Gardner-Edgerton leaving league after spring 2010
In one year, the Frontier League will again shrink in size.
A once large, 13-team conference will be nearly half that size in the fall of 2010. Two years ago, the five smallest schools formed their own league. Now the largest school is moving on.
“The last five years have definitely changed the face of the Frontier League,” BHS wrestling coach Kit Harris said. “If you look at the schools remaining, we’re all pretty similar in enrollment. It could make for some pretty good parity in all sports.”
In 2007, a league that was 13 schools for two years shrunk to eight schools. Anderson County, Central Heights, Osawatomie, Prairie View and Wellsville left. They added Jayhawk-Linn to become the Pioneer League.
Gardner-Edgerton officials announced this spring the Trailblazers will be leaving the Frontier League after the 2009-2010 school year. As of next year, GEHS will be in the Eastern Kansas League, which consists of several Blue Valley schools.
“I think it was inevitable, especially in the last few years,” BHS Activities Director Gary Stevanus said. “It’s always seemed inequitable on the varsity side. Talking to Gardner’s administration, they knew it was inevitable, too. They just wanted to wait until they had the sub-varsity programs to compete with the bigger schools.
“At the same time, there were some changes in the Kansas City area with new schools opening,” he said. “That opened up the doors for them and gave them a league to go into basically.”
The news didn’t shock Baldwin High coaches, as they expected GEHS to move up to a league with larger schools.
“I kind of thought it was a matter of time,” Harris said. “It’s sad to see a team leave that’s been in the league for such a long time. At the same time, I think it’s a positive, because it was a disadvantageous situation for the schools with smaller enrollment.”
Gardner-Edgerton was the only Class 5A school in the Frontier League this year. The Trailblazers’ enrollment for grades 10-12 was 820 for the 2008-2009 school year. Ottawa was the next highest league school with a 10-12 enrollment of 499. The Trailblazers were also the 10th largest 5A school. There are 32 schools at the 5A level.
“When I was in school, Gardner wasn’t much bigger than Baldwin,” said Harris, who is a 1991 BHS graduate. “When I came back as a coach (1999), they were bigger, but they started growing a lot about that time. They got pretty huge, pretty fast.”
A pair of BHS coaches understood the move by Gardner-Edgerton. BHS football coach Mike Berg said he thinks it will help them to play 5A and 6A schools during the season.
“I think Gardner is going to benefit most from it,” Berg said. “They will be playing the 5A teams before districts. Some of the smaller schools might not be as competitive as they would like. It’s been a good rival for us and we only lost by a late touchdown two years ago. I think it’s been a good game for us to judge where we are early in the year.”
From the basketball perspective, BHS boys’ coach Eric Toot said the Trailblazers were vastly better than other league schools on the sub-varsity level. However, he isn’t opposed to playing them on the varsity level.
“For them, I think it’s a good move,” he said. “I wouldn’t be surprised if we didn’t still play them. I kind of enjoy playing a bigger team once in a while just to see where we are at as a team. Where we were really getting hurt is at the lower levels. They have so many more kids and they’re so much deeper that their JV talent was above and beyond everybody else’s. I think we could kind of compete at the varsity level, but the big gap was at the lower levels.”
Stevanus said Baldwin will still compete against Gardner-Edgerton in some sports, but most will be in tournaments.
“We will play Gardner in some things, but probably not head-to-head sports,” he said. “We will probably stay in their wrestling tournament and play them in golf and tennis. I’m not going to say we’ll never schedule them, but the conditions would have to be right for us to schedule them in a lot of sports. We don’t have any animosity toward them, but their 1,100 kids to our 400 kids isn’t fair for either school.”
Since the announcement was made in April, Frontier League officials have been trying to find an eighth school for 2010. Stevanus said they talked to Santa Fe Trail and Perry-Lecompton, both of which were leaving the Kaw Valley League. However, both have already made commitments to join the Big Seven, along with teams like Holton, Jefferson West and Royal Valley.
Stevanus also said they talked to Anderson County officials about returning to its former league, but no luck on the Bulldogs, either.
“They didn’t like where they were at because the Kaw Valley had some issues, kind of like us,” he said. “There were a couple pretty big schools in that league, but at the same time they are pretty closely located. We would love to have Anderson County back. They aren’t entirely happy with their league, but they are happy where they are at location-wise.”
For now, the league that was 13 schools just three years ago will soon be down to seven.
“We would love to have an eighth team,” Stevanus said. “Where we can find a team that fits our philosophies, our programs at the sub-varsity level and our geography is hard. Plus, you’ve got to find a team that is unhappy where they are right now. We’re making plans to go ahead with seven teams after this coming year.”