Expanded Frontier League expected to be tougher
By Ben Knoll
Signal Sports Writer
The Frontier League has built a reputation as one of the most competitive and talented leagues in Kansas over the years. But apparently it wasn't enough, because the league is about to get even tougher.
This coming sports year, the Frontier League will welcome Ottawa, DeSoto and Central Heights as league members, and each school brings with it something special to add.
Ottawa has had great success in sports lately, especially in boys basketball. Coming off a winning season in which they advanced to the Class 4A state tournament, Ottawa nearly repeated the trip to state last season, finishing one game away from the 5A state tournament in a successful season. The Ottawa girls basketball team has also been solid over the last few years.
Ottawa head football coach Pat Boeh likes the move into the new league.
"I think it's a good move," said Boeh. "The opponents are closer now, so it's not as long of a drive. We've also got some better rivals in the Frontier League. It's one of the premier leagues in Kansas."
Ottawa has been no slouch in football either the last few seasons, coming off a great season last year. Ottawa also has one of the best football players in the state in Caleb Blakesley. The 6-foot-5, 270-pound Blakesley has been recruited by several Division I colleges to play offensive tackle, including Kansas University, where he has given a verbal commitment to.
Blakesley will be a senior and will face the Bulldogs this year, when Baldwin plays Ottawa in football for the first time in four years.
Boeh is looking forward to coaching the Ottawa football team next year in the Frontier League.
"We've had pretty good success lately, but we'll have a bit of a bull's eye on us being the new team on the block," Boeh said. "It's going to be a tough challenge, but the team is excited for it."
DeSoto has improved its athletics dramatically over the last few years, and will also bring great talent and competitive teams to the Frontier League.
The DeSoto girls basketball team has finished among the elite in their league the last couple years, and along with Ottawa could challenge for the league title.
"I expect Ottawa and DeSoto to finish at the top of league," BHS girls basketball coach Eric Toot said. "They both have very good teams."
DeSoto's boys basketball team was also solid last year, and had one of the most exciting players in the area. Danny Brown, a 6-4 slasher, averaged 18 points, five rebounds, four assists, and 1.5 steals per contest. Brown, who will return next year as a senior, has already received interest from Division I colleges.
DeSoto also has a solid wrestling team, and returns a national champion wrestler.
Central Heights, the smallest team to enter the league this year, is competent in athletics despite its size. Though relatively unknown compared to the other two schools, Central Heights promises to make a name for itself in the future with an exciting young basketball team and an improving football team.
The three schools joining the Frontier League certainly will make the league a more tough and competitive league. But the expansion is not without its drawbacks. Most Baldwin High coaches have mixed feelings on the subject.
"I don't know if it's bad or good," said BHS football coach Mike Berg. "I just think there's too big of a range of sizes and of schools. You have huge 5A schools all the way down to 3A, which makes the league uneven. I don't care how many teams are in the league, but I'd like them to be more even in size.
"As far as next season, I think we have the athletes to compete," Berg said. "I like that we get to play a variety of teams instead of the same teams."
Baldwin High wrestling coach Kit Harris also considered the positives and negatives of the expansion.
"For wrestling, it's going to be good because it will make the league tournament better," said Harris. "Overall, I'm not real sure. I think we're getting pretty close to becoming too big of a league.
"Next season, I think the league tournament is going to be tougher and that's a good thing," Harris said. "But one problem I see is the widespread enrollment sizes. That problem is even bigger in wrestling because you need numbers to compete."
Coach Toot also discussed the pros and cons.
"As far as basketball, I like it because it gives us more league games, and league games are good because they have more meaning," Toot said. "I am concerned about the difference in size between some of the schools, though. I think it makes our schedule extremely challenging for next year, but it's also exciting because we get to play some teams that we haven't played much in the past."
The only way to know for sure the effects the new teams will have on the Frontier League is to wait until the sports seasons begin. One thing is for sure, it's going to be a bigger, different, more competitive and, overall, more exciting league. Stay tuned as the seasons unfold.