By NICK SLOAN, NJSloan212@gmail.com
When I first started covering high school sports in Kansas City, Kan., full-time in late 2009, one question was on my mind from the beginning.
Why wasn't Piper High School better in sports?
At that point, the boys basketball program had been average and did not really threaten to crack the top of the Kaw Valley League, especially after former head coach David Hall stepped down.
The girls basketball program was almost the same way. Both boys and girls programs eventually fell to rock-bottom by the end of the 2011 season.
In football, there were up and down years. But still, Piper could not crack through and win the big one, whether it was a game against Basehor-Linwood or a postseason game.
It didn't make sense to me why the Pirates athletic department was struggling as it was.
After all, the Piper School District's academic standing has always been very good since I started covering news and sports in KCK. It's one of the best school districts in the entire metro area and if you combine the reading and math assessments from last year, no KC-area school district beats them.
A few years back, Piper residents voted to build a new elementary school, renovate the high school and improve the football field and track. Piper's facilities are now pretty darn good.
Plus, the area was booming in population due to The Legends being built, along with the new homes. While the economic downturn hurt some of the growth among residential areas, the school district's enrollment continues to increase.
Even with the higher enrollment, newer facilities and continued academic success, the Piper athletic department was a little behind.
As we flip the calendar towards 2013, the Piper Pirates "sleeping giant" is closer to waking up in KCK.
And that's bad news for the rest of the KCK schools.
In the past year, the golf team has won a state title. I know, I know - it's golf. But it's still a state championship, something the Pirates did not win for a while.
Of course, unless you've been sleeping under a rock, you know the football team had its best season ever. They won the first regional and sectional championships in school history. They played a very good Eudora team tough in the Final Four.
Now, the boys and girls basketball programs appear to be taking another step in the right direction.
The momentum on the boys side should be particularly encouraging. Almost overnight, Piper's went from a bad team to a good team. One-year turnarounds don't happen quite often, but coach Steve Wallace has the program in the right direction.
The recent wave of success has occurred in large part because of the new coaches who have hit the high school.
Piper head football coach Chris Brindle and Wallace have done an excellent job of turning out kids. That's so underrated in the success of high school sports - getting players out. Some of the best athletes at any high school are sometimes the ones that don't turn out at all.
There are a lot of new faces on the basketball team, for example. After the recent wave of success in football, I imagine turnout next summer for the 7-on-7 football games will be pretty good.
I've always considered Piper as KCK's sleeping giant in high school sports. Having a great school district in academics, having nice facilities and being in a very nice area are natural advantages for an athletic department.
Within a year, the phrase "sleeping giant" may be inaccurate to describe Piper, as it appears the giant is getting out of bed.