Thursday, November 18, 2021

The Edge of Greatness: 2003 Kansas Class 6A State Championship Game

Codi Willard and Kellen Long celebrate
their win over Hutchinson in the 2003
Class 6A title game. Photo LJWorld.
A little over six years ago I turned in my unofficial sports writer badge, clicked off coverage of the 
Sunflower League, and moved on with my life. I was 25 then. I'm 32 now. In dog years that's a 49-year gap. Feels about right.

Before we get ahead of ourselves, I am not re-activating the Sunflower League Football Blog. But I do intend to embark on some new projects that may be of interest to former readers of the blog. The site continues to generate a surprising amount of residual traffic. So, if you happened to stumble in here, I do have new content for you.

The first project is below. The piece centers around the 2003 Kansas Class 6A state championship game between Olathe North and Hutchinson, unpacking the storylines of each program, their coaches, and the game itself. The two dynasties will forever be bookended against one another. The 2003 game was sort of Olathe North's "last hoorah" as the program before the changing of the guard to Hutchinson. Of course we didn't know that at the time. 

Some fun facts about this matchup: Olathe North passed the ball just one (1) time the entire game. Imagine a world where a team could run the ball 53 times, put it in the air once (an incompletion) and come away victorious in a state championship game. It may sound far-fetched, but that was peak Olathe North football. 

Another: this was Randy Dreiling's first state championship appearance as a head coach. In his 25-year coaching career (which is still ongoing), split between Hutchinson and St. Thomas Aquinas, his teams have appeared in 12 state championship games and captured eight state titles. He may not finish as the best coach in Kansas high school football history, but he'll certainly have an argument.

I also did my best to explore the character of John McCall, better known around the Sunflower League as the guy who replaced Gene Wier. He's an enigma of sorts. Some believe he left Olathe North high-and-dry when he exited for Texas once his star-studded 2004 team played its last game. Others insist McCall left plenty of talent in the pipeline, and that it wasn't his fault the dynasty more or less ended once he left.

In any case, that's enough from me for now. I'll let the video do the rest of the talking. And hopefully we don't go another six years before my next post.

Monday, June 15, 2015

Farewell to the Sunflower League

Eli Underwood, Author, the
Sunflower League Football Blog.
Dear Sunflower League Football Blog readers,

Effective today, I will be discontinuing the Sunflower League Football Blog. The message board will remain active, as will all archived blog posts and information, however, the live blog itself will not be continued.

The decision to stop writing the blog was my own, and it came after many months of deep consideration. On one hand, writing the blog the last seven and a half years has been a wonderful, rewarding hobby and an escape from the rigors of the "real world." Writing gives me a shot of creative adrenaline like nothing else, and I've been obsessed with the Sunflower League since I started going to games in the late 1990s.

On the other hand, as I continue further into my life, and career, I've found spending two to three hours a night writing the blog was becoming difficult to manage. Was it fun? Absolutely. I enjoyed every minute I spent covering the Sunflower League. But I also realized the time resources needed to continue providing outstanding coverage just weren't going to be feasible any longer.

If there was ever a good time to close down the blog it was this offseason.

Before I close things out, there are some thank yous and other comments I wanted to get out there. If you've read anything on my blog, I'd ask you to read the remaining couple paragraphs.

First and foremost, I have to thank God for allowing me to develop a hobby into a weekly source of news and information for thousands of readers around the league. In the early days of the blog I was getting around 30 page views in-season per day. Less than six years later the blog surpassed one million page views. If that wasn't divine intervention, then I don't know what is.

I never had a goal for this blog. It could have fizzled out after a couple months and I wouldn't have thought anything of it. But the fact it continued to grow in popularity for so long was truly awesome. I like to think God used it as a tool to bring more enjoyment to people's daily lives, and maybe in some cases provide motivation or encouragement. I hope that was the case.

I would like to thank all those who read my work, followed the blog (and Tweets), and supported its purpose. Students, parents, players, alumni, media members -- you've all been wonderfully supportive and you were the main reason I kept the blog going for as long as I did. Through the writing I've crossed paths with thousands of individuals I wouldn't have otherwise known. And I will forever be grateful for that.

I would like to tip my hat to the league's coaches. There's so much more that goes into coaching high school football than what you see every Friday night for three hours. Managing hundreds of athletes (and their parents) is not a job for the faint of heart. What my blog did was put the coaching staffs under an even sharper microscope. But I can honestly tell you through the years I never received one disparaging email from any head or assistant coach. In fact, most of their emails were extremely supportive of the blog.

Below I've catalogued 100 of some of the most powerful, unique and and colorful photos I came across covering the Sunflower League. I've put the respective year the shot was taken below each photo. Each image has its own unique story -- its own split-second in time. You may know the story behind some of the photos, while others may be completely foreign to you.

Regardless of your perspective, I challenge each of you to find a block of time this summer to sit down, study and enjoy the photos. Really soak them in. Think about all they represent. I'm confident they'll provide you some form of sentimental imagery about the Sunflower League that no words -- written or spoken -- could have ever otherwise painted. Most importantly, they'll get you ready for the 2015 football season, which will be here before you know it.

If you ever want to give me a shout I can be reached at elias.m.underwood@gmail.com. And don't worry, I'll still be around following the Sunflower League in some capacity.

Take care, best wishes, and God bless. Thanks for all of the wonderful memories. Now go do something great with your lives.

Very respectfully yours,

Eli Underwood

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Special thanks to publications such as the the Lawrence Journal World, the Kansas City Star, the Prairie Village Post, and many others for providing the above photos.