TECUMSEH, Kan. (WIBW) -- The Shawnee Heights Board of Education voted 4-3 Monday to allow athletic director David Wonnell to further pursue the Thunderbirds leaving the Centennial League.
Wonnell says he has talked with other school administrators, and hopes to join a six-team league with Basehor-Linwood, De Soto, KC Turner, Lansing, and Leavenworth. Shawnee Heights cannot form a new league until it is approved by the boards of the other schools.
"Looking at changing leagues is not about league titles or anything like that," Wonnell said before the meeting Monday. "We want to face competition that is at the same classification as us, for the most part."
Shawnee Heights, a 5A school that has been part of the Centennial League since 1962 (minus a brief time in the 1970s), has to play Junction City, Manhattan, Topeka High, and Washburn Rural (all 6A schools) on a regular basis.
Enrollment determines which class a school plays in, and obviously, 6A schools have a larger pool of students to select from when making a team.
Wonnell's numbers, updated in Sept. 2016, show Centennial League enrollment as follows:
Washburn Rural - 1,896
Topeka High - 1,818
Mnahattan - 1,694
Junction City - 1,652
Emporia - 1,221
Seaman - 1,184
Shawnee Heights - 1,123
Topeka West - 1,073
Highland Park - 866
Hayden - 394
As for the teams Shawnee Heights is hoping to create a league with:
Leavenworth - 1,352
Shawnee Heights - 1,123
KC Turner - 1,114
Lansing - 910
De Soto - 854
Basehor-Linwood - 710
"If you look at the biggest school in our league, which is Washburn Rural, their middle school is approaching the same size as our high school," Wonnell said. "There is more of a competitive disadvantage when Washburn Rural plays us or Seaman, based on numbers, than if Seaman and Shawnee Heights combined."
It is Wonnell's belief that playing in the Centennial League hurts the Thunderbirds once the postseason arrives. However, Shawnee Heights' boys basketball team and volleyball team won the 5A state title this past season. Also, the softball team finished the regular season undefeated, and the baseball team is the 2-seed in the region.
The Thunderbirds baseball and softball teams were both runners-up in 2016.
Currently, football and soccer (and by 2018, all sports) seed teams one-through-16 based on the team's record to determine playoff match-ups. The T-Birds are forced to play four games against schools one class bigger, meaning a loss to those teams affects their playoff seeding.
"I think the Centennial League is great football," Shawnee Heights football coach Jason Swift said. "It usually seemed, because of our record in the Centennial League, we would play one of the better opponents [in the early rounds of the postseason].
"[In ten years before the new playoff system] we hosted [a first round playoff game] eight times, and two of those first round games at home we lost to the state champions," Swift added.
Wonnell thinks that playing in a six-team league, of equal class size, will also allow schedule flexibility to continue to play city teams.
"We would still plan to schedule some 6A schools, especially our city partners like Washburn Rural and Topeka High."
One member of the public interrupted the meeting to speak to the board.
"Yeah there are bigger schools," Garth Wellshear, a Shawnee Heights parent and 1975 Shawnee Heights alum said. "I would beg to be playing a bigger school. You're always the underdog it seems like, try to knock them off."
Rich Eckert, a Seaman Board of Education member, says he wouldn't want to see Shawnee Heights on the schedule if the school leaves the Centennial League.
"If they make this decision to go seek out what they think are greener pastures," Eckert said. "I don't know why we would reward them or help them with that decision by still agreeing to play them."
He added, "I personally feel that you should do as much as you can in your school district and around your school district. By having them travel to Wyandotte County and Johnson County to play their league games, I don't think does anybody any good."
Wonnell says he's like to have a new league formed by the end of May or early June. He says if it is not completed by then, Shawnee Heights will remain in the Centennial League.
TOTAL LEAGUE CHAMPIONSHIPS FROM 2004-2017 (Includes shared titles)
Washburn Rural - 102
Manhattan - 75
Shawnee Heights - 23
Seaman - 22
Emporia - 17
Hayden - 16
Junction City - 15
Topeka High - 8
Highland Park - 7
Topeka West - 4
So what are they telling Seaman and Hayden and West and Emporia? "Sorry you all are stuck with the 6As but it's not fair for us to play them https://t.co/DOmvWk532A— Carson Denney (@CarsonDenney) May 16, 2017
I'm not even allowed to play high school sports and I'm disappointed... https://t.co/dTcxN30mko— Ethan Armbruster (@armbrruster) May 16, 2017
IF IT AINT BROKE DONT FIX IT ‼️ https://t.co/11xe72V1ZW— Callie Rose (@Callie_Holth) May 16, 2017
Sad when I talk to Shawnee Heights athletes and they don't want to leave...shouldn't it really be about what who is actually playing wants? https://t.co/EKjzXedFWR— Jordan White (@jordanwhite2019) May 16, 2017
Our school board voted 4-3 to approve the recommendation by administrators and coaches to continue pursuit of a new league.— Shawnee Heights HS (@SHHSThunderbird) May 16, 2017
New league possibilities provides flexibility to maintain current rivalries and compete against same-sized schools.— Shawnee Heights HS (@SHHSThunderbird) May 16, 2017
A smaller league gives more opportunities for non-league games. Teams can better customize schedules to suit needs, including city games.— Shawnee Heights HS (@SHHSThunderbird) May 16, 2017
Other likely schools in new league offer great competition that, with some city schools for non-league games, provide for strong schedules.— Shawnee Heights HS (@SHHSThunderbird) May 16, 2017