This is the best four days of the year if you’re a McPherson High sports fan.
It’s State Basketball Tournament time, with the Bullpup girls making the trip for the 22nd time in 25 years, with the boys right behind as this will be their 20th trip during that same quarter-century.
There’s probably a generation of Bullpup fans that think making it to state is just a formality. But so much goes into a season that ends up with a trip to the Elite Eight. There’s a lot of schools that haven’t made a trip in the last 25 years, and others that have made one or two at the most.
My state ride with the Bullpups started in my very first year in 1980 when the girls qualified for the Class 5A Tournament in Emporia at venerable White Auditorium. MHS lost in the finals that year to Miege (imagine that, those two schools playing), but the Bullpups came back the following year to win their first of eight state championships by avenging the loss to Miege in the finals, then repeated as state champion the following year against Ark Valley League rival Newton.
My first boys state tournament experience came in 1984 as the Bullpups were ending, what for them, was an eight-year drought.
My first of 10 state championship boys teams was accomplished in 1990 when MHS outlasted Kansas City Harmon in overtime and it was the first of six state championships in that decade. Overall, MHS’ boys have won 13 state titles as Jay Frazier’s teams went back-to-back-to-back from 1972-1974 and just missed making it four straight in 1975 by losing in the finals to Salina Central.
The scene for the Bullpup teams shifted from Emporia to Topeka in 1988 and it wasn’t until 2012 that MHS dropped to Class 4A, with the site fan friendly Salina.
But many McPherson fans enjoyed the Topeka time. Many chose to get hotel rooms beginning Wednesday or Thursday night and spent the weekend. Many fans planned their family vacations around Bullpup basketball.
I can remember, especially in the 1990s when the MHS girls won three straight titles to go with the six the boys garnered, how Bullpup fans filled their side of the cavernous and cold Topeka Expocentre. The place is a hockey rink disguised as a basketball arena with boards and a portable court. That’s why when I was taking photos for the newspaper, I tried to shoot them from the side or got a chair under the basket because it was ice cold to sit on the floor.
It was said when McPherson moved from Topeka to Salina for state, the Capital City economy took a huge hit. In the Bullpups’ golden years, no school had such a following. There were as many as 3,000 fans on hand for the semifinals and finals in those years as it was a sea of red.
KSHSAA didn’t do McPherson fans a favor this year by placing the Bullpup teams in the afternoon session as many fans can’t get off work to be there in time for the 4:45 games. And if the Bullpup teams win their openers, they play the first two games on Friday.
But if I know Bullpup fans, they’ll find a way to get there. Nobody travels as well as McPherson High.