The basketball hotbed of Kansas has again done its part this season to fill the Kansas State High School Tournament brackets.
McPherson County is sending a whopping five teams to the various ports of call, continuing a tradition that has spanned for more than a half-century.
Inman’s boys notched the very first county state championship a way back in 1947 and it continued clear up through last year with the McPherson High boys and Hesston girls both repeating as state champions. While Hesston is technically in Harvey County, it’s a team we cover, much like Rice County school Little River as it has students from Windom and Marquette, which are in McPherson County.
I’ve always maintained that no smaller area produces more championships. McPherson High, of course, leads the way with 21, which includes 13 on the boys’ side and eight on the girls. You have to remember that girls basketball state tournaments have only been around since 1973 and the sport really didn’t start to take off until the 1980s as more and more high schools started offering it.
Moundridge has dominated at the 2A level with 13 total championships, seven on the girls’ side and six on the boys. Both the boys and girls once enjoyed four-year title runs in the 1990s, the golden age of Wildcat basketball.
• Inman — The boys have won four, the last coming in 1994. Add in a girls state title in 1993 and the total is at five.
• Little River — Little River also is at five, with the girls winning four in a row during the legendary 1990s, a time the team ran off a one-time record of 91 wins in a row before Hoxie broke it. The boys have one.
• Canton-Galva — The Eagle girls, led by the Wedel sister triumvirate, had a three-year title run in the 1980s, a decade that also produced the lone boys’ title.
• Smoky Valley — All its titles occurred when the school was still Lindsborg High School, with two on the boys’ side and the girls winning once.
• Hesston — The Swather boys have three titles, including 2014. The Swather girls have won the last two 3A titles, but won’t be back to defend this year after being ousted in the sub-state title game by Southeast of Saline.
One of the real ironies took place in both 1997 and 1998 when the McPherson, Moundridge and Little River girls all won state titles, giving our area half the state champions those years.
All of our schools have passionate fan bases. I’m not sure there’s a larger following to state than McPherson High, which back in the 1990s used to fill nearly half the the cavernous Topeka Expocentre. Civic leaders in the Capital City no doubt expressed disappointment when MHS dropped to Class 4A, because Bullpup teams and fans made it a happening by staying at Topeka hotels. Many fans, in fact, planned their family vacations around the Bullpup teams competing in the 5A event, which they almost did annually despite being one of the smallest schools in the class.
Now the Bullpups play in Salina, which is a stone’s throw away. McPherson fans don’t travel quite like the old days, but you can bet no team will be better represented this week at the Bicentennial Center.
The other county and area towns also support their teams with vigor. They are proud of their kids and will follow them until the road ends.
Hopefully we’ll have a team or two or three come away with a state championship this weekend to continue to tradition.