Sunflower Slate turns 5: THE GAMES

“…if sportswriting teaches you anything, and there is much truth to it as well as plenty of lies, it is that for your life to be worth anything you must sooner or later face the possibility of terrible, searing regret. Though you must also manage to avoid it or your life will be ruined. I believe I have done these two things. Faced down regret. Avoided ruin. And I am still here to tell about it.” 

-Richard Ford, “The Sportswriter” 

Sunflower Slate turned 5 years old last week, and I thought in honor of its birthday I’d take a look back at the last five years and the most memorable games, players and coaches I’ve covered over that time.

When I go back and read some of my posts from years past, sometimes I cringe (I really, really needed to chill with the LOST references), sometimes I laugh (I have an unhealthy obsession with movie trailers) and all of the time I’m thankful. This hasn’t always been easy, but it’s been a blast.

We’ll do games today, players tomorrow and coaches on Friday.

THE GAMES

March 3, 2008: Sterling 64, Southwestern 60

Yes, I know it’s outside of the 5-year time frame. But bear with me.

This was the KCAC Tournament championship game for women’s basketball, in Sterling. I’d been jobless (and couch surfing) for a couple of months after quitting my job as sports editor at the Garden City Telegram and was kind of in flux as to what I wanted to do with my career (and life) and was on a trial run as a copy editor at The Eagle, stringing games and hopping on desk shifts whenever I could to get by. And hoping and wishing they’d offer me a  full-time job. Anybody who has ever been in that scenario can relate to those moments when you’re not really sure if things will work out for you, or if you’re doing the right thing with your life. I thought, that day, seeing that packed gym, that there was definitely an audience for small-college coverage. And, if I could catch on at The Eagle, that maybe I could carve out a niche covering small colleges in the state. It was an idea that eventually evolved into Sunflower Slate over a lot of rounds of golf with Eagle page designer Ryan Johnson.

A couple of days after the game, The Eagle offered me a job. I’ve been there ever since.

Nov. 23, 2008: Friends 1, Northwestern Oklahoma State 0 (forfeit)

In the NAIA National Playoffs … for football. The final score of the game I saw that day was NWOSU 42, Friends 0, but it was what happened after that left everybody reeling. Turns out, Northwestern Oklahoma State was playing with a handful of ineligible players — I could never get to the bottom of which ones, but I have a good idea. The shame of it was that Friends was undefeated and seemed like they had a perfect team for a run in the NAIA playoffs. They would’ve had a shot at No. 1 Carroll in Montana the next week, but the NAIA decided to call off the game because Friends wouldn’t have received a full week of preparation. We’ll never know how high this group of Falcons could have soared.

Dec. 6, 2009: No. 2 Blinn 31, No. 1 Fort Scott 26

The NJCAA football title game came to Pittsburg, with a team from southeast Kansas playing in it. And they seemed to have the game won at the end, despite a monster game from Blinn quarterback and future Heisman Trophy winner Cam Newton. Then, this happened. It was a rainy, misty, foggy day in Pittsburg and it was over an hour after the game and I was walking back to my car when a guy in a Blinn shirt and hat came walking up a street by himself outside of Carnie Smith Stadium — it was Blinn coach Brad Franchione.

“What are you doing?” I asked him. “Shouldn’t you be at the hotel with the team, celebrating?”

“I’m looking for my dad,” Franchione said. “Everybody else seems to have seen him but me.”

Dec. 5 ,2010: No. 2 Navarro 13, No. 1 Butler 12

Another NJCAA football title game in Pittsburg, with Butler trying to close out an undefeated season with a title behind future LSU quarterback Zach Mettenberger and future Florida State star and NFL draft pick Cornellius Carradine, one of the most dominant defensive players I’ve ever seen. Somehow, they lost. I’ll never forget Butler coach Troy Morrell walking around the field consoling players after the game. Or his unusual decision to abandon the kicking game.

Dec. 15, 2012: Newman 86, No. 2 Washburn 69

The only regular-season game that made the list. The Newman men would go on and make the NCAA Division II Tournament for the first time and this completed their sweep of the four MIAA schools in Kansas. I’d always wondered if the Jets could make the leap on the Division II level, and this sent it home. A packed gym at Fugate Gymnasium, plus a week of hype from Newman AD Vic Trilli sent this one home.

Almost made it: Hutch CC men lose at home in NJCAA Tourney (’13), No. 2 Butler tops No. 3 Coffeyville in Coffeyville (’10), Butler men’s basketball wins Region VI title (’10).