IX AT 50: Centralia’s Kim Tennal leads Panthers to eight-straight state titles

Published: Oct. 7, 2021 at 10:10 PM CDT
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June 23, 1972, President Nixon signed Title IX into law, prohibiting sex discrimination in educational institutions that receive federal funding. Every Thursday at 10:00 p.m. leading up to the 50th anniversary of the law’s passing, 13 Sports will honor the women who changed the game in the last half century — the Trailblazers of Women’s Sports in Kansas.

“IX at 50: The Trailblazers of Women’s Sports in Kansas”

“I’m a firm believer in girls can just about do anything.”

Kim Tennal, KSHSAA Hall of Fame volleyball coach

CENTRALIA, Kan. (WIBW) - Three miles north of the Kansas border, Kim Tennal found her love for volleyball in high school.

Her path led her to coaching and to the helm of the Centralia High Panthers.

“My first year at Centralia, I went into the principal’s office and I said, ‘How come the state tournament’s not on the calendar?’” Tennal said. “And he goes, ‘Well, why should it be on the calendar?’ And I said, ‘Because how can we plan to go to state if it’s not on the calendar?’ So that got changed.”

That state tournament circle on the calendar soon changed from pencil to sharpie.

Tennal’s teams made it 17 of her 19 years.

“I think you have to believe that you can do these things,” she said. “You have to set some goals, and you have to work for those goals. Once you do that, it’s a lot easier to achieve.”

The Panthers won it all in 1997 — then every single year through 2004.

The eight-straight streak is a Kansas all-time best.

“We ran a very simple offense, very simple defense, and we got good at what we were doing,” she said. “And then it became tradition.”

They passed down that tradition year after year, trophy after trophy. The young girls watching knew they could be champs, too, someday, if they worked hard in Tennal’s program.

“All these little girls were out there and you could just see it in their eyes,” Tennal said. “They were going to be a lady Panther someday, and they were going to be successful. They were going to be out there on that court, and they were going to be winning.”

Tennal retired from Centralia with 582 wins and a 92.6% winning percentage — both none of those numbers define what she was able to accomplish within the four white lines.

“So many of those kids reached out to me and they said, ‘I never worked so hard in my entire life, and I’m always been proud to say I was part of the team,’” Tennal said. “Those are the things that are the most important, you know? What they’re going to be like in the end. What are you going to end up with? And are you going to keep reaching goals and setting goals and being a good person? It was impressive number-wise to win the state eight years in a row, but you know, those are just numbers.”

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