately, turnovers and penalties squelched many of those drives. Burlingame had the ball inside the 5 in the closing minute, only to be flagged for three straight holding calls. I also remember that a long field goal as time expired in regulation looked true until curving wide left by a foot.

What I remember the most is how we lost. On fourth-and-goal from the 1 in overtime, Masters bounced off left tackle and dove for the end zone. As the team stats geek, I was watching on the goal line. There is no doubt in my mind he scored. In fact, his upper body, with the ball, was in the end zone. The officials ruled he did not score. Waverly scored two plays later, gutting the team and town.

That was the first time I’d seen many of my classmates cry. Some of the toughest kids I knew were devastated. In many ways, it felt like it set the tone for the next two decades of football.

There aren’t many comparisons between the 1991 and 2016 Bearcats. The former scrapped its way into the playoffs and wasn’t considered a state championship contender. The latter rolled through the regular season like an F5 tornado, cutting a swath through a schedule loaded with playoff teams.

What the teams do have in common is that they brought the community together. Both of these runs, first in the early 1990s and now in the mid-2010s, came after long droughts. Friday Night Lights are no longer dim in Burlingame, they’re illuminating.

The 2016 team had loftier goals than getting back to the state semifinals. They expected to win the school’s first championship since 1972. They fell short, and that’s something they’re going to remember.

Almost all of these kids are back next season, and they’ll learn from this loss, because they’re winners.

 

 

 

Webb: Rest in peace, Shawn

Standard
shawn

Shawn was 38 years old when he died last week. A native Missourian, he graduated from Burlingame High School in 1996.

I hadn’t spoken to Shawn Boner in 20 years, unless you count the occasional comment in a Facebook thread. The last time I saw Shawn was on the day of his – and my younger brother’s – high school graduation in 1996.

I remember feeling bad for Shawn that day. Two years earlier, he had a falling out with a popular group of friends. The rest of his high school career wasn’t a bundle of joy. Of course, having Boner as a last name didn’t help.

I’d forgotten about that until the advent of Facebook, when we no longer had to rely on reunions and websites like classmates.com to reconnect with the people we grew up with. If not for social media, I’d probably have no idea where Shawn was.

Though we were friends on Facebook, I really didn’t know what Shawn had been up to the last 20 years. I knew he still lived in Burlingame. I knew he’d finished up his associate’s degree.

What I didn’t know is that he had a heart attack recently. And if not for a text from my brother, I wouldn’t know that he died last week.

Shawn was 38 years old. It’s always shocking when somebody dies young. It’s incredibly sad when it’s somebody you grew up with.

Though Shawn and I hadn’t spoken in 20 years, I have fond memories of a guy who had a similar high school experience, that is of a shy, awkward, short and chubby kid. Those adjectives are not a recipe for a wonderful high school experience.

Nonetheless, Shawn was a friend to many. I remember vividly playing flag football in our yard and basketball at the park. It was two-on-two: My brother and Shawn vs. Troy Pennington and myself. Shawn was more athletic than you might expect.

nwaI remember cruising the red brick road many of us grew up on in Burlingame. We typically listened to NWA, Eazy-E, Dr. Dre and Snoop Dogg – all the songs the grown-ups in town loved.

I also remember that Shawn was a kind person. Based on my interactions with him on Facebook and the mentions on his Facebook wall this week, that hadn’t changed.

His death is a reminder to embrace our time here. Take nothing – or anyone – for granted. Be kind, like Shawn was.

 

Being small-minded in a small town

Standard
IMG_4631 (2)

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.

Team with a big heart takes a small town to the big time

Standard
Burlingame football field

Burlingame fans lined up down the sideline and filing into the bleachers for Friday’s state semifinal game, the first at Burlingame in more than four decades. Every graduating class from 1958 to 2014 had at last one member at the game.

The drive to Burlingame on Friday was similar to our previous trips back home. As you head into town from the east and the hustle and bustle of Kansas City into the sleepy confines of Small Town, America, the view rarely changes.

Past the city limits, just north of Highway 56, are the remnants of an old café, Jo’s Place, where my wife worked during high school. The old, red brick road covering two blocks of downtown is still there. It’s a road those of us who grew up in Burlingame spent hours on during our youth, circling the main drag after school and on the weekends.

Downtown Burlingame is one of the few areas in town marked by change. Several buildings are gone, including the defunct Osage County Chronicle building where I learned more about writing and newspapers from Kurt Kessinger than I have anywhere during my career as a journalist.

Across the street, the old grocery store and another café, both closed, continue to decay. For years, the town lacked energy.

