BY JIM MISUNAS
Former Great Bend coach Jeff Langrehr owns a major slice of hometown sports history. He guided Great Bend to four state high school championships before departing for Gardner-Edgerton.
The Langrehr family owns the rare distinction of playing a part in all four state baseball championships in Great Bend baseball history.
“That’s pretty amazing,” Langrehr said.
Langrehr’s father Harold Langrehr played for Great Bend’s 1955 AA-A state high school baseball champion. The 1955 Panthers defeated three-time state champion Wichita North 5-2, two-time state champion Kansas City Wyandotte 4-1 and Dodge City. The champions featured Harold Langrehr, Terry Leek, Jack Curtis, Larry Markel, Jerry Emerson, Terry Knowles, Harry Eckert, Gaylen Sullivan, Bob Durham and Mark Taylor. Great Bend legend Al Burns coached the 1955 state champions and died in 1995 a few months after the Panthers won their second state baseball title.
Langrehr played for the 1982 Great Bend Chiefs American Legion state baseball champion. Langrehr coached the 1995 and 1998 Great Bend Panthers 5A state baseball champions. He’s earned 345 baseball coaching wins and surpassed the 350-win barrier in basketball.
Langrehr appreciated the support from administrators and supporters during his time. He earned a pair of Kansas Baseball Coach of the Year honors and a KBCA Basketball Coach of the Year award.
“It’s hard to match coaching at your alma mater and Great Bend will always be a special place in my heart,” Langrehr said. “There are so many things I learned to appreciate after leaving.”
Kansas State University graduate Langrehr was offered the baseball head coaching job in 1987 along with a teaching position at Roosevelt Junior High.
“I remember thinking ‘I wonder what Great Bend is thinking, offering a 23-year-old the head baseball job,” Langrehr said. “I remember the good times.”
Baseball developed into Langrehr’s first love since his initial baseball championship occurred 40 years after his father’s title. Ryan Gardner batted .547. A dominating pitching staff was anchored by Doug Steinbacher (9-0), Jason Ward (5-0) and Jason Keeler (5-1).
The Panthers (22-2) won the rain-delayed 5A baseball title in El Dorado, beating St. Thomas Aquinas 10-5, Pittsburg 12-2 and Augusta 9-7. Steinbacher struck out Augusta’s Brian Turpin to end the championship game with the bases loaded.
Other players included Dustin Brown, Scott Farminer, Ryan Gardner, Jason Heinrich, Cory Kaiser, Mike Mazouch, Justin Miller, Jason Wondra. Others were Kelly Kaiser, Ryan Kaiser, Travis Rainbolt, Eric Sawyer, Ryan Schriner and Shawn Swager.
“That ‘95 baseball team was special, loaded with great players,” Langrehr said. “We had a lot of special players.”
The 1998 champions started 9-7 when Curtis Hammeke suggested Langrehr start calling pitches, a move that shifted the late-season momentum.
Panther pitcher Pat Garrett helped upset state-favorite Hays High 3-2 to qualify for the 5A state tournament in Salina. The Panthers stunned Valley Center 12-6 and Wichita Carroll 8-6 on Jeff Dunlap’s game-winning three-run homer, the most important homer in school history. The Panthers upset Fort Scott 6-2 behind pitcher Tommy Loomis in the championship. Fort Scott featured major leaguer (David) Adam LaRoche, named the Most Outstanding Player in the 2000 NJCAA World Series.
The 1998 Panthers featured Gerry Cope, Clay Delaney, John Drake, Jeff Dunlap, Pat Garrett, Alan Hedrick, Ryan Hickel, Chris Kuhn, Pablo Maciel, Dusty Pfannenstiel,
Chad Rea, Aaron Rowe, Jamie Rusco and Cheyenne Smithey. The coaching staff included Kurt Schaub, Kurt Wolf and Randy Beck.
“Beating a Hays High team that would’ve won the state title proves it takes good luck to win a state title,” he said. “One bad inning can derail your state title hopes.”
The Panthers nearly earned a fourth state baseball title, but lost to Topeka West (2003) and Topeka Seaman (2004) in the championship games.
The dual baseball/basketball coaching started in 1994 when superintendent Clay Guthmiller offered Langrehr the head basketball job with the understanding he would coach baseball and basketball one year.
“The basketball job was one I dearly wanted, but we agreed that I’d do both for one year,” he said. “That basketball team was special. We placed third at state and turned around the basketball program. No one ever asked me to quit coaching baseball again. That started a 15-year run of dual sport coaching.”
Assistant coaches Chuck Pike, John Wetig and Art Baker made the coaching transition run smoothly. Langrehr had served as an assistant basketball coach to Rick O’Neil, who ended his coaching stint with a 5-58 record in three years.
“It was more difficult in basketball because the program had struggled,” he said. “To culminate that with two state titles was special. I was blessed with great assistant coaches.”
The 2004-2005 team (21-4) started 2-2 with losses against Hays High 70-63 and Salina South 48-44. The Panthers ended the regular season with losses to Liberal 67-31 and Hays High 55-51. But a twist of good fortune handed the Panthers a No. 1 seed. The Panthers downed Wichita West 71-37 and Hays High 62-54 to qualify for the 5A state tournament.
Seniors Dax Conwell, Joe Harvey, Jason Schneider and Brandon Wells led the Panthers past Topeka Seaman 73-59, SM Miege 51-49 and Topeka West 64-50 for the 5A state title at Topeka.
Other players from that era were Scott Schneider, Matt Simmons, Jeremy Reed, Bobby Munz, David Swafford, Bryce Wells, John Pike, Aaron Scott, Sloan Kern and Eric Wolf.
The next year, the Panthers (24-1) downed Hays High to qualify for 5A state and beat Emporia 66-58, the 2003 state champion McPherson 54-45 and the 2004 state champion Highland Park 62-48. Hays handed the Panthers their lone loss.
“When we lost to Hays, we realized a well-timed loss can help you,” he said. “We beat Hays at Liberal to qualify for state. Our three-game run at state was special because those teams we beat were really good. We won twice against McPherson and beat a really talented Highland Park basketball team.”
Langrehr worked nine years at Gardner-Edgerton where he coached multi-sport standout Bubba Starling, a member of the Kansas City Royals. Langrehr coached twice against Great Bend, including a 60-47 victory in the 2010 state basketball tournament. Starling scored 17 points and Conner Langrehr scored 16 points.
“That was a tough one coaching against my former team,” he said.
Langrehr coached basketball last year at Harrisonville, Mo., where his son Brooks averaged 11 ppg for a 17-9 league champion.