MHS didn't always enjoy football success

By Steve Sell
July 26, 2018

Wyatt Seidl’s upcoming appearance in the Kansas Shrine Bowl Football Game on Saturday in Pittsburg continues a McPherson High tradition.

Since 2008, the Bullpups have had at least one participant in the game, which brings together the best of the best of Kansas high school football.

Dwayne Chandler played in the 1989 game, but it wasn’t until 2008 when Tanner Hawkinson was selected that an MHS player was again chosen. He actually didn’t play in the game, as he was at the University of Kansas launching a career that eventually led to him playing in the NFL, but it was still an honor to be selected.

Other Bullpups who have been picked for the game during this streak are Zach Peterson (2009), Joel Piper (2010), Christian Ulsaker (2011), Jordan Hart (2012), Collin French (2013), Garrett Larson (2014), Ty Hart (2015), Jake Nikkel (2016), Jack Reifschneider (2017) and Jared Ruth (2017).

There’s a lot of newer McPherson fans, however, who probably don’t realize that success in the program used to be hard to come by.

After Tim Wesselowski stepped down in 1988 after going 26-22 in 5 seasons — has it really been 30 years since the ‘Wesso Bone?’ — the next four Bullpup coaches were a combined 46-107 over a span of 17 forgettable, non-playoff-qualifying years. In the 1990s, MHS won just 28 games, including a couple of back-to-back 0-9 seasons.

Enter Tom Young.

Young brought to McPherson one of the most legendary pedigrees in Kansas history. He had led three different schools to state championships, including Hanover, Wellington and Derby. I can remember covering his Derby teams when they played MHS and how they were like a machine with their precision and execution.

McPherson was considered a football graveyard when Young arrived. There were some good years in the 1970s — MHS was 52-38 in the decade — but even with some quality teams in the 1980s (including two playoff teams) the Bullpups were 42-51.

Then came the miserable 1990s when the Bullpups were just 28-62 and played in the rugged Ark Valley League that included teams like Derby, Arkansas City, Hutchinson and Newton — all traditional powers. There were some simply awful games during that time as MHS was overmatched physically and suffered some horrific defeats.

When Young arrived in 2006, my initial thought was, ‘if he can’t turn it around, then football never has a chance to succeed again in McPherson.”

Young stayed with the template that made him successful at his other stops. He initiated the SPS program (Speed, Power, Strength) and it not only helped turn the football program around, but helped all athletes. SPS, as much as anything else, is responsible for helping MHS have one of the best overall sports programs in the state, regardless of class.

Young was able to get most of the best athletes out, which was difficult in a town renowned for basketball and sports specialization. The wins started to come in waves and Young changed with the times offensively as his teams put up pinball numbers. In his 9 years, MHS won 72 games and had a .742 winning percentage, never missing the playoffs. 

He also had continuity in his coaching staff as few assistants ever left. His defensive coordinator Jace Pavlovich was tapped to continue the tradition and the result has been a 23-9 record and some of the most memorable moments in MHS history. The two wins over Buhler in 2017 will be talked about for decades, including the gambling “Jade” play in the first round of the playoffs that allowed MHS to win in overtime.

In the 2010s, the Bullpups are 62-24 for 74 percent and if everybody stays healthy this year, MHS is expected to again be among the best teams in the state, provided the defense develops to augment what should be a thrill-a-minute offense.

How long MHS will be able to sustain this rarefied success is anybody’s guess. Let’s just ride the wave as long as we can.