As we walked from my in-laws’ house across a park on the north side of town, bright lights exploded into the sky, and the roads leading into the Burlingame High parking lot were flooded with red tail lights for blocks to the north and south.

IMG_4631It was quite a sight: Friday Night Lights in Burlingame. Hundreds of people lined up just off the track circling the football field, the stands full of purple and white, electricity in the air. All due to a football team that served as a shot of adrenaline for a community that needs – and deserves – a big winner.

“This is what we wanted, what we hoped we could do,” Robert Hutchins, a senior running back, said after the Bearcats’ loss to Hanover in an Eight-Man Division I semifinal. “It was amazing to see this town like this.”

Until Friday, I assumed the community was in a frenzy because its football team was 11-0, something that hadn’t happened since the 1972 team won the Class 1A state championship. After I met Hutchins, I realized the connection was much deeper than that.

As I walked off the field following Hanover’s 56-32 win in a game that was much closer than the score, I noticed Hutchins taking photos with several friends and classmates. I stopped briefly and said, “Robert, you had a great season. You should be proud.”

Tears welled in eyes already red and weary.

“I’m Ernie Webb,” I said.

“I know. Thank you for those stories you wrote,” he said. “And for that email you sent me.”

That didn’t register. I didn’t remember Hutchins at first, but I said “You’re welcome” and walked away after wishing him luck. Then it hit me: Was this the kid I exchanged emails with when he was an eighth-grader?

I turned around and said, “Robert, are you the one who emailed me after Ms. Day contacted me?”

As it turns out, this was the young man who I emailed several years ago. Twenty years earlier, the late Ms. Day, a wonderful art and science teacher, had been kind to a young man from Missouri who continued to root for his favorite college team despite living among Kansas and Kansas State fans.

Ms. Day contacted me years later and asked me to reach out to a student who needed a little guidance as a Missouri fan in the heart of Kansas. I readily sent him an email, never realizing the impact it had.

Nearly five years later, I introduced Robert to my wife and spoke with him for a few minutes, extremely impressed by his thoughtfulness and gratitude over the email, especially after he’d just finished his high school football career with a loss one game short of the state championship.

At that point, I realized why this community, so desperate for a big winner that at least one member of every graduating class from 1958 through 2015 was in the bleachers, loved this team so much: not only were these guys great football players, they were fine young men, many of whom will be back next season to make another run at the school’s first state title in 43 years.

The Bearcats lost on Friday night, but this team will always be a champion in the eyes of Burlingame.

Dreaming big in Burlingame

Standard
My stepson, wife and in-laws at Saturday's Eight-Man Division I state quarterfinal.

My stepson, wife and in-laws at Saturday’s Eight-Man Division I state quarterfinal.

A few days into our tenure as members of the Burlingame school board, my best friend and I attended a welcome-back-to-school barbecue for faculty and staff. One of the first people we spoke with that steamy August day in 1997 was a new history teacher and football coach with big dreams.

As an alumnus and supporter of the Bearcats, I was curious what this new coach had in mind for a football program coming off a winless season. So, I asked him what his goals and expectations were for the season.

“To go 13-0 and win a state championship,” he said.

Steve and I looked at each other and literally laughed. A few years later, that teacher/coach was gone.

The highs have been few and far between in the nearly 20 years since. Going into the 2014 season, Burlingame had not had a winning season since 1990. From 1992 to 2014, the Bearcats had one playoff team, a 5-5 squad that slipped into the playoffs as the district runner-up.

To say Burlingame was in a drought would be an understatement. Imagine walking through the Sahara for two decades with a shot glass of water to hold you over. The only time the Bearcats made news was during a long losing streak. A feature story about the team ending a losing streak happened at least twice in local papers.

Friday Night Lights. Dreaming big. Daring to believe. These things amounted to a leprechaun riding into town on a unicorn while sipping from the Holy Grail.

After years of hopelessness and frustration, that began to change in 2014. A group of kids I’d been hearing about for years welcomed a young, energetic coach to town. It didn’t take long for the community to fall in love with football again.

The Bearcats didn’t make the playoffs in 2014, falling a touchdown short of ending a 10-year drought during a 6-3 season. As it turns out, they were building the foundation.

The kids bought in, the coach’s energy was contagious. Big crowds started traveling to road games again, just as they’d done during a three-year run in the early 1990s that included three straight district championships.

Finally, it all came together in 2015. The Bearcats stampeded through the regular season, going 9-0 with a series of blowouts to win league and district championships, the latter the first in 24 years.

