The following column you’re about to read comes with a preface and a warning.
My words do not represent the views of David Brox and Vernon Birmingham, our other staffers here at KCK Preps. They are mine and only mine, so people who may get upset with what they’re about to read should not hold a grudge against them.
With that little nugget out of the way, it’s time to attempt to generate some discussion.
Excluding Atchison, with all due respect, the Kansas City Kansas – Atchison League this year is 29-37 in boys basketball combined. Yes, that includes Sumner Academy’s very good record with just three losses.
Taking away from Sumner Academy’s record, the rest of the league is a glowing 18-34.
Most teams are generally 60-70 percent through their regular season schedules, so keep that in mind when the following stat enters your head.
Last year, the Kansas City Kansas – Atchison league was a combined 78-36. Again, that’s taking Atchison out of the picture. The league went through its entire regular season schedule and postseason runs. There were still less losses than this year.
The success from the league, especially Washington and Sumner Academy, generated a ton of media coverage and a front-page story from The Pitch Magazine here in Kansas City.
That season was considered a “Renaissance” of KCK basketball, in the words of The Pitch’s cover.
Here’s a question I pose to the readers – Should last year have been considered a “Renaissance?”
Or, should it have been considered meeting expectations?
I say this simply because when you look at the league and the five KCK teams in it, there are numerous advantages the league has over opponents.
GREAT HOME-COURT ADVANTAGES
Washington High School, or “Wash House,” is the single loudest place I’ve ever seen a high school game. That place is incredibly loud and I lost my voice during the KCK Preps’ broadcast of the Schlagle-Washington game while I was giving my halftime update. Washington High School should absolutely be the toughest place to play in the state. It’s loud, the fans are on top of you and those two factors should pump up the athletes.
Wyandotte is also a great home-court advantage – or should be. The Bulldogs did not lose a game during Dwight David Eisenhower’s two-term presidency in that gym. Wyandotte intimidates me when I walk in –those banners loom over you and those 20-state title trophies in the front-lobby send chills up my spine. Shublom should be tougher than it has been. The background picture of this blog is of Shublom Gymnasium.
Even though it may not be as loud or historic, I will say Schlagle can get very loud with that band, too. When Schlagle’s gym is packed, it can be crazy loud in there.
Sumner Academy has been tough at home simply because they've been so good.
Really, only Harmon is the only league team that doesn't have a great home-court advantage. But Washington, Schlagle, Wyandotte and Sumner Academy definitely do.
A HEAVILY BLACK LEAGUE
I am a white man, but there's no doubt basketball is a black sport. There's nothing wrong with that in my opinion and it's not racist to point that out.
The latest numbers I could find percentage wise are these: 78 percent of the NBA's players are black. In college basketball, that number is less, but still a majority at 61 percent.
The amount of black players among the Kansas City, Kan., Public Schools District schools has to be at least 96 percent. That's no hyperbole.
(Former Schlagle Stallions legendary head coach Chuck Minor joked in that Pitch article that he never coached a white player.)
The first year I covered high school basketball in KCK, there were NO white varsity players who saw extensive action. Last year, there were two. This year, one.
This might be politically incorrect to say, but the KCK schools should be at a big advantage here.
There are great white basketball players across this state - just look at Leavenworth County and Johnson County for that. The Murphy Twins (Colin and Ryan) and Ben Johnson at Basehor High School are among the most entertaining players I've ever seen while covering basketball. They are fun to watch.
However, if the majority of the NBA and NCAA is black in terms of basketball players, that should send a message to you.
THE HISTORY AND TRADITION OF KCK'S SCHOOLS
Let's go back to the 1980's.
Ronald Reagan was president. The Cold War was ongoing. Gas was cheap. The Kansas City Royals were perhaps the best franchise in Major League Baseball, though the Chiefs stunk back then, too.
Most importantly for this column, KCK was dominating in basketball.
Wyandotte won multiple state titles. Wyandotte, Washington, Schlagle and Harmon made state tournaments. Harmon made three straight tournaments and finished runner-up one season.
Point is, it seemed like every year, a KCK team was knocking at the door for a state title. Usually, at least one team in KCK made the state tournament each year.
Since 2001, Sumner Academy and Washington are the only two programs in the league that have made state. Harmon is on a two-decade drought. Wyandotte's drought has been a solid decade and Schlagle hasn't been to state since the Minor years.
Quite frankly, KCKAL boys basketball should dominate each year like the SEC does in college football. Yet, there's only been one or two years since 2001 or 2002 where KCKAL was considered the best league in the state.
Expecting a state title every year is insane, but expecting the teams to compete and finish with a winning record should not be.
This season, there's a good chance that at least three teams in this league finish with a losing record. Wyandotte's 2-12, Schlagle's 4-9 and Washington and Harmon are both hovering around the .500 mark. Three losing teams in USD 500 should not happen when you consider the amount of talent, the home-court advantages and the history here in our city.
While the fact that teams have lost seniors is important - Tra'Vaughn White and Rozell Nunn are especially missed for Washington and Schlagle - that doesn't stop Bishop Miege, St. Thomas Aquinas, the Olathe Schools, Lansing, Highland Park, Blue Valley Northwest and Blue Valley North from being there almost every year.
Clayton Custer is a stud for Blue Valley Northwest, but that team lost a majority of it's starting lineup from last year. Yet, they've lost just one game this year.
Why can't most of the KCK programs build on the success and momentum from previous seasons?
KCK has not won a 5A or 6A title since 1998, the last year Wyandotte won it all for their 20th title.
Part of the reason why I think the KCKAL underachieves each year is the lack of a "culture of expectations."
This is one of the things the Johnson County schools do so well. Their fans expect success and if they don't get success, usually there are things done to make success more likely.
Wyandotte County will never be Johnson County in terms of wealth, facilities and so on. But parents, students and community members can help bring a culture of expectations to KCK basketball.
Three straight losing seasons for a program should raise a red flag that something is wrong. Yet, it's almost been taken with stride at Wyandotte the past 10 years. Both Washington and Schlagle had losing stretches as well. I guarantee you that if Blue Valley Northwest had three straight losing seasons, fans of that school would demand change.
In KCK, we don't.
And that's a shame. KCK basketball could be such a money-maker for the community. During the 1980's, the Wyandotte-Schlagle games would be played at KCKCC sometimes simply because of the demand to see those games. The high schools would be too small to host the games.
When people hear about KCK throughout the state, high school basketball should be one of top five or six things the city is known for.
There's really no reason it isn't now.