After nearly 40 years, USD 453 school board unanimously votes to join a new league

After nearly 40 years, Leavenworth High School athletics will divorce itself from the Sunflower League.

On Wednesday night at the Leavenworth Unified School District No. 453 meeting, the school board voted unanimously, 7-0, to officially announce its intentions of leaving the Sunflower League and seek a new home, with five other schools also waiting to form a new marriage.

Christina Lentz, the newly named Leavenworth High School principal, beginning in the fall of 2017, made the presentation to the school board about the merits of joining a new six-team league featuring Lansing, Basehor-Linwood, Turner, DeSoto and Shawnee Heights high schools beginning in the fall of 2018.

The league name has not been decided on.

“The Sunflower League is comprised of 6A schools and we are the smallest school,” Lentz said. “We are the only 5Å currently in the league. If you look at these numbers, Olathe North is the largest school (2,343 students) and we are 1,000 students less. One of the things that appealed to us, when we were approached in March about possibly discussing forming a new league was that we would be competing against schools our size. Our current size is 1,352 and based on our current enrollment we have between eighth-11th grades, we will be below 1,300 next year.

“We would be in a situation where our kids would be able to compete with schools that are comparable to the same size as we are and give them more opportunities to create some cross-town rivals and competitiveness with these other districts. Travel time, all of these schools are close in proximity with Shawnee Heights being the farthest away.”

Lentz added that the district middle schools would benefit as well because the league would align those athletic departments to compete against each other and help cut down on the current need to schedule “here and there and yonder” to build a reasonable schedule.”

Lentz said most of the school’s coaches are “excited” by this new prospect and some have voiced concerns that the underclassmen teams can’t compete against other similar Sunflower teams so that many quit when they reach varsity potential because “we can’t compete against those larger schools — so they quit, they give up. This would keep more kids active which is a positive for us and as well allow our kids to have some pride to build that competitiveness in our district.”

The schools in question had until May 26 to decide if they were to make the jump from their current leagues into a new one as to give each institution a chance to notify their current leagues of their intentions.

Lansing, Basehor-Linwood and Turner are all a part of the Kaw Valley League that was set to shutter following the loss of Bonner Springs, Bishop Ward, Piper and Tonganoxie high schools.

Leavenworth, a member of the Sunflower League since 1980-81, was the sixth school of the six to confirm its intent to join the league. This was confirmed after the Leavenworth Times received an email communication from a “new league meeting” held on April 26, that Leavenworth High School would be the last to declare its intent to join.

She also told school board members that even if Leavenworth High would be the biggest school in the league, not to take for granted they would dominate action and that the other athletic programs are very formidable in their own right.

“We have competed against some of the schools that will be in the new league and they have beat us,” Lentz said. 

All the schools have all the current sports with the exception of Basehor-Linwood which lacks bowling and tennis, but Lentz said the Bobcat athletic program voiced an intent to develop those programs to create unification in all athletics.

With all six schools now having green lighted this move, agenda items regarding the formation of the new league will be compiled during the week of May 29 and they will be discussed by principals and athletic directors at a June 7 meeting at Turner High School, according to the aforementioned email.

Lentz told the Times after speaking to the USD 453 school board that her “gut feeling” is that the league will have six committed schools to begin the new league in the 2018-19 school year, but it is possible that other schools - Bonner Springs, Spring Hill, Topeka Highland Park, Topeka Seaman and Topeka West which have inquired to date - could join by the launch date and that eight schools would have its benefits and that number would be the league’s goal.

“It would be a privilege to be in our league,” Lentz said. “It definitely will not be (easy).”

Each school will be given the opportunity to come up with a suggested league name and those would be put up for a discussion to where a final decision on what would stick, would be voted on and that name would go into effect.

League by-laws will be systematically developed for the new league in order to be in place by the launch of the new brand.

Lentz, the district’s current director of teaching and learning said if the vote had gone against LVHS leaving the Sunflower, the Pioneer athletic department would stay and continue to compete with those athletic programs.

School board members Loyal Torkelson, Verna Raines, Mike Carney and Doug Darling voiced their support for Lentz’s presentation and enthusiasm on the topic focusing on an improved competitive level and an increase in local competition and potential rivalries forming as well as playing in the same league as neighbors Lansing High School.