As someone who spends ninth months of the year attending high school sporting events throughout the state, there is one constant.
Any event hosted by McPherson High will be expertly run.
In fact if there was an All-State team for athletic directors, the Bullpups’ Shane Backhus would be on the first team and probably its MVP.
This is not to take away from the other high school athletic directors. I’m fortunate to work with Canton-Galva’s Roger Trimmell, Moundridge’s Vance Unrau, Little River’s Todd Ashbaugh, Inman’s Russ Goering, Smoky Valley’s Ky Swisher, Elyria Christian’s Bobby Childs and Hesston’s Clint Stoppel. They have become good friends and are among the best at what they do.
But I work closest with Backhus and for that, somebody up there must be looking out for me.
To the average fan, they attend games without regards of the behind-the-scenes work that goes into making them run smoothly. Because I get to games at least 30 to 45 minutes before the start, I see all the prepping.
Athletic directors have to make sure the officials and umpires arrive, that they are taken care of, the programs are printed and opposing teams are comfortable. There must be conversations with those who take care of fields and courts to make sure everything is ready for that day or night’s game. Schedules must be made for those who take tickets, keep scorebooks, run clocks, announce, get the towels and run the concession stands. And finally, don’t forget crowd control. That may be the worst part of the job as there can be some real knuckleheads to deal with.
And that doesn’t take into consideration setting up road trips, as the bus schedules have to be lined up, teachers alerted for kids having to leave class early, etc. Of course, don’t forget all the stats that are faxed off to the other area newspapers so they can be published the next day.
McPherson has been fortunate to have had so many great ADs. I’ve worked with Jay Frazier, Carol Swenson, Chris Ruder and Backhus. That’s the Mount Rushmore of ADs right there.
Backhus doesn’t do it all alone, he has help from other school personnel. You have to give big props to Doug Wine, Bryce McFarland and Bret McClendon, who all served in his stead when was unavailable. And I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention the training staff of Brandon Labertew and Alex Brooks, who are on hand for home events to tend to any injuries that arise. Tennille McCormick takes care of the office after having succeeded Arlene Sawatzky, who helped Backhus become the AD he is as she steered him through those early years. Dave Larson works behind the scenes as well and it’s no wonder his help landed him on the MHS Wall of Fame.
McPherson is the Kansas State High School Activities Association’s go-to school and with good reason. MHS has hosted numerous state tournaments down through the years and this spring alone it has hosted state golf and will help McPherson College out with running the Girls Soccer Final Four that begins on Friday.
Backhus oversees the McPherson Invitational Basketball Tournament and works with the McPherson Optimist Club in hosting the Mid America Classic. If you ask any veteran sports writer — say Joanna Chadwick at The Wichita Eagle, perhaps the most renowned prep expert in Kansas right now — and they’ll tell you coming to McPherson for a midseason tournament is one of their best experiences ever.
The Optimist Club also helps with the running of the McPherson Track and Field Invitational. The meet runs like it’s breathing, it’s such a natural act. We were out of McPherson Stadium for this year’s event by 7:30 and it would have been sooner had the pole vault event not run late. Results were done and medals given out so teams could get on their way. You can’t say that about most meets.
The yearly cross country meet at Rolling Acres is one of those events where so much work is required, with the Optimists again helping. Backhus makes sure he has spotters and volunteers and that the course is marked. For those who attend that meet, just look around and realize how much preparation goes into it. Heck, the prep time actually is longer than the meet itself, as it’s run off in less than 90 minutes.
Wednesday’s state golf event was another example of McPherson’s tremendous organizational skills. The tourney was to have been played on Tuesday, but pushed back due to heavy rain. It turned out to be a great call, as the course was in far better shape, we had a great day and the scores reflected that. The Turkey Creek grounds crew did yeoman work in making the course look spotless and I’ve never seen so many spectators for state golf.
A shuttle was even set up for people who wanted to park at Wall Park and be brought over to the course. How many other state tournaments would have done that?
If you attend McPherson sporting events in the future, just take time to realize the time and effort put in to make it a great experience. And if you get a chance, thank Shane Backhus for the job he has done at McPherson High. I know I don’t do it enough.