Last week, Burlingame ended one of the longest playoff droughts in the state, knocking off a tough Rock Hills team 40-18 to improve to 10-0. It was the school’s first playoff win in more than 15,000 days (43 years).

Many of us traveled to Burlingame’s first quarterfinal game since 1972 on Saturday, driving through scenery straight out of “Children of the Corn” to watch the Bearcats’ fight off Central-Burden in southeast Kansas on their way to sub-state, one win away from the state championship game.

As a stringer for the Capital-Journal, I got to cover the game in Burden and write a story that wrote itself. For the first time in a generation, they’re dreaming big in Burlingame.

New years and the decade in review. From Independence to Topeka to Virginia to Oklahoma …

Standard

“Time, why you punish me, like a wave passing into the shore, you wash away my dreams …”

I was going to blog about 2009. Seemed to make sense considering today is the last of the year. It was an interesting year. One that included everything from three apartments to two jobs to one (or two, though I don’t count one) breakups.

But, inspired by a good column by Kevin Haskin, a former colleague and a guy I learned a lot from in Topeka (http://cjonline.com/sports/basketball/2009-12-30/column_closure_comes_for_the_aughts), I opted for blogging about the end of a decade.

It’s strange. It just hit me that when this decade began, I was in my early 20s, fresh out of college with my first full-time job at a newspaper, a cheap apartment in which the furnace didn’t work for a week during December and an unwarranted cocky attitude. Here’s a little rewind …

The jobs: Independence (Kansas) Daily Reporter (2000), Emporia (Kansas) Gazette (2000, 2001, 2002), McAllen (Texas) Monitor (2002, 2003), Topeka (Kansas) Capital Journal (2003, 2004, 2005, 2006, 2007), Daily Press in Newport News (Virginia) (2007, 2008, 2009) and Tulsa (Oklahoma) World (2009).

Best game covered: 2002 Class 2A championship: Colgan edges Olpe in double overtime.

Best game attended: 2007 Armageddon at Arrowhead. Electric.

Worst game attended: Olpe girls 85, Burlingame 4. You can’t make that up.

Thoughts: Six jobs in 10 years. The good thing is they’ve all been bumps in circ (from 8,000 in Indy to over 100,000 in Tulsa). I’ve done everything from covering college football and basketball beats to news copy desk to assistant sports editor.

Proud of: The amazing people I’ve worked with. Favorites over the years have included Brian Thomas in Indy; Gwen Larson and Jesse Newell (now at the LJW) in Emporia; Wade “Nacho” Baker (now the SE), Oscar, Todd and Kristin Huber in McAllen; Tim Bisel, Eric Turner, Kevin Haskin, Brent Maycock, Rick Dean, the late Pete Goering, hell, pretty much everybody in sports in Topeka; the entire sports crew (Jeff, Andi, Rupe, Sean, Clyde, Sonny, Nick and the writing staff) and select news deskers in Newport News. And while I’ve only worked three months in Tulsa, the sports deskers and writers have been nothing but nice. I’m sure I left somebody out.

The states lived in (four): Kansas, Texas, Virginia, Oklahoma.

Cities lived in (nine): Independence, Emporia, McAllen, Cottonwood Falls, Harveyville, Topeka, Williamsburg, Newport News, Tulsa.

Apartments lived in: Eight. Houses lived in: Four.

The relationships: You’re crazy if you think I’m going in-depth. There’s been a marriage, a divorce and a handful of relationships/breakups. Honestly, though, I value the time I spent with all of them, especially Melody and Jena.

I miss: Washburn and hanging out at Bullfrogs with Steve. Pete Goering, who mentored so many of us in Topeka. Turbo’s in Indy. Bruff’s in Emporia. Tom and Jerry’s in McAllen. Terry’s and Tailgator’s in Topeka. Matadive karaoke and Brickhouse (above with Charles the Steezenator) in Newport News. Cats Fu and Chu.

I don’t miss: That 75-mile commute to work from Cottonwood Falls to Topeka. The 40-mile commute from Willamsburg to Newport News. The 30-mile commute from Harveyville to Topeka. Seeing quality people cut at previous stops. My 2000 Ford Ranger or 1995 Lumina.

The sports highlights: The 2007 college football season. 2008-09 college basketball season. 2002 NCAA tournament. 2003 Royals. Most of the Chiefs 2003 season. Zack Frickin’ Greinke.

The sports lowlight: Them. Crackas. Be. Shaken. Nough said.

Last and pretty much least. The before and after. Hootie was right. Time is punishing

2000

2009