By Ashley Hocking
Lawrence High and Free State have played in the same football district for the past 17 consecutive years. That will not be the case next season.
Every year, the 32 Class 6A high schools in the state of Kansas are rationed into two districts. As a result of two Class 5A schools moving up and one Class 6A school moving down, the border shifted.
“They draw a line east and west. The line goes right through Lawrence,” varsity football coach Dirk Wedd said. “Free State is the farthest school east in the west division. We’re the farthest school west in the east division.”
Beginning next season, the LHS football team will play against Olathe North, Olathe Northwest and Olathe East in district games, while Free State will battle Washburn Rural, Topeka and Manhattan.
Free State varsity football coach, Bob Lisher, dislikes the new district divide.
“[We] have to play who the state tells us to play,” Lisher said. “[I] would rather stay in the east, but we have no control over that.”
The LHS football program, on the other hand, is looking forward to expanding its horizon eastward.
“It’s kind of neat in that we open the season with Blue Valley West, who we’ve never played before. So, that’ll be something to look forward to,” Wedd said. “I’ve been doing this so long that you really can’t worry about it. The state decides all that stuff.”
The football team will not have the opportunity to play Free State at the end of the season anymore.
“I was kind of frustrated because it’ll be my senior year,” junior Zakary McAlister
said. “I wanted to end the regular season playing them.”
The cross-town rivals will go head-to-head for the third game of the season next year. The teams will only face each other in the postseason if each earns a spot in the state championship.
“I don’t think it will be the same if it’s not the last game,” McAlister said. “There will still be rivalry, but it won’t be the same.”
Without a season-long build up of anticipation for the face-off, junior Stevin Hays fears the game won’t have the same intensity.
“Since it is for playoffs [now], I guess it won’t have as much urgency next year,” Hays said. “But it’s still a huge game.”
However, not everyone on the football team shares this apprehension. Some players do not think the early city showdown will change the atmosphere of the game.
“I think it will have just as much hype as it always would,” junior Luke Zenger said. “It’ll be just as big of a deal, but it won’t really be fighting over state playoff berth, which will make it a little less competitive.”
Overall, Wedd expects a strong season in 2014. During this year’s season, he added more underclassmen than usual in rotation under the Friday night lights. A few years ago, underclassmen receiving playing time would have been rare.
“We’re playing as many as nine sophomores right now,” Wedd said. “They’re taking their lumps this year, but I think they will grow up and mature. We’ll have a great year next year.”