If you’re heading to Hoisington on Friday night for the high school football game between Great Bend and Hoisington, it might be in your best interests to leave a little early.
Highway 281, heading north out of Great Bend, figures to be a slower-than-usual venue for the 7 o’clock kickoff.
“Of course, having our first opponent being only 10 minutes away and in the same county, it’s just a real exciting time for Labor Day weekend,” said Hoisington head coach Jason Ingram of the season-opening tilt for both teams.
Great Bend comes into the game as a heavy favorite, although Ingram, a former Panthers assistant coach, doesn’t view it with an us-against-the-world perspective for his Cardinals.
“No, not necessarily,” he said. “We know we are a fairly big underdog, just being a 3A school against a 5A school. At the same time, when we looked at this and thought about a lot of different things, No. 1 is finances.
“You get to bring in a great crowd both ways, and then the other team that we potentially had on our schedule was Ulysses. It’s 3½ to four hours away, and so the travel time and travel money to put into that was a consideration.”
Enter Great Bend.
“Knowing that Great Bend was open and needed games was another consideration, coming from Great Bend, for me,” Ingram said. “More than anything, we really feel that better competition for us is important.
“You look at Scott City and they play Dodge and Liberal, which are 6A schools, and they’re 3A and they compete with them every year.
“If we want to get to that elite level, we need to have that elite talent to play against.”
Ingram is tearing a page out of what his former employer has done during the past few seasons only a short distance down the road.
“If you look at our schedule right now, Phillipsburg is a noted contender this year,” Ingram said. “Scott City is actually ranked this year, and those are two schools that are on our schedule.
“We didn’t choose Scott City. They’re part of our district, but at the same time, that goes with the territory. La Crosse, being the state runner-up last year, we really don’t have an off-week this season.”
Great Bend played what was regarded as the state’s toughest all-class schedule the past few seasons, but it no longer has 5A St. Thomas Aquinas and 6A mainstay Wichita Heights on its schedule to start the year.
The Panthers, who finished 4-4 last season, replaced Aquinas with Hoisington and Wichita Heights with 4A Ulysses, along with not having an idle week for the first time in three seasons.
“When Bo first went to Great Bend, they had one of the easier schedules and that was one attitude that had to get changed,” Ingram said. “If you want to be successful, you have to compete against tougher competition.
“Hoisington has always been competitive, but when we looked at our schedule from a year ago, we didn’t prepare ourselves for district well enough because we had a softer-type schedule in the middle of the year and I think we took care of that.”
Like most teams, Black says the jury is still out regarding what his team will bring to the table when the lights go on for the first time.
“It’s just Game 1,” Black said. “I don’t care if it’s Blue Valley or St. Thomas Aquinas or Hoisington, we’re just not quite sure what we have. I really think that it’s going to be an interesting game. It’s such a short trip, eight miles up the road, and it’s such a small venue.
“I think it will be a really interesting atmosphere and a fun game to go to and watch, I’d think.”