CLAFLIN — With high school fall sports beginning practice tomorrow, Central Plains will begin its first season in existence.
What was once two proud high school programs — Claflin and Quivira Heights — is now combined into one high school.
Only a year ago, these two high schools were rivals.
The schools competed every year in basketball.
In football, the Wildcats and the Thunderbirds would play every year that they both had the same size team.
“We’ve played them in basketball ever since I’ve been here,” Central Plains High School activities director Pat Stiles said. “Football, there has been years when one of us has been eight-man and the other was 11-man, so we didn’t play, but every year that we’ve been the same, we’ve played.”
The rivalry began when Holyrood and Bushton combined districts to create Quivira Heights in 1976.
The football rivalry ended with a 40-8 victory for the Thunderbirds last fall.
“That’s been going on ever since the schools have been playing each other,” Stiles, who has been the AD for Claflin for the last 15 years and has taught chemistry at the high school for 30 years, said. “Because the schools are so close, the proximity of it, it has always been a big game.
“It doesn’t seem to matter if one team is a lot better than the other. It is always going to be a good battle.”
Being rivals, some questions could be raised about how the two schools will work together as a single unit.
However last year, the middle schools of the separate districts combined forces in athletics and Stiles said that the kids worked well together.
“I’m sure its going to be hard for a lot of people,” Stiles said. “It comes down to it’s just a color. It’s just a mascot. It takes awhile for people to realize that.
“Our middle school joined sports last year. It worked fine. The kids got along great. They had very good teams. I don’t think we’ll have too much trouble, the way football’s been going. I know there are some alumni that can’t stand to see the old mascot go, but they’ll get over it.”
There are advantages to combining athletic programs. The most notable one being the larger talent pool for teams to draw from.
“Right away, the numbers,” Stiles said of the benefits of combining athletic programs. “I think in football last year, we finished the season after injuries with about 13 healthy bodies, and that’s just cutting it pretty close.
“Right away, the numbers is great. Being able to scrimmage each other in practice, that’s going to be big. Just the blending of talent will be big.”
However adding numbers to your team can spark more change for the program.
“We’re in the second year of a cycle, so we have to stay eight-man division I,” Stiles said. “This fall, we’ll redistrict, and if your bottom three grades put you over 100, you have to play 11-man. So if the bottom three grades — freshmen, sophomore, junior — are under 100, the you have the choice.
“We’ll definitely be (Class) 2A, but if we’re under 100 kids, that’ll be a decision for the board whether to be put into an 11-man district or an eight-man.”
If the Oilers make the jump to 11-man football after this season, they will need to expand their field from 80 yards to 100, a move that Claflin has made in the past.
“We’ve done it before,” Stiles said. “When I first got here, we were 11-man. Then we shrunk to eight-man. Then we went back to 11-man. Then we went back to eight-man. So we’ve made the change a few times. The goalposts go back.
“The thing is, we’ve changed goalposts since the last time we’ve changed. We used to have the two (-legged goalpost), now we just have the one (-legged goalpost). So we figure if we move it back, it’ll be right on the water line. We’ll have to go in and put something in there.”
Even without the change from eight-man to 11-man football, there are still plenty of changes to be made around the high school.
“There are a lot of things to do,” Stiles said. “There are a lot of things that you don’t think to do, like the league banners and the painting the mascots. Every time you turn to do something, there is something that has to be changed or something that has to be done differently.
“So it’s been a lot of work. We’ve made a lot of process, but there is still things we’ve go to do.”
Stiles said that the changes needed for the athletic programs are on schedule for the start of the season.
“For the fall sports, there have been some deadlines that we had to meet,” Stiles said. “I think we are looking good. We have everything for the fall. Then the other stuff has more time to come in.”